Three Gems

By David Stonner | January 2, 2010
From Missouri Conservationist: Jan 2010

I consider Pickle Springs, Hickory Canyons and the Castor River Shut-Ins to be the jewels of southeast Missouri. They don’t have the grand vistas sweeping from horizon to horizon, thundering waterfalls or vertigo-inducing cliffs of the nearby St. Francois Mountains. These places are small. Intimate. Quiet. Lovely to behold.

These are breathtaking places that can speak to a person. I’ve taken hundreds of photos of these areas and feel that I’ve only just begun to explore them. There isn’t a bad time of year to hike the trails. Spring rains bring vibrant emerald color to the trees and the streams run white with foaming water. The cool shade and moist dripping rock of the box canyons give welcome relief during sultry summer days of watching birds and insects go about their business. Autumn beckons with a show of color that rivals most in brilliance. Stark winter mornings of biting, clawing wind give way to evenings of sun-warmed granite and sandstone as the days slip quietly back into spring.

I find myself returning again and again. When passing through the area on other business, I make it a point to stop at one of these areas. Sometimes, when the photography conditions are poor, I’ll just sit and listen to the water tumbling through rock chutes. I watch the breeze rustle boughs of oak, maple and ash. I inhale the earthy smell of duff-covered forest floor and the dry, heady scent of pine wafting over warm rock.

It is my hope that these images will inspire you, too, to explore these gems further.

Winter at Amidon Shut-Ins

The subtle interplay of shadow and light on the granite boulders and chutes enthralls on a cold January day.

24-70mm f/2.8 lens with polarizing filter • f/22 • 3.2 sec • ISO 100

Amidon's Summer Show

The water flow in the Castor River Shut-Ins slows quite a bit during the late days of summer, revealing pockets of glass-smooth rock that are submerged most of the year. Shallow granite bowls make comfortable places to sit while toes dabble in the cold rushing water.

16-35mm f/2.8 lens • f/22 • 1.6 sec • ISO 100


Calm pools tumble through granite-lined chutes for nearly 1/4 mile before slowing again in the boulder-strewn river. A mile-long loop trail follows the river before climbing from the gorge to explore restored glades and woodland habitat. The trails pass through some rugged terrain in places, so good shoes and a bottle of water are necessities.

24-70mm f/2.8 lens with polarizing filter • f/16 • 6 sec • ISO 100

Pickle Springs Waterfall

A small trickle of water caresses sandstone, moss and fern at Pickle Springs. The area contains a headwaters stream and the moist canyons and creeks sustain a wide variety of flora. One appealing aspect beyond the beauty is the accessibility. Amidon, Pickle Springs and Hickory Canyon are within 35 miles of each other and consist of a loop trail not more than a couple of miles in length.

16-35mm f/2.8 lens • f/9 • .5 sec • ISO 400

A Trail Through Time

The Pickle Springs Trail Through Time is a 2-mile loop that passes through woodlands, glades and sandstone arches. One of the most rewarding views is as the trail emerges from a stand of pine for a bluff-top view of the 256-acre natural area. I waited until the morning sun began to bathe the surrounding hills in warmth. This image is a composite of seven single frames digitally stitched together for a panorama effect.

24-70mm f/2.8 lens • f/8 • 1/8sec • ISO 200

Pine Roots

Shortleaf pines cling tenaciously to sandstone boulders in the arid heights of Pickle Springs.

24-70mm f/2.8 lens • f/8 • 1/15 sec • ISO 200

Hickory Canyons

Hickory Canyons Natural Area is not far from Pickle Springs in Ste. Genevieve County. The box canyons are a stunning focal point, with a mile-long loop trail winding through a sandstone forest dominated by oak and maple with shortleaf pine clinging to ridge tops and dry cliff walls.

16-35mm f/2.8 lens • f/13 • 25 sec • ISO 400

Autumn Swirl

Remnants of autumn swirl in mesmerizing patterns in the slow waters of a scenic trail side creek at Hickory Canyons. I sat for an hour watching and photographing while listening as squirrels and birds made ready for the quickly approaching winter.

70-200mm f/2.8 lens • f/4 • 1/60 sec • ISO 200

Maple and Pine

A glowing sugar maple makes for a nice contrast at Hickory Canyons on a steep ridge overlooking a box canyon on one side and mesic sandstone forest on the other. It is easy to see Amidon, Pickle Springs and Hickory Canyons in a day, with plenty of camping in several state parks or lodging in nearby towns.

24-70mm f/2.8 lens • f/4 • 1/100 sec • ISO 200

Also In This Issue

This summary of the Annual Report highlights the Missouri Department of Conservation’s accomplishments and expenditures from July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2009. These accomplishments are based on the nine goals established in The Next Generation of Conservation.

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Writer/Editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler