Back in May I talked Russ into getting up early on a Saturday morning and driving 90 miles to hike a 2 mile trail. He wasn’t thrilled, he hates getting up early & going that far to hike 2 miles…Really?! I’d heard great things about Pickle Springs Natural Area, my mind was made up. My daughter agreed to watch the dog for the day, no excuses.
My expectations for Pickle Springs were pretty high, based on comments and pictures from friends. My high expectations were blown away again and again that day! A hike that should have taken around 2 hours took us 5 hours! I’m a slow hiker, but there were so many things to explore and climb on and take pictures of! Massive boulders, canyons, bluffs, tall fragrant pine trees…a favorite of mine but not very common in Missouri. The only drawback…too many people. Although I can’t blame anyone for wanting to be there! This is definitely one of my top 3 trails…so far!! We are for sure going to hike this trail in the fall and winter.
I’ll let the many pictures I took tell the rest, after all…a picture is worth a thousand words!
Earlier I said the only drawback was too many people. I should have said disrespectful people. Nothing pisses me off more than finding trash along the trail, or so I thought. On a giant boulder, some nit wit thought being the one and only graffiti artist would be a good thing. NOT! Keep it on the bathroom stalls, please. And by the canyon, I found…eewwww…a pair of men’s underwear! And later, a couple different socks. How does one not know they lost A sock or their underwear?!! Ugggg
This canyon area was beautiful. Pictures don’t do it justice. There was a small tunnel at one end of it and Russ managed to climb through. I hiked around to the other side and waited and waited, all kinds of disastrous thoughts running through my head! He made it, no problems.
The next set of pictures are from my favorite area. Pine trees everywhere!! It smelled so good! And the views were spectacular!
Finally, a day just right for Russ and I to get back out in the woods and explore! The weatherman said the high would be around 82°. Not bad for Labor Day weekend! It was so hot this summer, too hot for hiking, especially after Russ had been working out in that heat. Then there was his hand issue, which is still a bit of a mystery but steroids and anti-inflammatory meds seem to be helping some. So we set out for Sandstone Canyon Trail at Don Robinson State Park in Cedar Hill, MO. The park opened in January 2017. Several friends have hiked it and said it’s great. The reviews on alltrails were good, mentioning the box canyon, caves, waterfalls, creeks…they sold me!
The first .50 mile was paved, with a wheelchair accessible trail going around it to cut down on the elevation. At the end of the paved trail is a nice pavilion with picnic tables. I don’t like walking on pavement but it was a pretty walk.
The first mile or so was just walking through the trees, nothing spectacular except for a huge funnel spiderweb. I tried and tried to get a picture of the whole thing where you could tell what it was, but it was just too tall.
Eventually we came to the beginning of the canyon area. The trail was really steep going down and I was really glad it wasn’t muddy! At the bottom was a creek and as I started to continue on to the right Russ spotted through the trees across the creek, what he thought might have been a broken up concrete bridge/road. He has to know what unnatural things are when we come across them so we left the trail, crossed the creek and explored. Russ decided that these huge slabs of concrete, some laying helter skelter on one side of the creek and in the creek, and others still standing going back over 100 feet to the canyon wall, must have been a dam. My pictures don’t tell the story very well as there was so much vegetation it was difficult to get good pictures. We have done a little research and can’t find any information about it. It’s a massive amount of concrete and we are as puzzled by what it really is, why it was built as we are by how in the heck did they get all of that concrete down there! So this thing is well over 100 feet long (if it were all still standing), about 2 feet thick and about 15 feet tall. That’s a lot of concrete!
Russ would have been happy to go home then! But the hike kept getting better and better. Several creek crossings, not much water…piece of cake. In places we were right next to the canyon wall. The closer to the canyon walls we were, the trail was mostly sand. That was nice to walk on! Most of the time the trail was along the rim of the canyon. It was beautiful but again so much vegetation my pictures were terrible. We saw several places that would have been awesome waterfalls had it not been so dry.
Then…The Canyon! This one is huge and beautiful and I can get some good pictures! I spot a trail down at the bottom and tell Russ we need to figure out how to get down there. Not far away there was a side trail going down to the bottom of the canyon! Oh boy!
It was even better than I thought it would be! And bigger! I’ll just let the pictures tell this part of the story.
Back on the trail there was an old crumbled down cabin, slowly sliding into a creek.
By the time we climbed out of the canyon, we’d been out in the woods over 3 hours and had only gone a little over 2 miles! We tend to take a long time when we explore, we still had 2 more miles to go but Russ’s back was done. We took a shortcut trail and came across a nifty natural stone bridge. Met a couple & they told us about a few other good hiking places. And I found a funky woodpecker tree. Shortcuts are good things!
I’m still amazed by the beauty I keep finding in my own state…Missouri! I can’t wait to go back and see what we missed. I’m definitely going back in the winter. My friend Scott sent me these pictures today from his hike in January. The temperature was 8°…yikes! I don’t think I’m that crazy, but I love winter hiking!
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!
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
Tree growing upside down. There were several like this throughout the canyon!
I’ve never had a fight with my BFF Crystal! We’ve been friends since 7th grade. We just celebrated our 55th birthdays! We’re both Leo’s…whatever that means. We’ve cried together, we’ve laughed & laughed & laughed & laughed until we cried & cried! We’ve gotten ourselves into so many predicaments…lost, stuck, stranded, lost, bad dates! We always have so much fun together! The one thing we haven’t done together is hike. Since I started hiking, I’ve been trying to get her to go with Russ and I. But it never worked out with her schedule. Until our sort of annual road trip to Ottawa Illinois Riverfest. The Riverfest is a great weekend (for us) of live bands and local food! The drive up is just as fun as the stay in Ottawa! This year was going to be extra special. Our favorite tribute band, and the reason we started going to Riverfest, Silver Bullet STL A Tribute to Bob Seger (Bob Seger is the reason I live and breathe 💖) was playing Saturday night which happened to be Crystal’s birthday! What a perfect way to celebrate! And, there is a state park just a few miles from Ottawa, Starved Rock State Park, that has fabulous hiking trails, or so I’ve been told. So we made plans to do some hiking on Friday and Saturday during the day and we’d rock out to the bands at night. Sounds simple, right? I forgot to mention that Crystal and I are easily distracted! On our first road trip to Ottawa, we ended up getting lost with the help of GPS Kelly (we both know a Kelly we don’t like & we didn’t like the GPS when the snarky voice got her name!) in the little town of Atlanta Illinois trying to find a gas station that was open! In the process we found a giant man holding a hot dog with feet on Route 66! OMG, we laughed until we cried!
Isn’t that thing creepy?! What in the heck does it mean? We were too busy laughing to think about investigating. Of course, we’re talking about giant man on this trip again and there on the side of the highway is a giant man and a lot of other giant beings! We had to go back and check them out.
Needless to say we were cracking up! There were so many giant beings there, but we decided to go with a theme…We Like Big Men and We Can Not Lie…posted it on Facebook along with the original giant man picture. The comments were hilarious! Our next stop was for gas, yep…in Atlanta! We didn’t realize it was the same little town at first until we saw the sign for the library. We drove around and sure enough, there was giant man with a hot dog with feet! Turns out, the feet are really his fingers and thumb! I still don’t know the significance of this giant man with a giant hot dog but there was a girl named Crystal selling hot dogs from a cart on the sidewalk by him. A guy offered to take our picture together next to giant man.
You guessed it, another picture was added to our theme Facebook post! Our friends think we’re still as nuts as we were back in the 70’s! Maybe they just wish they were having so much silly who cares fun?! We’re driving through the cute little town of Utica illinois and there on the side of the road, yep another big man…of sorts! Oh man were we glad I turned around and went back for that photo opp! Happy Birthday Crystal!
You just have to stop when you see a pepto-bismol pink sasquatch wearing an apron with a cupcake on it! He’s the lure for Two Girls and a Cupcake. The best cupcakes I’ve ever tasted! (Yes Crystal, my Jilly’s cupcake that you got me for my birthday was wonderful 💜💜) we went to that dang shop 3 times! Talking about a sugar high! Yikes! Here’s the Facebook page link to their page https://www.facebook.com/twogirlsandacupcakeinc
Yes, we did hike! Starved Rock State Park was insane busy! They have overflow parking lots…for a park that’s mostly about hiking! I couldn’t believe the cars! The people walking to…I don’t know! We weren’t about to park in an overflow lot then walk forever to the park HQ just to find out we had already passed the trailhead. It reminded me of trying to get into 6 Flags! Not the way I like to hike…too many people. We headed to another park, Matthiessen State Park. Again, overflow parking lots but not nearly as many cars or people. But still a lot. At the trailhead…stairs! It looked like thousands of stairs! I hate stairs! Not gonna happen late on Friday afternoon after driving for hours. We decided to just go listen to music and hike somewhere in the morning. Feeling a little bummed we headed back to the hotel on a different road and saw a sign…Illinois Canyon Trail. That was one I wanted to do at Stared Rock! WOOHOO! We found a trail, only 2 cars in the parking lot and it was just about 2 miles in and back. We didn’t have much daylight left so this was perfect for our first hike together! It was easy, relatively flat terrain. But we were really going into a canyon! It was so cool. There was a stream that wound around through the canyon and we had to cross it several times. At the end there was a small waterfall that spilled into a pool. It was so pretty and peaceful. It was a great first hike with my BFF! I’m glad we didn’t do anything harder or longer that day because we ended up needing every ounce of leg & butt muscle we had for our adventure on Saturday morning!
As I said at the end of my last blog post…I didn’t think anything else we’d encounter would top Hop Hollow. Wrong! We knew there was a place called Beaver Falls somewhere within the institute’s boundaries. We ran into a family looking for Beaver Falls and we could hear running water so we followed the sound. Never did see the family again. Guess they didn’t find the waterfall. We did! 😄 like I said before, I didn’t check out the Nature Institute’s website before we started and we didn’t have a map. There was a map posted at the trailhead with points of interest but no information about them. We were expecting a little waterfall like the ones we’ve seen on other trails that were said to have waterfalls…pretty, but they’d barely get my knees wet. So Russ and I are following the sound of running water and come to a pretty little stream. We’d had heavy rain that week and could see how far the stream had been out of its banks. It must have been crazy high and fast!
After a little bit we saw The Waterfall up the stream a way!! Woo-hoo! I wanted to get a picture of it straight on, so I proceed to rock hop out to the middle of the stream. I don’t make it but a couple rocks and I find the ejector rock! Waterproof boots don’t mean a thing when the water is deeper than your boots are tall! Luckily I didn’t drop my phone or land on my butt! Kinda pulled a groin muscle and smashed my left toes into the end of my boot but it was well worth it…the best had yet to come.
It turns out, there was a succession of waterfalls as we followed this stream up. None of them were very high but the sound…wow! They sounded huge! I want that sound right outside my bedroom window. On 3 different trips to Colorado, I stayed in cabins with a rushing stream right outside the cabin…amazing! It doesn’t get any better than that…well, yes it would if I lived in one of the cabins!
At the last and biggest fall, so far, there was a Wilson soccer ball floating in the pool below the falls. Of course, I think of the movie Cast Away, when Tom Hanks’ friend Wilson was floating away in the ocean and he’s standing there on the raft yelling “Wilson!!” Yep, I made my own mini movie remake of that scene! Unfortunately or fortunately more than likely, I can’t post it here! Russ thinks I’m crazy when I do that, but I have fun and if you can’t laugh at yourself, what’s the point of having fun?!
At this point the terrain was getting pretty steep. It was pretty hot that day and we were getting a good workout. We were both using our new hydration backpacks, something I had balked at because I like to use my waste pack to carry my must-haves…my phone (the size of a barge), chapstick, tissues, zip lock bags, small first aid kit, my pain meds, car key, cliff bars. But it only holds 2 water bottles. I found the hydration packs on sale at Aldis, of all places, for $14.99 & thought what the heck. My daughter uses one. She puts a frozen icepack between the water bladder (she keeps that in the fridge until she’s ready to go) and the back of the pack so her back feels the cold too. It worked great! Russ and I were thrilled with our choice of hiking destination, with the packs and still 100% happy with the mosquito and tick spray we had been using…Repel Tick Defense. This place was thick with mosquitoes! We haven’t had a bite or seen a tick since we started using it! We still didn’t think our hike could get any better…it did! After I bid Wilson goodbye we continued to follow the stream. Then we heard a distant roar. The trail had been gradually getting higher than the stream. Then, there it was…THE WATERFALL! The biggest waterfall we’d seen while hiking yet! Way down below us! I’m going down there, Russ thinks I’m crazy and I’ll probaby break something! It was a bit treacherous getting down to the bottom. A fall would have been really bad. Going back up was just as hard, but omg it was so worth it! My pictures don’t do it justice. The sun and the water dripping from the over hanging rock and vegetation and the spray from the falls made getting pictures difficult. Russ didn’t want to get wet and I didn’t want to get my phone wet. I was soaking wet by the time I climbed back up! I think that was the first time I’ve ever played in a waterfall! By the way, Russ sucks at taking pictures! He took several of me but they got deleted! It was absolutely gorgeous down there! And LOUD! We had to yell to hear each other.
I had a blast! I was a little worried about hiking the rest of the day in wet clothes and boots but it was hot out…being wet felt great and I dried off pretty quickly. There was another waterfall above the big one that was pretty far off the trail and down a really steep hill, plus it wasn’t very big…you’ve seen 5 or 6 small waterfalls in 1 day, you’ve seen them all!
The last small waterfall in the background
Well, that was it for waterfalls! We hiked up out of the valley onto a very flat trail and preceeded to get completely turned around and ended up in a farm field! Good grief, sometimes we absolutely suck at following signs! Thank goodness for the GPS map in the alltrails app! At one point we were going through an old growth forest. Massive trees everywhere! Again pictures just didn’t capture how spectacular, how beautiful it really was. I gave up trying after a couple shots. Then the terrain and vegetation changed again. It was so green and damp. Ferns everywhere. It was like a rain forest.
According to The Nature Institute’s website, we missed several points of interest. Bald Eagle nests…gotta go back in the winter to see them! One thing we happily missed…Eastern Timber Rattlesnakes…Oh My!
The Nature Institute is quite the little gem. I can’t wait to go back and see what we missed, sans snakes of course! I can only imagine how beautiful it is in the winter.
Oh, we followed deer tracks on one trail for a long time, adult and tiny ones. Russ caught a glimpse of a deer bounding away into the thick trees.
Here’s the link to the website. Check it out. Plan a trip. I know you won’t be disappointed!