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Yesterday was a warm and slightly cloudy, an inviting day for a trip out into the countryside, cameras in hand.
So I decided to revisit Pickle Springs Natural Area, a spot I'd lasted visited three years ago, collecting a series of photographs, some of which were published in the Ozarks Moutaineer magazine.

My last visit had been in May, on a hot and muggy day. Not this time. It was warm – at least by winter standards – and the air was clear and fresh. Spring had not yet made much of an imprint. The deciduous trees showed no leaf at all and only a few fresh green shoots scattered here and there in the landscape indicated that the season is changing.

The trail through the area begins at a small car park set aside from a Missouri gravel road (there are many gravel roads in this state). It's an unpaved path, common to Missouri natural areas, that always starts out level and inviting and ends up with some fairly energetic scrambling up and down hills and valleys.

Starting high, the path takes you down onto the edge of a small ravine. As you do so, you pass a number of interesting rock formations, the first of which is a narrow trench called "The Slot".

Formed by fractures in the Lamotte Sandstone, and eroded and leached by water flow, this structure extends for several hundred yards towards a small box canyon.

I was tempted to walk down it but decided against it.

Even though my passage would have been easier at this time of year than during the growing season, there were enough trees and branches down to make it difficult enough. Besides, there was a lot more to see and I had arrived relatively late in the day, at about 3:30 p.m.

So I moved on, following the trail (which was not that clear at this point) along the top of the small canyon until I reached a series of increasingly fascinating rocks.

The low sun and the bare trees laid shadows over everything, giving the already complex landscape a further layer of light and shade.

It made for a very beautiful sight.

The rocks shown below are nicknamed "Cauliflower" rocks, although a little imagination could bring forth a dozen different names.

They are most impressive, not least for rising up in this dense forest.

Walking on a little further brought me to a deeply eroded rock known as the 'Double Arch'. This stood out from a hillside outcrop and the trail was cleverly constructed with the aid of wooden stairs to pass just by it.
If you wished, you could walk through. Although the rather slender outer column gives the illusion that it might not be quite as sturdy as you would wish!

Continuing down into the ravine below brought you to the "Keyhole" rock that is shown in the first photograph of this article. Named, obviously, after the small opening, it's another gorgeous rock formation.

The trail takes you right into this formation and then beyond down the to the Pickle Creek stream. That and more I will show in Part II.

Here's another view of the "Keyhole".

(Part II here.)