Winter Wonderland

Natural Bridge

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Ice Plateau

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Ice Painting

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Fern Fronds

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Frozen Ripples

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Unique Ice Picture

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Fire and Ice

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Frozen Moment

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Ice Castles

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Ice Art

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Walking Fern

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Christmas Fern

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Clifty Creek NA

Published on: Jan. 30, 2013

It’s hard for me to believe, but the Missouri Natural Areas System is 35 years old. This partnership of public and private conservation groups was set up to ensure that future generations get a chance to see all of the diverse natural landscapes that constitute our natural inheritance.

To celebrate this achievement, I plan to visit a representative sample of natural areas over the next few months and write about them for Missouri Conservationist Magazine. I plan to post updates on my progress, starting now!

I chose Clifty Creek Natural Area (NA) in Maries County for my first area visit, because it was Missouri’s first designated natural area. I also picked Clifty Creek because the geological features that make it so scenic are most visible at this time of year, before summer vegetation appears. And, I was hoping to see some of the ice sculptures that form during cold snaps.

Clifty Creek NA is owned by the L-A-D Foundation. The creek for which the area is named and its tributary, Little Clifty Creek, have joined forces over the millennia to carve out a natural bridge with an open span of 40 feet. This enormous stone arch is at the far end of a 2.5-mile loop trail through rugged, beautiful forest and glade country. Miniature springs seep from the two creeks’ steep rock banks throughout the year. This moisture supports a lush growth of mosses, along with maidenhair, Christmas and walking ferns. Some hillsides are blanketed in this extravagant growth. Naturally, wildlife thrives here. Birders can see dozens of species in a couple of hours just by following the trail through the area.

All this, combined with the area’s unique geology, make Clifty Creek a nature photographer’s playground. I dabble in nature photography, and it’s hard not to get beautiful results with this caliber of visual material to work with. If you enjoy the photos accompanying this post, consider visiting this or one of Missouri’s other natural areas. Start now. Each month produces its own set of wonders, and there’s little danger of running out of cool places to go.

The 184 sites in the Natural Areas System include the best – and sometimes the last – examples of Missouri’s original forests, prairies, glades, fens, swamps, caves, and streams, not to mention remarkable geologic features. All but 11 are open to public access, and most of those owned by MDC or the USDA Forest Service are open to hunting and fishing. For more information about Clifty Creek and other natural areas, visit

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