• The Mississippi: A Visual Biography by Quinta Scott

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Water, Rock, and the Ozark Landscape: A New Direction

Since I started this blog several months before The Mississippi was published in 2010, I have concentrated on issues facing the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast and it has been a gift that keeps on giving. I have written about the recent drought that brought the river so low that the Corps of Engineers had to blast rocks out of Thebes Gap. The BP oil spill in 2010 was a treasure trove of material for months. My last post was on the St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway closure, a bad idea that keeps coming back, the way so many ideas for altering the river and its wetlands do.


In 2001 during a low period in my research on The Mississippi, I ventured down into Madison County, Missouri and discovered the Silver Mines Shut-in along the St. Francis River. I made a great photograph on that October day and returned to the shut-in almost weekly for the next six months, studying the fall of light and color on this place. You can see these images at MissouriOzarkPhotographs.com. At the same time I began making photographs of other shut-ins in the St. Francois Mountains of the Missouri Ozarks.

These days I am working full time on the Missouri Ozarks. I call the project, Missouri Rocks. I plan to devote this blog to what I am learning about the interplay of water, rocks, and the Missouri Ozark Ecosystem. Unless, of course, the Mississippi provides another gift.


Kassel Cave Natural Bridges


Kassel Cave Tunnel 1

Kassel Cave Tunnel 1, the portal to a system of natural tunnels

Yesterday was warm, windy, and overcast, perfect for making photographs of the Kassel Cave Natural Tunnels in Perry County, Missouri.

Thomas R. Beveridge described the tunnels in Geological Wonders and Guriousities of Missouri. For years it has been on my list of places to hike. But, it is privately owned and I needed permission. Somewhere along the line, someone gave me the owners’ number. I called and they gave me permission to  hike to the tunnels.

We hiked across the pasture, where their llamas graze and where their in-your-face llama gave us each a kiss, to the road that leads down to the creek. Of course, we missed the gate and hiked down to the creek and back up to the gate to the road to the creek. Once, at the creek we hiked through a tiny floodplain forest to the portal to the natural tunnels.

There are four of them, plus the cave, all within an area 100 feet in diameter.

Kassel Cave Tunnel 2

Kassel Cave Tunnel 2

We picked our way across the rocky floor of  Tunnel 1 to the canyon, where  Mike turned to me and said, “It looks exactly like the description you read to me on the way here.” It did, but sorting out which is tunnel is which is beyond me.

Tunnels 2 and 3

Tunnels 3 and 4

The tunnels were eroded through Plattin limestones.

Castor River Glade


Castor River Glade

Castor River Glade

The soil on the Castor River Glade is thin and rapidly drained and the rocks exposed. It almost desert-like and it supports drought-tolerant trees, grasses, sedges, and wildflowers.

Moss and Lichen on southward facing slope

Moss and Lichen on southward facing slope

At least three different moses and one lichen carpet the pink granite bluff on which a cedar has taken root in a crevice in in the rock.

Cedars invade the glade

Cedars invade the glade

The Caster River Glade is an igneous glade that supports pineweed, prickly pear, little bluestem, pencil flower, rushfoil, wild hyacinth, flowering surge, sundrops, and fame flower. The eastern collared lizard warms itself on the exposed rocks.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has a program of prescribed burning to hold back the invasive cedars, black jack oak, post oak, and shrubs that might crowd out the grasses and wildflowers.

Igneous Forest

Igneous Forest

Moss and lichen mantled outcroppings of granite scatter through out the well-drained forest on the eastern slope of the hill bordering the Castor River Shut-ins. Slow-growing black hickory, northern red oak, and black jack oak vegetate the forest.

Hike Hickory Canyon

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.