Another glorious weekend with warm temperatures and clear blue skies.
Enough incentive for me to take a trip into the deep Missouri countryside. A trip it was too, 70-odd miles south of St. Louis into Ste. Genevieve county to visit the Hickory Canyons Natural Area off Highway C slightly west of Interstate 55.
My wife had already been there on a day out earlier in the summer and came back enthusiastic about the place. She – and I – found it through Steve Henry's excellent 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: St. Louis guide book.
A guide book was needed too. This natural area is impossible to find without unless you know the area already. There are no road signs or directions anywhere. You have to follow the map, ending up with a 1-1/2 mile drive down a gray gravel road to the trailhead.
So I was not altogether surpised to find myself the only person there on this wonderful Saturday afternoon. There are two trails, and I took the shorter one into a close-by box canyon.As is always the case with a natural area hike (as opposed to a state park or recreation area) paths are minimal and frequently steep and rocky. No easy paved trails here. The wood was dense, still very green but with the first flush of autumnal coloring appearing.
The path led down to the base of the small canyon and a small blackwater pool.
With the sun lowering in the sky, the pool and the lower rock formations were in deep shadow. A stillness hung over the area, and the water looked as if it had not been disturbed for ages. Not a silence, though, for the scratching of insects and bird song made an unceasing background.
The canyon was not high, maybe 30 meters at most, but the rocks were old, undisturbed and undecorated except by moss and ferns.Ferns are not common in Missouri – you do not find bracken here at all. So it is a pleasure to find a microclimate in these remote box canyons that supports these beautiful plants.
The filtered sunlight cast yellow dapples on the higher rocks, adding very much to the beauty of the scene.
Looking up, I could see a long tree trunk spanning one of the canyon's corners and the brightly lit canopy above. A very peaceful and refreshing sight that was good for my soul. I felt cares and worries lift from me.
I spent a long time there, not moving much at all from this particular spot. Everywhere I looked was just so pretty.
But eventually, as I could tell by the ever higher creeping sunlight, it would be getting dark and, even though I was not that far from the trailhead and my car, the path was not well marked and a little tricky in places. Not perhaps the best road to take in low light.
So I headed back, past these striking rock formations.
I found the car still in bright sunlight, so decided to head back towards Ste. Genevieve to catch that old and well-preserved village in the reddening light, and then north back on Highway 61 to St. Louis.
Travelling back on that highway, I caught sight of this very different view. Beautiful in its own way, but not the beauty of nature.