Sunday, January 15, 2017

Elephant Rocks

    We woke in our sweet camp site at Johnson's Shut-Ins to a cool, cloudy day.  The peak of Taum Sauk Mountain was shrouded in clouds and we thought we should try a few non-river activities until it warmed up.  Luckily, one of the neatest natural wonders in the state is thirteen miles away.
     Elephant Rocks is an outcropping of the famous Missouri red granite that resembles a string of pink circus elephants.  You can run, climb, pose and ponder these fantastic formations in Belleview, MO.  Dogs are welcome, but observe the social contract and clean up after them!  

The stamp for Elephant Rocks is at The Battle of Pilot Knob (new name, same great civil war battlefield), so make sure you grab the code and travel the 12 miles into town.

The whole low down on why these granite shapes are here is explained very well here.  The state park website is here.  If you're within an hour, go see this.  Luckily, you can go to Johnson Shut-Ins, Taum Sauk and Battle of Pilot Knob as well as the vast awesomeness of Mark Twain National Forest are all nearby.

Johnson's Shut-Out

     This was our first trip after we decided to go to all of the Missouri state parks systematically.  Cat and I had both been to Johnson's Shut-Ins in our youths, but it had been 20 plus years and we were ready for a return.  We loaded up the micro-van/maxi-wagon and headed southeast.  
     Johnson's Shut-Ins is located on the East Fork of the Black River in Reynolds County, Missouri.  A shut-in is an area where the breadth of the river is defined by erosion resistant rock.  The river moves through these nooks, crannies, slides, and chutes in a sort of natural water park.  It's a ton of fun for all people who love water, and is something all Missourians should see.  If you're waiting for me to geek out on the geology, save us both the trouble and read the wiki
     The Upper Taum Sauk reservoir burst and flooded the park, essentially destroying all facilities on 12/14/05, and AmerenUE had to pay handsomely to rebuild it. So, the visitor center, campground, and trail system are all brand new in the last 5 years.  
     Seriously nice campground where they've preserved the scrub woods between campsites so it feels like a much more established campground and lends more privacy to each site.  Showers are in individual rooms, so no gym class nightmares.  Shady spots are connected with a gravel trail in the outer loops which turns to concrete near the check station and runs two miles to the visitor center (Black River Center).  The trail is easy going, but worth noting that you may want to drive it as you'll have an additional two mile hike from the visitor center to the actual Shut-Ins.  
     As a point of order, you cannot take your dog (or any other pet) to the shut-ins themselves.  This was unfortunate as we were tent camping and had our beloved black lab, Cash, with us.  So, we're going to have to go back!  We'll update this when we do.  
     The visitor center itself is gorgeous.  They've got drawers full of fun stuff for your kids to play with, kid-height buttons that play bird songs, and other interactive exhibits.  
     The visitor center is the passport stamp location for Taum Sauk as well as the Shut-Ins, though somewhat counterintuitively is NOT for Elephant Rocks.  You'll have to head to the state historic site formerly known as Ft. Davidson (Battle of Pilot Knob) for that one.

The fact we couldn't take Cash to the Shut-ins is actually what set us off on our 87 park adventure.  Since we couldn't swim.... we went everywhere.