Elephant Rocks

Masked Rock Monster

On Monday, in addition to visiting Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park, we also paid a call on neighboring Elephant Rocks State Park. Here we took the time to climb about this park’s billion year-old rocks. Elephant Rocks was much more crowded than the Shut-ins had been and considering that it was a Monday, we were a little baffled at first by the crowd of school aged kids, until we realized that this is spring break week.

This park has a small paved trail that circles the majority of the granite rock formations. The park was once a working  quarry and a water filled quarry pit and numerous rockpiles of granite debris are still around. Many of the rocks have lines of holes in them that the masons made to split the boulders apart. Where Anne is seen standing many names and dates have been carved into the stone, commemorating when each mason obtained their master mason status. The place hasn’t operated as a quarry for over a hundred years now, so even were the rocks have been spit apart and the bright pink once interior stone is exposed, much of it is now covered by lichen.

Elephant Rocks

Johnson’s Shut-ins

Johnson’s Shut-ins

Field trip! Monday, we got out-of-town and drove down to Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park. The Shut-ins as it is know locally is not some Covid quarantine scheme, but a rock formation, a billion year-old rock formation that has been trying to imped the progress of the Black River or its predecessors all that while. These stubborn rocks shut in the river or constrict its flow into a narrow channel. The Shut-ins are easily Missouri’s best waterhole and in high summer one needs to get up extra early to get there before the park fills up, but in March, not so much. The parking lot was less than half full as we leisurely sauntered by. What’s more the Shut-ins were closed to swimming. That’s OK, we hadn’t planned on swimming anyway. We hadn’t even brought our swimsuits.

Red flags were out, warning of the river’s danger. Red means a river flow of more than 75 cubic feet per second. In summertime the flow rate shrinks to a fraction of that, really more of a trickle. Separate pools form, the rocks heat up in the summer sun and the throngs descend, but as you can see in the photos, no one is photo-bombing my shots. I was going to fly the drone, but a combination of too much wind and the availability of  a terrestrial lookdown view made that idea moot. Downstream the Shut-ins end in the pictured turquoise pool. By summer, the water’s color is an algae green.

In years past, some people have leaped from this cliff. The park rangers discourage this practice, because of a shallow rock shelf at the base of the cliff. He who hesitates is lost. When we first moved to Missouri, the park had been closed. To much rowdy partying had led to violence and death, but it was soon reopened and we enjoyed visiting it over the years. Then in December of 2005, disaster struck. The dam broke on a hilltop reservoir that the power company used during the summer to generate power during peak need hours. Generating hydroelectric power for peak need times and then pumping and replenishing that water in the off hours. It had been a cold and very wet December and the earthen dam broke, showering both water and rocks down. The groundskeeper and his family were the only people in the park at the time and they were all swept away by the flood, but survived. As a reminder of that catastrophe, much of the park’s grounds are littered with car sized boulders that compose the debris field. Money from the settlement allowed the state to rebuild back better the park’s amenities, including a new boardwalk that we used yesterday to view the Shut-ins from.

Turquoise Pool

Hawn State Park

Today was the pick day of the week. With sunny skies and a high in the sixties, even though this day was the shortest one of the year, it was nice while it lasted. We still have lots of Christmas stuff to get done this week, but today was a play day. We had been looking at visiting one of the many conservation areas in the area, but Anne was leery of going into woods frequented by hunters. We hit upon Hawn, a new to me state park. Although, Anne once had a geology class field trip there. Like many of Missouri’s state parks, Hawn inherits its name from the landowner who bequeathed their land to the state. Helen Hawn, a rural public school teacher donated the original 1,500 acres of what is now almost a 5,000 acre state park. It must be one heck of an inspirational story of how this school teacher was able to swing her land acquisition program.

Much of Hawn State Park had been recently burnt, but it wasn’t by some wild forest fire. Instead a controlled burn had been held earlier this year. I don’t know if this explains the lack of fauna that was around, but we saw few birds while in the park. We did see the pictured armadillo, a novel discovery. It was rooting around in the fallen leaves and at first I thought that it was just a squirrel. Today, was a very windy day, but we spent much of the day sheltered in the valley made by Pickle Creek. Our hike began by crossing this creek on a bridge near the parking lot. Outbound, we skirted the canyon clifftops that loom above and surround Pickle Creek. At the turnaround point, we realized that there was not another bridge there. The designated fording point look too tough for us, but other hikers counseled another nearby place to ford. We both made it across, feet-dry. Both legs of this hike were rated tough and they certainly lived up to their reputation. Much of the trail was very rocky, requiring frequent scrambles. After returning to the car, we felt pretty good about ourselves for negotiating these trails and completing the hike unscathed. 

Across the Wide Missouri

Silver Missouri, Maya Lin, 2013

We’re home now, having left KC straight away. We had planned on stopping at the Truman library, it being Presidents Day and all then, but ended up pressing on regardless. We didn’t even stop at the Duluth Trading outlet, because it had begun to rain by then. Mother Nature appears bent on erasing our drought this week. We need the rain. On Sunday, when we were walking along the Missouri, we noticed how low the water level was. There was no sign of any Corps of Engineer’s upstream water releases. On I-70, we crossed the Missouri twice.

In Saint Louis, there are many references to Lewis and Clark. Both streets and institutions are named after these explorers. This is fitting since Saint Louis was both the beginning and the end of their epic journey of exploration. In KC, I was surprised at the large number of mentions that they got there too. The pictured Maya Lin art piece got me thinking that we should retrace their journey. This summer offers an opportunity to retrace some of their steps. We plan on driving to Montana and could visit some Lewis and Clark historic sites along the way.