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.


Dug out from a storm this week and the winds are still blowing, and the lighting still lighting up the sky and none of this has anything to do with the weather. Well, there was a storm earlier, which blew down the tree across from us. Lots of trees down online, too.

I emerged from various uninteresting things and went online this morning and found all these moods today. For instance, there’s an anti-intellectual/postmodern thing going on, links pulled together by AKMA, who attaches his own take on the discussion.

I don’t know enough about postmodernism to be hostile about it, one way or another. I used to be insecure about this — now I’m glad. Ignorance really is bliss.

Jeneane’s leading the charge against the Jupiter Biz Blog conference — too many people attending too many conferences, and all of them are blogging about them, but what’s worse is their blogging about each other blogging about each other and I’m getting dizzy.

One more person writes “What’s a weblog” and I’m going to lose my cookies.

I found out I can’t use Plesk to manage accounts on the new co-op server because it’s dependent on MySQL 3.23, and we’ll be using MySQL 4.x. That’s okay, though, because we should use open source solutions like Webmin instead. Speaking of open source, from Ken’s posting today, sounds like there have been a few trees down out in the Apache world.

Tom Shugart doesn’t think much of the heartland or people with weight problems:

Each time I find myself back in the heartland, it seems to get worse. The food seems to get more and more tasteless and toxic, and the inhabitants more and more rotund. How can the food be so bad—and so bad for you, I wonder, in the middle of one of the richest agricultural areas in the world?

True, the small towns don’t always have the fancy cuisine, though you look about a bit and you might be surprised; and the people are just plain folks — many of them making little money because of unemployment, so they fill their diet with potatoes and pasta and Big Macs — cheap food but starchy and fattening. As Tom noted.

But one thing I’ll say about the Midwest, which also includes my beautiful new home, Missouri: I’ve never noticed a lack of courtesy in the people — something I found in short supply in California. Generosity, too, as several of us prepare for this weekend’s Race for the Cure, thinking how best to waddle around the 5K course.

I just had an exchange of emails with News is Free about linking directly to my photographs — that whirring sound you hear is my bandwidth being sucked dry.

Me: Don’t scrape my pages.
Them: Your RSS feed is hard to find.
Me: Autodiscovery.
Them: Human beings and handy little orange XML button.
Me: Your personal requirement does not make my courtesy into an imperative. Don’t like little orange button.

So, who is not in a pissy mood? Speak up.

At least nature always comes through: the fireflies made their debut last night. No photos — they’re camera shy. I’d send you all a bouquet of fireflies to cheer you up, but they don’t like the tiny little leashes and keep tearing off the bows. And FedEx said no way.

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Katy Trail 2: Biker Salute

Yesterday afternoon I walked my next section of the Katy Trail, starting at Matson. The day was warm, somewhat humid but manageable with clouds threatening at times to rain.

The drive out was not uneventful. I’m beginning to think that all drivers have so many close calls they must experience in their life, and since I started driving much later, I’m getting them all now. Either that or I like to drive too fast.


Anyway, I was driving along I64 heading to Highway 94 following a pickup truck hauling some kind of trailer full of stuff when all of a sudden the top of the trailer blew off and it started losing its load on the road in front of me. There was what looked like large sheets of masonite, big tree branches, aluminum siding and all sorts of not car friendly objects. Luckily I was far enough back from the trailer not to get hit directly by the stuff, but I was close enough to watch the masonite hit the road and break apart into big pieces.

“Sh…”, and swerving around the bigger pieces, trying not to run into the semi on the left of me as he was doing some serving on his own and for a minute there was a group of us doing this oddly beautiful dance around the debris and each other but, luckily, no one stomped on their partner “..it!”

The semi, dragging pieces of masonite in its wheels signaled to the truck that it lost its load and just as I was moving up to let him know that he needed to pull over, I saw his emergency lights go on and he started to slow down, move over to the shoulder.


Not long after, when I pulled over on 94 I went about ten miles before I calmed down enough to realize I had turned the wrong direction.

What a drive 94 is south of I64, with rolling hills and sharpish curves, but the road’s in excellent shape. The perfect road for Golden Girl, but I was going quite slowly because the surroundings were that beautiful. It seemed like every corner had a brown state park sign announcing this wildlife refuge and that park. I kept having to pull over to let other cars pass me as I slowly drove along enjoying the scenery.


The trailhead I picked today started just inland from the Missouri river, winding its way through wine country, past farms and meadow and dense forest. I expected the walk to be pretty, but I didn’t expect it to be breathtaking. I was the only walker because the Katy Trail is more popular with bikers further away from the cities. You can go farther on a bike, but you can’t really appreciate the nuances of the trail except on foot.


The Katy Trail in this location was bordered by limestone cliffs surrounded by dense vegetation. The plants were so close and thick, the depths were dark as night and you couldn’t see through them. Once when I moved close to a large bush to try to peer into the growth, the bush shook with the movement of something in it, most likely scared by my closeness. There really is little harmful life in Missouri, other than the bugs, but it’s unnerving to have this large bush shake violently when you approach it and you can’t see what causes it.

Bwock bwock bwock. Yeah, Burningbird the chicken bird.

Birdlife. You wouldn’t believe the number of birds flying in and around the plants. And insects of all kinds including beautiful butterflies. The trees overlapped the trail in some parts, and I was reminded of the problems with ticks this state has. But if we deny ourselves the pleasure of life by constantly worrying about what bad thing is going to fall out of the sky and land on us, then we’re missing the point, aren’t we?

One old farm had converted one building into a trailside store for hikers and bikers. It also had a large caged in area with geese and chickens and roosters, one of which decided to do a little crowing practice in the late afternoon light. I enjoy listening to roosters, but the owner was a bit miffed because I could hear him calling out to it, by name, telling him to be quiet, he’s loud enough to wake the dead. “Emmet, shut up, Emmet!” “Emmet, shut up you crazy bird!”

The place was a marvel of cats running about — big cats — and funky buildings and one silo that was covered in vines. The perfect touch was the Coke machine. A vignette of Americana, and not a bad one at that.

I walked until I reached the Missouri River and explored the shores, watching a couple of artists painting the view and the ubiquitous fishermen along the shoreline. Aside from the roads and the factories, the river is very much as it was from the past.

When I crossed the road to reach the river, a small car was coming along and I stepped to the shoulder, but the driver took the corner short, not seeing me, and brushed past me a foot or two away. Enough to be breezy. I didn’t jump or yell, just kind of looked at the car as it disappeared in the distance.

Ever have one of those days that you feel like fate has painted a big red bullseye on you? Funny thing is, it’s just this kind of day that you remember later, when you’re feeling philosophical about life — stands out in our minds, except as time goes on, the distance between me and the car will get shorter until someday I’ll be laying on my deathbed, talking to some disinterested young person about the car that ran over my toes.


Altogether my hike was about five miles, a good distance. The ride home was the best because of the late afternoon green-gold-purple-orange-pink-red color the last light gets here in Missouri. The roads were empty so I let Golden Girl have the ride she wanted, except when I went through Defiance and slowed down because the small town was full of Harley’s and other motorcycles — several hundred, with drivers surrounding this small bar with live music blasting out, hoisting beers in salute at the cars driving past.

What a good idea. I turned to the Rock n’ Roll classic hit station and cranked the sound, rolling the windows full down letting the wind whip my hair about, and bringing in the sweet smell of the Missouri green. I waved back at the bikers, as I put the pedal to the metal and headed home.