"Crackdown on ATVs focuses attention on Cahokia Mounds" / Indian Country Today

About 1,000 years ago, Native Americans on the eastern banks of the Mississippi River built earthen mounds to bury their dead and raise their buildings toward the sky.

In recent years, the Cahokia Mounds became something else: a racing ground for rogue riders on all-terrain vehicles.

"When you've been riding all your life, that mound's just another big dirt hill," said Mitchell Adams, 21, who has tackled the mounds on a mud-spattered, four-wheel Yamaha.

Although the practice has been going on for years, the state announced just this month that police would crack down on the riders. But the droning bikes and four-wheelers already have torn deep ruts in some of the mounds, changing the shape of at least two ancient hills.

The damage will be added to a long list of indignities the mounds have endured, not the least of which is obscurity. In the last century, amateur archeologists have plundered the Cahokia Mounds, remnants of the largest prehistoric settlement north of Mexico. Campers have littered the site, and vandals have lit fires. Four lanes of asphalt cut through the ancient city's central plaza, and some of the American Indians' fields are strewn with beer cans and trash.