The mean muds of the Mississippi

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

The weather is lovely lately, so much so that I’ve attempted twice to go out and get photos of the wintering bald eagles in our area. Both times I’ve gone to locations some form of Eagle Days was happening, and either I arrived too late or I couldn’t get in because I wasn’t a school kid.

When I went to Chain of Rocks Bridge on Monday, the bridge was closed because of a school program. I decided to visit a park not far from the bridge to see if I could get down to the banks of the Mississippi and walk back to the bridge.

There was a boat launch to the water, and the river was low enough to expose ‘beach’ along the side. However, a beach in Mississippi terms is a relatively flat area of mud of differing thickness, scattered about with various forms of debris (not to mention garbage left by some of those who frequent the area in the nights). I didn’t have my hiking boots but thought I would be able to manage with just my tennis shoes–bringing truth to that old saw that there’s no fool quite like an old fool.

After slipping and sliding along for about 1/2 a mile, I could see the bridge, as well as the rapids, in addition to a rusted out old hulk I’d never noticed before. I passed two fishermen along the way, bundled up against the cold and this sudden incursion of tennis shoe clad tourists, one of whom was hauling an expensive camera to what is the absolute worst neighborhood in St. Louis. Whatever their thoughts, they were locked tight behind stony faces, and eyes fixed on lines in the water.

A family was exploring by the hulk, so I thought if they had no problems getting to the area, I would not either. I then proceeded to step on top of what I thought was firm sand, only to sink into the thickest, muckiest mud you ever did see–sinking up to my ankles and held fast.


I tried to lift one foot, then the other, but neither would budge. I stood there for a few minutes, contemplating my options (“Hello police? I’m stuck in the mud of the Mississippi and I can’t get out…Hello Rob? I’m stuck in the mud of the Mississippi and I can’t get out…”)

While I was standing there, the family walked past me, up the hill among the scrub, which explains why I didn’t see other footprints along the path I was taking. We called out to each other, chatting about the eagles, and how it was too bad the Bridge was closed. The mother said the kids liked walking along the beach. I said kids would. Too bad we didn’t think to wear hiking boots. Yes, she replied, laughing. I thought of asking them for help pulling me out, but suddenly felt shy of exposing my predicament; feeling a little foolish.

I noticed a bird up above one of the trees and thought at first it was an eagle. I whipped my camera out and took a couple of hasty, blurry shots, but it was only a hawk. Only a hawk–normally getting even a bad photo of a hawk is a good day of shooting.

I also noticed that the mud was full of animal prints, and would have gotten some shots of them and my feet stuck in the mud, but all I had was my 400mm and both were too close. I could have changed lenses, but I thought all that fussing around would probably send my butt into the mud and if my feet were stuck so deep, my god, what would happen to my butt?

I couldn’t see them, but I did wonder if the fishermen down the beach could see me, stuck in the mud. Or did they keep their eyes fixed on their fishing lines?

I think I stood there looking around for close to 20 minutes or so. During that time, I kept moving my feet side to side, trying to break the suction. Finally, with a decided *thwopt*, I could pull out first my left foot, then my right. Still with tennis shoes, though my feet were covered with the thick, persistent brown muck.

On my way home, I noticed people leaving by the Bridge and stopped by the gate to ask if it might be opening. I talked to the guy at the gate and he said as soon as the tents were folded up, they’d be leaving. He looked in and saw all my camera equipment and said whatever I did, to not leave it in the car. Even with guards, they’d had windows smashed in and items grabbed from cars. I mentioned that I leave my extra items in the trunk, and he said make sure I put them in before parking, because the thieves will wait in the bushes (and here he pointed at some bushes by the bridge) to see who puts something valuable in their trunks, and they’ll pry them open as soon as I’m out of sight.

He then looked at me and my 400mm and said whatever I did, make sure others were on the bridge before I walked. While he was talking to me, other cars pulled up to check to see if the bridge was open. It’s a popular place to walk in the neighborhood. There weren’t many parks that close to the river.


Today, I went down again, this time later in the afternoon, hoping I would catch the eagles. When I pulled into the lot, a large, older black car was driving back and forth between the cars–windows tinted dark. It eventually moved off and I parked, in the center of the lot in a place with no other cars around and easy view from both the road and the bridge.

There weren’t any eagles, but there were doves, seagulls, and heron so I enjoyed the walk and took a few photos. To be safe, I waited until a man walking with his dog and his two kids started heading back to the cars and followed them. When I got to the lot, I noticed, to the side, the large black car I’d seen earlier. It was sitting there, with its engine running, and lights on.

The man and his kids stopped at a SUV a distance from me, and I passed him (still holding that same damn 400mm lens) and hurried to my car. As I approached it, the black car started heading toward me. When I was about 6 feet away from my car, a small, bright yellow SUV pulled into the lot, and then slowed near my car. I signaled the doors unlocked, opened the passenger side, and threw my camera and gear into the car.

The black car turned away, sped up, and pulled out of the lot. The yellow SUV then continued on to park.

When I told my roommate what happened when I got home, he agreed with me that the people in the car were most likely going to try and grab my gear. Chances are the people in the yellow SUV guessed this, too, and stopped near me to keep them away. He also said, and I agreed, I won’t be able to go back to the bridge by myself to go walking again. This hurts, physically hurts, because it’s one of my favorite places to walk. And since I can’t handle the hikes I normally go on at this time, my places to walk are becoming more limited.


Between one moment and the next, Missouri had stopped feeling like home.

Come down to the banks of Old Man River.

Come down to the banks, and step into the mean muds of the Mississippi.

Sink down until they hold you tight.

Stand there caught, can’t move, and despair.

Because Old Muddy, he don’t want to let none of you go.

No sir, he don’t want let none of you go.


Pickle Creek

Archive page with comments at Wayback Machine

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.


A tad more fall

I do have other Fall photos, from Elephant Rocks, Shaw, Forest Park and more, but I’ve had little time to prepare them, or think of what to write to accompany them. I’ll post most of the photos eventually at Tinfoil. I need to start becoming more selective, though. One really satisfying picture makes more of a statement than several good enough photos and one truly satisfying photo.

I did receive a surprise when driving through Iron County, past the homes with the old Confederate flags out front–several Kerry/Edwards signs. No Bush signs, but plenty of those green and white “Jesus” signs, and that’s about the same as a “Vote for Bush” sign in these parts.

“In these parts”

I have gone native. At Johnson Shut-Ins, which is always so much friendlier than Elephant Rocks, several people ‘sayed hallo’ as they passed; commenting on my walking stick, or if I’ve had good luck with the photos today. I noticed that when I answered, I sounded like someone born and bred in the backwoods of Missouri. Or, as I should say, Missoura.

Missour-a. Halleluj-ah. Okay, now I get it.

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Saturday was a broken sunny day, a wonderful drive to Elephant Rocks and The Shut-Ins. The Fall color has peaked, though, as it has for most of the state. Only the deeps of the Ozarks might still have it. After I take what photos I can of the mills and the last bit of fall foliage, we’ll be into winter. Then I’ll be leaving my camera at home and focusing just on the hikes and walks.

Sunday I went to Shaw, and on the way impulsively stopped by Purina Farms to see if I could take photos of cats. The Farm was closed, preparing for a Halloween bash later that afternoon. I decided to go to it, and killed time until they opened at Shaw and exploring Highway 100 (or is it Route 100) that leads from Gray Summit.

I just followed whatever road looked good, and ended up driving past one of the most beautiful golf courses I’d ever seen, with homes on the hills above it that must have been 6000 square feet, at a minimum. It was beautiful, but I’ve never understood why anyone needs a house that big.

I ended up on a very narrow road that went up a steep hill, full of curves, and I gulped a few times coming around some of the corners. I spotted a Conservation Area I hadn’t heard of, Engelmann Woods I believe it was, and stopped to walk around a bit.

It was a pretty area with an easy trail, covered in dry, fallen leaves. Up ahead I spotted the bright red splash of color that you get with Poison Ivy this time of year. Which is good because as the trail progressed, the Poison Ivy got much thicker, and much harder to avoid.

Of course, Poison Ivy leaves also fall off, and sure enough many of the leaves I was walking through were Poison Ivy. That ended my walk, but I’m glad to say, I didn’t get any exposure from the plants. It sure was a pretty day, though, with warm weather and a cool breeze, and hearing the sound of the dry leaves underfoot. Is there any sound better than the swish crackle of walking a trail inches deep with dry fall leaves?

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When I got back to the car, two Harleys were parked next to it, and I grabbed a picture of them because, well, they were Harleys.

From there, I headed back down the curvy road, which is much more interesting, and back past the mega-homes to Purina–just in time for the Duck Herding show, but that’s for another post because it’s late and I’m tired.

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