Pickle Creek

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Wednesday I headed south to try out a new hike in the Ozarks. I plan on concentrating on Ozark hikes this winter, ranging out a bit from my usual St. Louis area favorites. I’ve done the Mississippi and Meramec, time for new waters.

Pickle Creek is a little-known conservation area that’s a pleasant 70-mile drive from St. Louis. The guidebook calls it was one of the best hiking trails in the state to demonstrate many aspects of Ozarks landscape, including the limestone carvings and the dark, moist canyons. The book also said the loop would be about 2 miles, which seemed like a good length for a sunny afternoon.

Once I got there, I also found it had been raining, hard, for about a week and the ground was soft, and wet, and piled high with slippery leaves. Worse, though the trail is only about 2 miles, it has some very steep portions, narrow at times, and bordering on cliffs and filled with rocks and uncertain footing.

However, it is also one of the richest hikes I’ve been on in the last couple of years, featuring limestone, rare ferns in deep woods, waterfalls, and Missouri’s only native pine.

The dead of winter is now on us, and there wasn’t another living creature around, other than a few hearty spiders. Walking in Missouri forests in the winter is such a change from summer when the life can bear down on you from all sides. As much as I enjoy the Missouri green, I like walking in the winter, when the leaves are dropped and you can see the hills. And there are fewer people about.

Wednesday, though, the complete lack of any sound except for creek, waterfall, and the crackle of dead leaves underfoot was unnerving. That combined with the dark, shallow caves carved into the limestone all around made me feel oddly uncomfortable.

I think the effect was heightened by the trouble I was having with the footing. The path is so narrow that the sign at the trailhead points people in the direction to take, forming a one-way flow of traffic. But the drawing at the trailhead promised so much if I continued – carved limestone, waterfalls, bridges and outlooks. And then there was The Slot.

The Slot at Pickle Creek

The Slot was a crack within the ground, bounded by limestone carved by a trickle of water that runs through it. You walk through this crack, the walls blocking the view from either side. The way going is narrow and covered in lichen; dark and wet, with very muddy footing from the rains.

I’ve walked through cracks in cliffs before, but never a crack in the ground; not with dark and hidden pockets just out of view, against a background of damp, dripping cold. I started to pass through but stopped, just after entering, and couldn’t continue. There is this little primeval monkey in the back of my mind that beats its tiny hands against my skull, screaming out in terror when faced with the unknown. Though I can usually calm the monkey without much trouble–throwing millennia of evolution at it until its cries are smothered by reason–sometimes the monkey wins.

Of course, I tell myself that it was only common sense that ruled my decision. After all, there was that mud, there was the slippery footing, and there was the lateness of the day; not to mention not having told my roommate where I was hiking, in case I did become injured. But I can give all the excuses in the world – it was still the monkey.

To heck with the rules that say to walk one way. The other way didn’t have any dark and gloomy cracks, but it did have limestone cliffs along a creek, carved out from time and standing like sentries overhead. They were magnificent.

At one end of the canyon at the bottom of the trail is a creek, and a small waterfall. It was exquisite, made more so by being so delicate and light. No rushing water here, just the gentle drop of water from the top of the cliff to the ground below.

There was a hollowed out area around the bottom, and light gray sand at the bottom. Lining the walls were ferns that filled all the crannies in the rock. From an online guide, I found that wild azaleas and other flowers join the ferns in the Spring and Summer. It must seem like a land out of time when in full growth.

I walked until I reached what was known as the Boulder, and followed what I thought was the path, but reached some steep rocks that I definitely knew I wasn’t up for Wednesday. I was disappointed, though – I’d only managed a little over a mile of the trail, about two miles round trip. The footing wasn’t that bad; this was a level 4 hike, not a 5.

Perhaps the monkey is winning more than I realize–another aspect of getting older I have to come to terms with, like bad knees and a soft butt. Maybe next week, I’ll bring bananas with me. I’ve heard that potassium in bananas is good for the nerves.

Looking for Fall Along Route 66

I had the nicest note today from Mike Rodriquez saying, “…partially thanks to you (your wonderful writings about the river and the countryside surrounding SL) we’re moving back to our childhood home in Lindsborg, KS.”

My first reaction on reading this was, “Wow!” followed by a particularly warm and fuzzy feeling followed not too long after with another “Wow” and then a more thoughtful, “Boy, I sure hope they don’t get hit by a tornado”.

Tornadoes, heat, astonishing political dichotomy, and the ever present bugs that see me as a walking buffet aside, on days like today I renew my love of this land, even though the humidity was enough to drench me within a half mile starting my hike. I can only nod when Mike talks about moving back to Kansas because I remember walking steep rocky trails overlooking one river one day; an old country road surrounded by flowers against the backdrop of yet another river the next–all within 25 minutes of my home– and think how can anyone not want to live here?

How many places can you walk the same trail, over and over, and still feel as if it’s bright and shiny new: one time small pink flowers grow out of short dark green depths; another, tall golden brown weeds form a mosaic of gleaming color against rich yellow and light green.

This week when I walked Powder, new small white flowers carpeted the forest floor and I felt like calling out, “Don’t you ever get tired of growing?” But that would only startle the fawns that have now become so used to me (or people really, but I like to think it’s me, personally) that they quietly graze by the side of the trail only a few feet away.

I hadn’t been to the Route 66 State Park since Spring because normally it can be quite warm in the summer, and since horses are allowed on the paths, it can also be a little odorous at times. But it’s also a good place to check for the beginnings of fall color in this part of the state (though a more accurate check requires a trip further north).

I had the park almost to myself, and when I started across the old Route 66 bridge, I decided just to stop, right there on the bridge, and take some photos. I’ve been wanting to try out my fisheye lens of the river and surrounding hills; normally a fisheye distorts an image too much, but this time, I think it worked nicely, capturing what I see every time I cross this old, rusted bridge.

Bigger photo

There’s a specific path I walk when I go to Route 66, but I thought since I had the place more or less to myself (though stopping on a bridge to take photos isn’t the best of ideas in these times) I thought I would explore the back roads from the car, and then stop and hike wherever the mood hit. I’m glad I did or I wouldn’t have found this marshy pond not to far from the river. In the pond was a marsh bird, fishing for frogs and small fish.

When I parked the car to put on my telephoto lens, the bird hid behind the weeds, peeking out at me, coyly, as if it were playing a game of hide and seek. I just sat there in the car, camera pointed out the window, and soon enough the bird cautiously stepped out behind the weeds and resumed it’s hunting–giving me a chance to get a better picture than I normally can.

Bigger photo

Are you ready to move here, yet?

Loren wrote about his trevails with technology today and I felt for him–good technology done badly is the craft of the devil. But when he wrote about walking to St. Louis to deliver something to me and it being probably faster than dealing with a rigidly uncompromising system, I thought there could be worse places to walk to, or around.

I ended up taking my usual walk, a circular route that goes from parking lot to river and back, past open meadow and closed forest. There was a group of deer along the way, but they’re shy unlike the ones at Powder and ran as soon as I got close. There’s one spot where I can climb down the hill to the water along a loose limestone and rock trail. The path was badly overgrown and I couldn’t safely make it all the way down the hill, even with my hiking stick. But it was nice to be clamboring around a hillside on loose rock, feeling the challenge on muscles and balance.

You can lose yourself when hiking hills, though as Kierkegaard found, no one may notice:

The greatest hazard of all, losing the self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss–an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc.–is sure to be noticed.

Funky Towns: Nashville, Indiana

Yesterday I took a much needed drive into the country, stopping at Nashville, Indiana along the way. Nashville is one of my favorite places, and I wanted to get some photos for an article proposal I’m working about funky towns.

What does a town need to be a genuine funky town?

Old, old buildings lovingly preserved, usually hosting one or more art galleries or other shops. The buildings should either have colorful window displays, and be painted bright colors or left in a careful state of oldness. It also helps if there’s some interesting historical reference about the community. For instance, Nashville’s most interesting aspect is that it has been an artist colony and tourist spot since 1905–long before funky was invented.


A funky town must be described in at least one guidebook as either quaint, charming, or both. It must encourage walking, and be big enough to make it worthwhile to visit, but not so big that a person feels frustrated by the size. Shops should carry items appealing to all tastes and budgets, and totally ignore the concept of ‘less is more’.


It helps if the town has an old movie theater, or playhouse.


Most importantly, the place should have at least one fudge shop, and one ice cream parlor.


Funky towns don’t hide their funkiness. During my walk about Nashville yesterday, two older guys were sitting on a bench talking about the town, and I hovered around pretending to take photos and shamelessly eavesdropping. One guy says to the other that the town has changed in the last twenty years, with all these shops and tourists.

“Never used to have all these stores around, ” he says. “I don’t like it. The town would be a lot different if it didn’t have all these shops.”

“You’re right, ” says the second man. “There’d be a stripmall where we’re sitting.”

Funky towns aren’t ashamed of what they are, and cherish their funkiness; wearing it proudly, like a woman gaudily bedecked with all her jewels.

As soon as you see one, you’ll know you’re in a funky town.


Cape Girardeau

Today was sunny and in the 60’s (that’s ‘warm’ in Celsius). Since issues are still open on the book I am foot loose and loosed my feet to Cape Girardeau today.

Cape Girardeau is a Lovely little town on the Mississippi, with a smaller college (Southeastern), some great architecture, and about the friendliest people I’ve met in Missouri. I ended up chatting my way through town.


First off, Cape Girardeau is the world’s only inland cape, originally built on a rocky promontory on the Mississippi. There’s a park by the water you can walk along, watching the barges float past a rather pretty bridge.

Today the wind was blowing so strong it formed white caps on the river, and a mist, like fog, in the distance. I kept getting sand in my eyes, and spent most of my walk crying, which somewhat fits a lonely river walk. Thankfully I wasn’t seen or there might be concern I was going to throw myself into the river in despair. The need not have feared, though — a person would not commit suicide by jumping in a river with three cameras.

Unless they were weights.

Didn’t stay too long by the water.


Since Old Muddy can be a wild beast at times, there are canals through the town to help with water overflow. In addition, there’s a huge flood wall built between the town and the river. By the height of that wall, that town must have faced some serious flooding.

The buildings in town were interesting. Several vintage civil war era buildings, some in good repair, some with just enough weathering to make them interesting. And because of the college, you have a mix of old and new, including beautiful old buildings with wrought iron trim, and beer cans in the grass surrounding. It is not your ordinary waterfront, tourist town.

Additionally, it has a thing for murals. There are murals everywhere. The nicest of the bunch was the mural pained on the river wall–The Missouri Wall of Fame. It features famous people who have been born in Missouri. Among them are Mark Twain, of course, Walter Cronkite, Betty Grable, George Washington Carver, President Truman, General Omar Bradley, Josephine Baker, and several others.



Today was a quiet day — too quiet in some ways, because I think my picture taking generated interest in its own right. However, that led to fun conversations. For instance, I was taking pictures through a closed antique shop window when the owner came up and we started chatting about the sewing machine in the window. He said that the machine was actually listed on eBay under his username (which I will post as soon as I find the piece of paper he gave me).

His shop, A-1 Consignment was great; just a jumble of stuff, and I do mean jumble (that will make the collectors drool). The business is a part-time job for him, so it’s not always open; he supplements his income selling stuff on eBay, which I thought was an interesting story to pursue (putting into my future story to-do list).

He also had a terrific story to tell about Rush Limbaugh, as well as an old Post Office letter cancelling machine but I’m fading fast, so I’m forced into being a tease, and leaving these stories for tomorrow. In the meantime, the rest of the photos.

(And its Mardi Gras this next week — I have to be healthy for the parades and the King Cake.)







The Owl’s Song

The point along the Katy Trail most recommended is the area around Rocheport, and in particular, the Rocheport Tunnel. This was my goal last week when I left early in the morning to get to the town before the Missouri mid-day heat. But what started out in the heat of day, ended up in the cold, dark reaches of indian lore before this journey was over.

The Rocheport Tunnel is near the town but I wasn’t sure which way to head from the parking lot; I picked the direction to my left, which was wrong, of course. However, this stretch of the trail leads by the Missouri and past several handsome limestone cliffs, and the time spent exploring wasn’t a waste.

Katy really is a biking trail and I was the only walker among several cyclists out and about. Since the trail is long, I can see why bikes would be handy, but I think the cyclists miss the specialness of this trail by moving along at the faster speeds, view focused ahead on the loose limestone paths. The area around Rocheport is especially rich with character, and I seemed to be the only recipient of its mysteries, as I would stop and peer about at this break in the foliage, that interesting view — forming a kind of movable hazard for the bikers along the way.

Of course the Missouri river’s always fun to walk beside, and this is one of the few places along the Katy Trail where both were together rather than being separated by a strip of farmland and trees.

There was a underground stream that broke through the cliff wall at one point, behind some bushes, but you couldn’t see it unless you’re walking along; leisurely walking along at that, paying attention to your surroundings rather than burning fat on your thighs. When I stopped to check it out more closely, I found an old MKT (Missouri, Kansas, and Texas) Railway mark, sealed into the side of the hill.


In another spot I found a break in the bushes along the side of the trail and a path that led to what looked like an old abandoned stone home that had literally been built into the side of the hill underneath an overhang. Next to it was another split in the wall, and I couldn’t help thinking that the place would have to be a natural home for black bear in the winter.

In the winter, yeah, and this is summer and Missouri bears are regular teddies, but I still only went so close to both dwellings. I wouldn’t walk up to them, peer in. It wasn’t because of the bears, as much as it was that the dwellings had a odd feel to them, and there was no mention of them in any of the Katy Trail guides. Maybe there’s a reason and a risk?

Fanciful thoughts that Missouri seems to grow as plentifully as it grows the Green.

Stone Home

As interesting as the trail was, after a while — a hour or so — I realized I went the wrong way and turned back. I killed some time in town, getting an ice tea, chatting with some of the cyclists (finding all sorts of new trails to try, thanks to their suggestions), and finally headed towards the Tunnel.

Of course, the Tunnel is right on the Trail, at the very edge of the town only ten minutes from the parking lot. By this time of day, the weather was hot under the mid-day sun and I was looking forward to the shade of the Tunnel. Still, when I crossed the bridge over the tributory leading to the Missouri, and approached the entrance, I again experienced that same unease and reluctance to enter as I experienced earlier with the stone dwellings.


It wasn’t because I was afraid of the dark or the Tunnel — you can see the other end easily, the Tunnel is obviously solid and sound, and people are all about. Nothing to fear, but I had to push myself to enter.

(Using self-taunts of “Big Baby afraid of the dark, eh? Whimp.” to goad myself the entire time.)

I figured once I was in, I’d have no problems. I’ve been in caves and tunnels before, some a lot deeper, darker, and longer than this tunnel. However, I remained uncomfortable the entire time, and kept looking up over my head, behind me, glancing at the sides of the cave out of the corner of my eye.

Have you ever been in a place where you can feel the walls? Not that they’re closing in, as you would experience with claustrophobia; they just seem to be there, radiating their existence. I think if I had closed my eyes and held my arms out, I could have walked dead down the center of that Tunnel just by “feeling” the sides of it around me.

Follow the Light

The interior was very dark, so I used the flash to take a couple of pictures. No hesitation on using it, what was I going to disturb? Rocks? Stone? There was nothing in the cave. Look at the photo — can you see anything in the cave but rock?

The entrace was rough rock, but the roof of the Tunnel is old hand hewn brick. Considering it’s over a hundred years old, the stability of the work is rather impressive. At the other end of the Tunnel, the entrace was cut stone — pretty in fact. I stayed outside to admire it for a while, exploring the other side of the Tunnel. Still, it was hot, and I was tired. Home it was.

Entering the Tunnel was easier going back, but if there had been any way around the Tunnel, I think I would have taken it. Self-taunts aside. Hard to figure, too, because I love tunnels.

There wasn’t anyone around returning back through the Tunnel, so I was able to hear the noise easily. Two sounds: the high pitched squeek of a bat and an owl.

The bat didn’t surprise me and I figured the flash may have disturbed it. I’m not worried about bats, and have always considered them to be rather cute, but I was surprised by the owl. There are several species of owls in the state, but it’s rare that you ever stumble on any of them unless you have a barn, or go walking around in the forest at night. No one goes out walking in the forest at night in Missouri.

The sound of the bat and the owl overcame my nervousness and I quickly entered more deeply into the tunnel, hoping to get a glance of one or the other. As I walked, I examining the ceiling overhead and the rocks at the side, trying to find a crevice big enough for a bird. Nothing,

Just as I started walking under the rough rock portion of the cave I heard a rustle and looking up, I spotted the movement of a bird among the rocks. But it was a pigeon, not an owl, or a bat. A pigeon that landed on a protruding bit of rock leading between the rough portion of the cave and the smooth, almost as if it were a guardian saying, “You’ve been this way before.” Yeah, go back.

Odd that mistake with the sound. I can usually differentiate between a pigeon and a owl, or a pigeon and a bat. Still, I couldn’t see anything else, and perhaps the echos in the Tunnel distorted the sound enough to make it sound like an owl.


I was curious about the Tunnel and when I got home, I decided to do a little research into it’s history. And what a history that bit of land has.

It would seem that the hill that the Tunnel went through was very well known in the 1800’s, and figured prominantely in Lewis and Clark’s expedition journals. At that time, the hill was called Manitou Bluff because of the huge cave drawings painted along the sides of the limestone cliffs.

From the Ozark Avalon magazine:

The term Manitou was applied to human-like figures that were included with other images — often with what appeared to be antlers emerging from their heads — in rock paintings, or pictographs, that unknown Native American artists placed on prominent projecting rocks or on the faces of bluffs.
These Manitou Bluffs, covered as they were with mysterious and undecipherable symbols and images, excited the imaginations of the American, French, and other European travelers who first encountered them. Some of these observers even speculated that the pictograph groups, especially those containing Manitous, were pictorial representations of spiritual concepts held sacred by the unknown Native American artists who inched their way along narrow rock ledges high above the ground to execute their paintings. The observers suspected that the rock paintings marked these cliffs as places particularly favored by a higher spiritual being (or Manitou) and, therefore, invested with sacred powers.

One expedition member, Sergeant John Ordway, wrote:

“We passed a high clifts of Rocks on which was painted the Pickture of the Deavel.”

We passed a high clifts of Rocks on which was painted the Pickture of the Deavel…. Picture of the Devil.

During the 1800’s the Manitou Bluffs were a common attraction among those that traveled the Missouri river during this golden age of river transportation. This was the era of Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn, with steam boats speeding elegantly past barges and bargemen poling along the sides. Rocheport was a popular destination for these travelers, as well as a trading spot for French trappers, earlier.

Rocheport, or, translated — Rock Port. Rock Port, for the limestone cliffs and the Manitou paintings.

For Sale

Of course this idyllic era ended in a burst of efficiency when the railway came through at beginning of the 1900’s. Railmen didn’t see pictographs, or spiritual symbols in the cliffs overlooking Rocheport — they saw a hill that had to be moved through, and move they did. With dynamite and rough pick, the hole was dug, and the pictures, what were considered the best of their kind, were gone.

Drawings were made of the pictographs before they were destroyed. According to the Ozark Avalon:

Future generations are lucky that Teubner made his drawings when he did, for a devastating chapter in the Manitou Bluffs saga was about to take place in the form of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (Katy) Railroad, which began in 1892 to construct its St. Louis branch along the north side of the river. Construction crews showed no mercy for the aboriginal landmarks that had so fascinated early adventurers. As much as a hundred tons of bluff rock could be brought down with a single charge of powerful explosives. If any trace of the pictographs at Big Moniteau Creek were still visible when the railroad blasted its tunnel through the bluff at Rocheport, none has been seen since. A decade later, the Missouri Pacific built its line on the south side of the river and in the process may have destroyed all or a portion of the Little Manitou Rock. There have been no observations of the Little Manitou pictograph since Duke Paul wrote about seeing it in 1823. Not only did the railroads sound the death knell for the golden era of river transportation but they probably also literally destroyed some of the most mysterious human traces of a vanished age — the strange symbols that had excited the imagination of many river wanders who are themselves now part of a lost and romantic era.

I tried to locate the name of the people that made the drawings, but there was no identification of tribe with the descriptions of the rocks. At the time, though, the Osage land overlapped from Oklahoma into Missouri, and there’s a good chance it was Osage. This makes sense, the Osage are a very spiritual people, and they are identified with other pictographs in the area.

Coming from a town that bordered the Colville Indian Reservation, meeting other people from other tribes over time, I’ve always been fascinated and interested in Native American lore and culture. The Osage are probably one of the most fascinating of the tribes, with a rich heritage and significant history. Other tribes feared them because they were a cunning people, capable warriers, and tall — most averaging 6 feet in height, and this during a time when average heights were about 5 1/2 feet.

Though pushed about by the long knives, the white man, as with other tribes, the Osage held its own more than others. Additionally, as I said earlier, they are a very spiritual people with fascinating stories and legends surviving through the ages. Among the many Osage beliefs is that of little people. Supernatural spirits.

Of course, coming from Irish ancestory, I know the little people, and I’m sure you do also, coming from whatever people you call your own. Mine were friendly and mischevious, jokers, pranksters but with no real harm to them. However, the same cannot be said for the Osage Little People, all of whom were Osage who died without paint, and without honor. They were the mialuschka, the Lost Souls.

The Osage Little People are treated with both respect and fear because unlike friendly spirits, they are vindictive, dangerous, even deadly. They walk the earth hungry and full of hatred for their unsettled state and they would like nothing better than to add to their ranks from among those they consider their prey. This would include any who desecrate their holy lands — burial and other ceremonial lands. Lands that Osage shaman would sometimes paint with great big pictures, of Manitou and other creatures.

The Little People might be content with playing a prank, or scaring their Prey. They might spoil food, or chase a skunk into a home. But their pranks could become deadly — trees falling on a windless day, or rocks falling down from a cliff with no creatures present. If the Little People were very angry, the Prey would have to get a blessing from a Shaman, and even then, that would sometimes not be enough to turn aside their wrath.

The thing with the Little People, only an Osage Shaman can sense their presence — a Shaman or the sometimes the Prey themselves. If you were such a one you might see them as indians dressed in the native costume of the time. Hair shaved into a mohawk, blanket wrapped, face without paint. Dead eyes, burning with the light of night.

Sometimes, though, you won’t see the Little People as people, but they’re still about. They have another guise, that of a bird. An owl to be exact. And you’ll know they’re around you, when they’re looking at you, when they’ve spotted you as prey, when you hear the owl’s song.