Hike the St. Francois Mountains, a dome ancient Precambrian rocks in the southeastern corner of Missouri. They are two and a half billion years old and were never completely buried by the inland seas. Look at a Missouri’s geological map, layer upon layer of sedimentary rocks–sandstones, limestones, and dolomites–spread out around the ancient mountains, a circular calendar of geological time: Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Mississippian, Pennsylvanian. North of the Missouri River sedimentary rocks are buried under glacial till and seldom emerge at the surface. Where they do, the results are dramatic tunnels and pinnacles. South of the Missouri River, however, the rocks lie at or just below the face of the Ozark Plateau.
LaMotte Sandstone, Missouri’s first layer of sedimentary rocks, eroded from the St. Francis Mountains. Missouri’s Hawn State Park and the Pickle Springs Conservation area, both in Ste. Genvieve County, are two well know places to hike the terrain created by LaMotte Sandstone.
Less well known is Hickory Canyon Natural Area, also in Ste. Genevieve County and owned by the L-A-D Foundation. It offers two hikes, a short one, 1/4 mile, into a box canyon, and a longer one, a mile, tracks down through sandstone forests, crosses a pretty creek that flows out of a second box canyon, and returns to the trailhead.
The 1/4 mile hike is easy down into the box canyon and easy up . It is an intimate hike that takes you along the canyon walls, where fiddle fern sprouts from a mossy substrate that is blooming.
At the foot of the trail find the intermittent waterfall, which can gush after a rain, but generally dribbles as water tumbles down from ledge to ledge.
Winter at Hickory Canyon is an icy marvel, where melting snow slides off the bluff and freezes in a waterfall.
To get to Hickory Canyon: Exit I-55 at Missouri Highway 32 and go west to State Highway C. Turn Right. Follow C to Sprott Road, which will take you to the Hickory Canyon parking area. Signs will tell you which hike is which.