Swimming Deer Trail

Swimming Deer Trail is a 3.5 mile loop trail in St. Francois State Park in St. Francois County MO. This park is gorgeous. Our previous hike was in this park, Mooners Hollow Trail. We did Swimming Deer on October 29. It was in the 40’s and the fall colors had finally kicked in. Bright blue skies…perfect hiking weather!! IMG_20171029_111447689

The trail follows The Big River up along a bluff part of the way, though we were able to get down to the river at one point. The water was pretty low there. IMG_20171029_113200590

Our first discovery was a cave. Yep, I went in! I couldn’t go very far because I was on my hands and knees, holding my phone videoing! It turned to left, the opening got a little smaller and I couldn’t see anymore so I stopped. If I would have had my flashlight, which was in my pack outside the cave, I would have gone as far as I could. Russ was kinda freaking out since he couldn’t see me! All I found were some mosquitoes and a bunch of rocks under my knees…bruises!


I’m always amazed by rock steps. Are they natural, man made, how long have they been there? This set of steps looked natural to me or at least made by hands many many years ago. Either way, up we went to the top of the bluffs overlooking the river for some spectacular views. When we got to the top, we met a couple of younger guys and an older gentleman and the older man just stood there looking down those steps like he might cry. The poor guy was beat. I told him that once he gets down that’s the last really hard descent and he had less than a mile to go. That lit up his face! I know how he felt, I’d rather go up than down, well my knees and ankle would! IMG_20171029_115732497IMG_20171029_121639134

Too pretty not to include!
There’s a beautiful home tucked into the trees across the river
Russ was not happy posing for this picture so close to edge!

Eventually we turned away from the river. It was a fall color explosion! The leaves just rained down on us constantly. Sensory overload, in a great way. The sound of the leaves falling, of our feet pushing through a carpet of freshly fallen leaves…no crunchy leaves yet. And the smell was something I wish I could bottle and bring home. It wasn’t that damp earthy decay smell one would expect. The ground was too dry from lack of rain for that. It was something I’ll probably never experience again…It was that wonderful!

Tree tunnel
Russ being a tree!
At some point there had been a fire through here. Many charred trees and still some yellow fire line tape.
The trail almost disappeared

There’s an old cabin/shack off the trail. From a distance it looks pretty cool. Up close, it’s full of graffiti 😠. No clue what it was used for, why it’s there. Supposidly there’s an old logging mill off the trail, maybe it’s part of that. IMG_20171029_195541IMG_20171029_132655700IMG_20171029_133053456

And now for what has become my favorite things to look for and photograph….funky trees. I drive Russ crazy taking pictures of trees! Sometimes I take a dozen (or more) of one tree trying to get the best shot. Not always easy to do with a camera phone. We came across this amazing old cedar tree. I thought it was dead since it was hollow at the bottom but way way up at the top the branches were full of green needles! I was doubly amazed by that tree.


I also look for burls in trees. I never noticed them before I started hiking. I just thought burl wood came from some exotic type of tree that didn’t grow in boring ole Missouri!  Oops! While I know next to nothing about burls, I now know they grow on Missouri trees. I found 2 on this hike. One on a skinny tall tree. The burl was bigger than a basketball. The tree trunk was maybe 3″ in diameter! The other one was on what was left of a long dead tree and what was left of the burl was massive! IMG_20171029_132846875IMG_20171029_144228221IMG_20171029_144303329



Hike #2 With My BFF – Matthiessen State Park

Dells Canyon and Bluff Trail. We changed the name to Stairmaster From Hell Trail! This is the park Crystal and I went to on Friday afternoon, took a look at all of the stairs at the trailhead and said “No thank you!”. I hate stairs! I fell down icy stairs a few years ago and broke my ankle and heel and split a tendon. Eventually had surgery to remove a piece of bone and repair the tendon which resulted in major nerve damage and the tendon repair failed. A second surgery to attempt to repair the damage resulted in a severed nerve and I’m pretty sure the tendon repair has failed as well. Half of my foot and my heel are numb and I walk with a weird gate and take stairs one at a time, leading with my left foot. Over time, this has effected my knees…they don’t like stairs either! It all hurts like heck, but I finally decided I needed to get up and start moving, I have the rest of me to take care of. My feet are going to hurt no matter what I do, sitting at my desk, watching TV or getting outside and enjoying nature and my friends and getting much needed exercise! So, I decided to conquer those stairs! With my BFF at my side, I could do anything! I wish I would have counted all of the stairs we went up and down that day. We did count one section going up from the lower dell to the middle trail…142 stairs! We went down 75 of them from the bridge into the lower dell. That was just a small portion of the stairs we went up and down!

We were at the trailhead by about 8:45 am. The parking lot was almost full! I have mad parking skills and always get good parking places, which I did. We took our time going down the stairs. We had no idea what we’d find once we got down there. Tons of people and a bridge over a stream and waterfall/lake! And of course, more stairs if you want to go down into the dells and get to the stream!

First chunk of stairs at the trailhead
Second chunk of stairs down from the trailhead
Looking back up a chunk of stairs we had just descended
View looking over the bridge into the lower dell
Stairs descending into the upper dell

Crystal and I headed for the upper dell stairs. Just going down the stairs it was beautiful!  The stairs end right in the water but there are round concrete stepping pillars to use. I didn’t take many pictures in the upper dell because there were so many people. I feel funny taking pictures of random strangers unless they’re far away or really cute guys, haha!


After exploring the upper dell and dodging people, we went back up the stairs and followed the road-like trail to a sign that said Lower Dell and yep, more stairs! A lot more stairs! A family…grandma (younger grandma), dad, pregnant mom and 3 little ones had gone down the stairs before us…pregnant mom carrying a toddler 😲…I was impressed! Down we went. I’m guessing 150+ stairs until we got to another bridge. Crossed the bridged then another 75 stairs (I did count these) down to the stream. It was even more beautiful than the upper dell! And more people. The weather was beautiful, people were taking advantage it and I don’t blame them. This time, the sun was just right for most of my pictures. I think they turned out pretty good for a phone camera. Once we got to the end of the canyon where the waterfall was, there were several caves I would loved to have explored but I didn’t have a flashlight and there were a lot of people going in and out of them in the dark…just didn’t want to go there! There’s a big stone face carving in front of one of the caves that’s really cool. I have no idea how old it is. While searching for information about the carving, I found a website with a really good article about Matthiessen State Park and the dells.                       https://hubpages.com/travel/Matthiessen-State-Park-Oglesby-IL        

I’d love to go back and do this trail & yes, the stairs, again in the fall when the trees are changing but I can only imagine the crowds! So maybe I’ll try to get back there in the winter when the trees are bare and maybe not so many people. Ottawa is about 70 miles from Chicago, 250 miles from St Louis…it’s a beautiful area to visit, a fun weekend getaway.  https://pickusottawail.com