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Trip Ideas: A, O, Way to Go Ohio....

Southern Ohio offers many new sights and experiences within easy driving range range of Washington, DC. I framed a long-weekend road trip around visiting several Moundbuilder archaeological sites in Ohio. Moundbuilder civilization collectively refers to the Hopewell, Adena, and Fort Ancient civilizations that populated the region for several thousand years. These civilizations left behind massive networks of ceremonial earthworks and mounds that mark their existence on these lands. Over 70 Moundbuilder sites are situated across southern Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, outlining the footprint of an advanced society that long pre-dated the arrival of Europeans.

Sideling Hill highway cut on Interstate 68 exposes multiple layers of rock formation and geologic history
The Sideling Hill cut on west-bound I-68

Getting there is easy on the interstates, but leisurely parallel routes, like US 40, make for a more interesting and scenic drive west. For this trip, however, I wanted to maximize time in Ohio, so I used the interstate system to get there in a day. From the Beltway, I-270 runs through Frederick, connecting to I-70. I-68 branches west from I-70 in Hagerstown and runs the length of western Maryland, including a stunning illustration of geological history at the Sideling Hill cut, west of Hancock, MD. I-68 ends at Morgantown, WV, and I-79 North connects to the last leg of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-70, which is the main corridor traversing southern Ohio from east to west.

Red campervan entering the Fort Ancient archaeological site in Ohio between earthworks
Entrance into the Fort Ancient site between earthworks

The Fort Ancient Earthworks and Nature Preserve, a serene and sprawling ceremonial site perched atop a plateau, overlooks the Little Miami River. Although its name implies a defensive military purpose, archaeologists believe that this tranquil site was a ceremonial gathering place. The earthworks also may have served an astronomical function, as gaps in the walls align with stone calendar marking mounds during certain lunar and solar events. For a deeper understanding of the site and the people who built it, a 9,000 square foot museum is located on the site with interpretive displays, maps, and artifacts. The museum was also a great resource to identify other Moundbuilder sites to visit later in my trip.

The Serpent Mound, a large effigy mound in the shape of a winding snake near Chillicothe, Ohio, is perhaps the most famous Moundbuilder site. The age of the Serpent Mound remains a mystery, but its purpose was likely ceremonial and astronomical. The mound site is very well maintained and the tall, metal observation tower is well worth the climb to get a birds-eye view of this earthwork. Please respect the signs and do not climb or walk on the mounds!

Large Seip Earthwork mound in Chillicothe, Ohio
The massive Seip Earthwork outside Chillicothe, Ohio