Johnson’s Shut-Ins

On Friday, Anne and I went to Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.  The Shut-Ins are easily the best swimming hole in Missouri and arguably one of the best in the nation.  The weather was gorgeous, mostly sunny, highs in the low eighties.  The rocks were hot and the water was cool.

The East Fork of the Black River flows through a canyon like gorge that is called a shut-in, because the rock walls confine or shut in the river.  The black igneous, rhyolite rocks of the Shut-Ins have been carved over time by water and sand, leaving swirling, churning channels, potholes and chutes.  Is there a geologist in the house?

At five in the morning, in December of 2005 the Shut-Ins were subjected to a man made disaster.  Up river from the Shut-Ins the power company maintained a reservoir.  A broken sensor caused the automated pumping system to over fill the reservoir, the dam broke and in twelve minutes the reservoir was emptied.  A wall of water cascaded down the hill, sweeping trees, rocks and huge boulders along.

The only people that were in the park at that time was the park’s caretaker, his wife and their three small children, all under the age of five.  The mother was up at five, feeding the baby, when the wall of water crushed their house.  She held the baby in her arms as she and the rest of the family was swept along.  The entire family survived the flood, but one of the other children was later found clinging to a tree, miles down stream.

The park has only recently reopened and Friday was the first time Anne and I had been back to it, in quite a few years.  As you might expect there have been changes.  The old growth forest that use to shade us as we waited by our car, waiting to get into the park is gone.  In its place is a rubble field, a scour hole and a large, still unfinished lodge.  The campground is also not yet opened, so there are fewer parking spaces then in the past.  Everything is new in the park, everything that is except the Shut-Ins themselves.  Being 250 million years in the making and being made of solid rock, I guess that it takes more then one flood to damage them. 

There is one more addition to the Shut-Ins that I should mention.  Surrounding the cliff that overlooks the big pool at the bottom of the Shut-Ins are now signs warning of a $500 fine for jumping off the cliff.  I cannot believe that some people are so stupid that you have to fine them to keep them from jumping off a cliff.  If your friend jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?  😉

After swimming and after lunch we hiked the new trail that traces the flow of the flood.  The electric company is rebuilding the reservoir, hopefully with enough safeguards this time.  Of the picture above, the first six are of the Shut-Ins and feature that bathing beauty, Pooh.  The remaining six photos are from our hike on the Scour Trail.

1 thought on “Johnson’s Shut-Ins

  1. When I was a child back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, my mom would take us to the Shut-ins. I would bring a few of my friends along and it was always a highlight of the summer. I can remember having to hike that long trail (or so it seemed back then) down to the shut-ins. I can still remember the water falls and the path through the rocks we would take. As for the cliff you thought people were crazy to jump from, well meet one of the crazies. I remember it took me like an hour to get my nerve to jump, but I did. And, after I jumped once, I wanted to do it over and over again. Now, with the sand and silt from the flood, the area is not deep enough to jump (from what I understand). Johnson Shut-Ins was one of my favorite summer trips. And, one can’t forget Elephant Rock Park.

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