We recently went to Elephant Rocks State Park, the home of largest round granite boulders and awe-inspiring landscape in the great state of Missouri, for a second time. On our first visit we almost missed the main attraction because we were a little too adventurous. We took a side trail, missed the easy entry to the top, and only found the path up the center as we were leaving. Looking back, it seems almost impossible to do, but we did it. The trees were thick, and we just couldn’t tell where to go. In that case, we should have followed all of the wacky kids that ran up through the trees and disappeared (I guess they had been there before).
On this trip we knew how to get to the big rocks, but started by cruising the perimeter a bit before lunch, and we found even more cool stuff that we missed on the first trip. To the right of the parking lot, the rocks make a nice surrounding for the picnic tables, and are where we started to explore. Once we got up past the picnic tables and started climbing, we quickly went into slow-down-Mira mode, so that she could live to see the rest of the park.
We got Mira to focus, get away from the edge, and stop running and quickly found a quarry pond with steep ledges and more big round rocks, that we hadn’t seen on the first trip. After we were done checking out the new-found area, we headed down for lunch. On the way back down, I noticed for the first time (really noticed) the trees growing on the top of the rocks. I found a dead log and brought it back with me so I could slice it and take a photo. For those of you wondering, all of the signs said don’t take the rocks, they didn’t say a thing about dead logs. Anyway, here is a picture of the unbelievable 28-year-old post oak log. Click on the photo to see what makes it so unbelievable.
I knew that it would be a slow grower since it was growing on top of a rock, but it was really slow. The log is a tiny, itty-bitty 1-1/4″ in diameter. At that rate, to grow to a reasonable-sized log for milling of about 18″, it would take 409 years or maybe never even make it. To put that more into perspective, a normal slow-growing tree would have about eight rings per inch. This one had about 40, and so close together that they are hard to see.
The tree it came from was small and stunted, trying to grow out of a crack in the granite. It looked like many of the trees directly on the rocks. One of them can be seen in the first photo and another is pictured below.
A few trees were much larger. Perhaps they were very old or just had more soil to work with, even though they were in a tough spot. I was surprised to see a tree this size in this spot.
We also found many trees with odd shapes, trying to work their way through the rocks. After this next post oak, I was told to stop taking tree photos and move on by both of my boss’.
From then on we enjoyed the rest of the park and spent our time climbing on the rocks. We followed the very nice asphalt trail that makes a loop around the rocks and takes you to the top. The following photo shows you the other reason (besides the trees) for going to the top of the mountain. The rocks are unbelievably giant. It is amazing how big the rocks are and that they don’t just roll down the hill. By the way, that is not my family.
This is how the rest of the park looked when we visited on November 10th:
If you have never been to Elephant Rocks, I highly recommend that you go. If you have been there before, I highly recommend that you go again. It is truly amazing, and at about 1-1/2 hours south of St. Louis, worth the drive.
Below are a few notes that I put together after just two trips to Elephant Rocks. If you have been there before, feel free to add your own in the reply section.
Notes for visiting Elephant Rocks:
- Granite gets warm. The park has lots of shade from the trees, but the open spans of granite get toasty in the sun.
- Plan to stay awhile. The path around the park is only a mile, but there are lots of things to see and explore.
- Bring a lunch. There are many nice picnic tables around the parking lot, all situated among trees and rocks.
- Be ready to climb. The entire park is open to be explored. Older kids (and some adults) will be jumping from rock to rock, rock climbers will be honing their skills, and parents of little ones will be very nervous. Even so, there are plenty of places to safely explore close to the ground.
- Granite is slippery. Some spots are well worn, polished and smooth. Don’t be afraid to get down on your butt. You will end up there anyway.
- Bring your camera. You will definitely need a photo of yourself holding up a giant rock.
Don’t miss the biggest rocks. At the bottom of the hill and the entrance to the loop Braille Trail, is what I will call the “foyer” of the park. At this spot, which has a single rock with a ring of asphalt around it, you can head directly into the trees and up the mountain. It is not marked as a trail or a path, but others will most likely be headed through this passage. This is the spot we missed the first time because it is not identified at all, especially compared to the very nice trail that heads away to either side. When there are no leaves on the trees the path will be obvious. Otherwise, just trust me and head up the gut to the top. Do note that heading up the center is on the granite rock and not on an asphalt path. It isn’t too hard to climb, but it isn’t for everyone. If you think you might have trouble climbing the rock, just follow the main trail around the back and to the top. You will end up in the same spot.
Two weekends ago we were looking for some local entertainment and ended up taking a little trip to the Missouri Botanical Gardens. It is on our short list of great St. Louis attractions, and even though it isn’t free like the zoo, the science center, or the art museum, we go there at least once a year. We live in St. Charles now, which is just outside of St. Louis County, so we don’t get a reduced rate or free days like we did when we lived in Hazelwood, but it doesn’t matter. It is well worth the full price of $8 for adults. Children under 12 are free, but the Children’s Garden will add $5 to the bill. Still, for about twenty bucks, it is well worth it.
As soon as I walk through the main building I feel a little lighter and happier, like the worries of the world have just vanished. It feels right. It is so nice and clean and Disneyesque. I can’t help but think that someone needs to build a hotel next to the gardens to capitalize on what they have going. Of course, I’m biased though. I love the outdoors, plants, gardens, and trees.
As soon as you walk out of the main building and head down the path to the right, you are greeted by large trees. I noticed Tulip Poplars and a big Sycamore right away, but they are mixed in with every tree you can think of. The beauty is that they are big, they are old, and they are labeled (by people who I trust).
The trees are set among themed gardens and are usually together in a small group or grove. The Children’s Garden, which is an excellent recent addition, is built in and around a grove of Osage Orange trees like you have never seen. Usually these trees are bushy, with short crooked trunks. Sometimes, they are called “hedge apple” or just “hedge” for short, because they will form a fence-like impenetrable barrier. They are rarely trees that you would look at and say “I could make some good lumber out of that”, but these are a different story. One, in particular, that I photographed is 36″ in diameter at 8′ from the ground and has 16′ or more of good trunk. “Unbelievable!” I say.
Throughout the park the story is the same. Big trees mixed in with beautiful gardens are a constant, except of course, in the Japanese Garden, where everything is more petite. Back by the English Garden are the biggest trees; Ash, White oak, and a record Basswood.
One group that stood out during our visit was the Black Gums or Tupelo. Three smaller trees hung over the path and were buzzing with the sound of thousands of bees. I have heard about Tupelo Honey and I got a chance to hear it being made (the girls were not as excited as me to be under those trees). There were a few beehives a short distance away, and you could smell the honey in the air.
As always, we didn’t see everything because the park is so big, but we got to fly through most of it in a couple of hours. If you really wanted to take in everything there, it would take a full day, and I am sure you would still miss something. Even so, I highly recommend that you visit this world-class park. You will not be disappointed.
Here are some other photos of the park for your enjoyment (click on any photo to view the slide show):
Earlier this year, I was reintroduced to the Missouri River when my daughter, Mira and I were almost blown off of this planet by a group of reenactors. We were cruising the river bank and wandered in to a not-so-secure, secure area right before the big moment. Luckily, we escaped with our lives and have been able to go back to look for more treasures. (click here for the full story)
A few weeks ago, after Mira’s girl scout outing to learn about the river, we ventured out on our own. Mira found pieces of colored glass, mussel shells and special rocks, while I, of course, looked for wood. I found some cool pieces that weren’t too big to take back and was especially intrigued by long slender pieces of wood that were debarked. I don’t know what did it, but I assume it was a small rodent. I don’t think it was a beaver because the teeth marks are small, so I am calling them “Muskrat Sticks” until I learn something different. Every stem was chewed like corn on the cob (the way I do it with all of the corn gone, not like the girls do it with sporadic bites between kernels). I was drawn to them because they were so uniform in size and texture, and all of them were recently chewed down, so the color was consistent too. I don’t know that anyone will use them, but I grabbed them anyway.
After that, I got thinking even more about wood (I know, it doesn’t seem possible, but I did). Specifically, I was thinking about that giant river running right by my shop and all of the other treasures that it might be dropping in my lap. Since then, I have had two occasions to cruise the river and look for more goodies, and I must admit, I am pretty proud of myself. My biggest/best find was an old railroad tie. It was just floating right next to the bank, and I grabbed it. I almost walked right by it because I was focused on logs and branches. If you look really close, you can see where the spikes went through it originally. Now, the holes merge into the hollowness created by the years of bobbing in the river. Amazingly, it is completely solid, except for all of the wood that is missing. It will make a great rustic fireplace mantel for the right person in the right house.
While I was searching, I also found a couple of other pieces that stood out in the crowd. One looked like a rock or something unwood (I can sell any wood that doesn’t look like wood – weird, I know), while the other was chewed by a very cooperative beaver. He left just enough for it to be useable and picked the perfect diameter log to make a table leg. I have always thought that it would help to have a well-trained beaver, and he couldn’t have done a better job. Thank you, beaver.
This past Saturday I took Mira, my 5 year-old daughter, to downtown St. Charles, MO for a girl scout outing at the Lewis and Clark Heritage Days Festival. I was sent because Chris, my lovely wife, was busy working on Mira’s birthday party scheduled for the following day and because she didn’t really think it was going to go that well. It was going to be hot (90ish) and we were going to do boring things, like milk cows, make candles, pet ducklings, learn how to make arrowheads, learn how to start a fire with flint and steel, drink authentic root beer, watch a juggler, watch a guy carve wooden signs and make wooden rings, learn how to make thread from wool, watch the drum and fife corp (much cooler than I thought it would be), make butter, pet a calf, shop for a tiki turtle necklace and pet horses. Needless to say, we were there for quite a while and would have stayed longer, but after almost four hours we were running out of energy and time. We had to get home – fresh cupcakes were waiting for us.
The last thing we did was see a juggler and headed in the direction of the car. We were close to the river (Missouri) and the water was low, so I said, “Let’s walk down to the river before we go and check it out.” Mira was starting to fade and didn’t really want to, but she said O.K. with the promise that we would head home after that. The river is big and muddy and isn’t very scenic, but for me it always holds the possibility of big catfish and big logs, so we headed down. There were lots of people in the park, but we only passed two guys walking along the river (it isn’t very scenic).
We weren’t down there very long and I found a big, burly maple log. Mira wanted to go. I looked to the right and saw another good-sized log. We checked it out and it was a walnut. Mira wanted to go. I was excited because I expect every log along the river to be a cottonwood, and so far I had found no cottonwoods. I started coming up with plans on how to get the logs out; boat here, truck there, wait a little for the water to come up. Mira wanted to go. I didn’t see any more logs to check out, so we headed up the bank.
We walked until we found an opening in the weeds that I thought was in line with the car. At the top of the bank I took a look around to see exactly where we were. Directly ahead I saw a fair number of gentlemen dressed in bright red British regalia. Behind them was a large crowd of people gathered around to see something. It was me and Mira, about to have our heads blown off by the British and their big fancy canon – and to think we didn’t even dress up. One of the soldiers saw us pop up like whack-a-moles and started flailing his arms and yelling, “Get Out Of There! MOVE!”
Luckily, they hadn’t lit the cannon yet and, more luckily, I am pretty sure they didn’t have a cannon ball in it. They kept yelling, we kept moving and people kept staring at the idiots that walked in front of the cannon, until finally we were out of the way enough to fire. By the way, that thing was loud.
Here are the logs we almost gave our lives for.