Another Try at the Serpent Mound

It’s two hours out of the way along small highways, heading directly south of Columbus. Despite growing up in Ohio, and coming back to visit every year, I’d never heard of the town of Peebles. That’s not as surprising as it might sound–southern Ohio is a different state than northern Ohio, settled by people coming up from the Ohio River, from the South. I was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, part of the industrial northern part of Ohio, filled with people coming in on the railroads on their way to our factories or headed further west. We are different states in all but law.

Our destination is the famed Serpent Mound. If you’ve never been to an Indian mound and if you don’t have much interest in them you have nevertheless seen photos of the Serpent Mound. It is easily the most famous mound in the world.

Every year I travel to Ohio from California to visit family and in almost all of those years I drive slowly, in the sense that I stop a lot. It takes me two weeks to get there and two weeks back, time normally spent visiting all manner of art museums and cultural attractions. A massive dose of art of all kinds, fuel for the fire.

This year we can’t do any of that. Most of the museums are closed and the ones that are not should be. On the way to Ohio we stopped at every National Park on our path, a daily diet of trees and rocks and cliffs and geysers and lava flows. It was all good until about Iowa where our options began to shrink. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio. It got tough. There’s things to do in those states, don’t get me wrong, just not much to do during a pandemic. Not compared to the western states.

So we drove the two hours to the Serpent Mound. I had tried to come here before on earlier drives, tried to map a path that would enter Ohio from the southwest and give me the opportunity to see it at last but every time I was thwarted, a delay due to weather, another opportunity took up my time or just plain exhaustion.

My oldest daughter stayed behind in Pennsylvania, starting grad school there, so I was with my wife and my youngest daughter–she had intended a gap year this year between college and grad school but now found herself in the back seat on our cross-country trip. I talked up the mound as we drove. I built excitement.

I worried that the mound would be hard to see from the ground, those famous photos showing the serpentine nature of the earthwork all made from high above. Online reviews warned of this. I gently mentioned this possibility as we approached Peebles, hoping that it wasn’t as disappointing as people online had said.

It was even more disappointing than that. The gate was closed.

My wife walked up the road a bit to see if we could walk in, but there was nothing to see.

This post is from a series of articles chronicling a 2020 cross-country trip with my wife and two daughters and a boyfriend, from California to Ohio (to visit family) and Pennsylvania (to drop off my oldest daughter at grad school), and then back. We spent over five weeks on the road during the pandemic.

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