New (to us) State Parks

Pileated Woodpecker

Anne captured the above on-the-wing image of a Pileated woodpecker. It was at the limits of her camera’s telephoto capability, so I have taken the liberty to stylize it. I hope that she doesn’t object too much to that? It was one of a pair that I kept calling back to us with the iBird app. Stop that Mark! She objected to my behavior, but it definitely seemed to work. Still, I am oh-for-two in the Pileated department. Maybe I can redeem myself? Maybe not.

Yesterday, we were like Santa’s busy little elves, wrapping, boxing and shipping out presents and it was such a beautiful day. We were working so hard that we hardly got to enjoy the weather that day. Today, we shoved Christmas aside and headed out to see nature on another gorgeous day. Our plan was to visit two new state parks, Route 66 and Don Robinson. Both parks were new to us, but are also relatively new too. They are both located southwest of Saint Louis, out I-44 and either along the Merrimac River or at least in its watershed. They are part of a greenway that comprises dozens of parks and conservation areas and all of them right under our noses. Who knew?

We first visited Route 66 SP. Formerly know as the town of Times Beach, until one year when Russell Bliss sprayed their dirt roads with dioxin ladened oil and contaminated the place to the tune of a superfund site. Not ever having visited the place, we took the first labeled highway exit for the park’s visitors center, which was closed, but the ranger was outside to speak with. Most of the park is across the river, but as you can see, the bridge is out. The ranger explained that to get to the park proper involved getting back on the highway, then getting off at the next exit and then circling back. We started this procedure, but instead of completing it, we went on to the next park. Maybe next time? The park is completely flat flood plain, except for Town Mound, where the government buried all that was left of Times Beach. Don’t eat the dirt. Walking along the Merrimac would be fun, next time.

We did take the next exit as planned, but instead of a U-turn on the highway, we headed south to Don Robinson SP. Don Robinson was not to put to fine a point on it a crazy old coot, but a rich one. He had made his fortune selling a cleaning product called Off, on late-night TV. With his money, he bought 900 acres, which he eventually donated to the state. His house is still standing, but only just. To say that this homebuilt is eclectic is an understatement. Parking is limited, but there was plenty of driveway. We were barely able to snag a parking spot. We hiked the longer red trail that passes by a mini-canyon on the property. It was well worth seeing. We ended up taking a shortcut back. That was when we saw the Pileated woodpeckers. Driving on the way to-and-fro to Don Robinson, we passed at least four other nature areas that were also doing a great business on this fine day. We’ll have to make time for them some day.

Bridge to Times Beach

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