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Published on: Apr. 20, 2011

cliffs have become some of our streams’ most recognized structures. Upon these algae-stained, calcium enriched formations grow a dazzling, layered array of lacy ferns, insect-enticing wildflowers, twining vines and stunted, woody plants.

Centuries-old eastern red cedar and Ashe’s juniper are suited to dry limestone and dolomite cliffs and thrive with the sun exposure, while shady ledges damp from spring water seepage provide the perfect climate for maidenhair ferns, alumroot and native hydrangea.

Along the Jacks Fork River in Shannon County, grey limestone cliffs come alive in springtime with the emergence of Tennessee bladder fern fronds and the sounds of courting songbirds.

No fishing, camping or canoeing adventure to this area would be complete without a trip to Jam Up Bluff Natural Area with its unique mix of karst terrain featuring sinkholes, an 80-foot high natural arch and an impressive cavern called Jam Up Cave. If you are lucky, you may even be rewarded on your expedition by the appearance of the rare showy lady’s slipper, an impressive white and pink native orchid that has been documented blooming in Shannon County during May and early June.

Known to many by its aged, meandering nature, the Gasconade River has carved with down-cutting action a well-established scenic river valley and floodplain through the heart of Missouri. Highlighting prominent dolomite formations of the central Missouri Ozarks that are often covered with delicate, light-green fragile ferns, purple cliff brake and bright orange trumpet creeper vines, the Gasconade is a favorite retreat of sightseers, birdwatchers and those wishing to wet a fishing line throughout the year. Gold and bronze-mottled goggle-eye live among the rocks littering the river bottom, created by falling dolomite from high above.

Dolomite cliffs are similar to limestone with a bit more magnesium in their chemical composition. Autumn is a great time to float the Meramec River to view stunning examples. Cloaked in colorful hues of yellow, purple and orange, dwarf hackberries, chinkapin oaks and fragrant sumac often rival spring wildflower displays. Vilander Bluff Natural Area in Crawford County borders the Meramec and showcases classic dolomite and limestone bluffs with eastern red cedars that are more than 300 years old.

Traveling through southern Montgomery County, you can watch turkey vultures floating the thermals atop the unique dolomite formations of Grand Bluffs Conservation Area. Here populations of various glade plants find their niche upon cliffs along the Missouri River.

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