Missouri’s Elephant Rocks State Park

It wouldn’t be a vacation for me without some sort of hike. So when I found myself in St. Louis recently visiting my good friend, Chris, his girlfriend, Jenna, wanted to take us to this strange rock formation located in southeast Missouri.

While winding your way through dense forests of deciduous trees you start to see rocky ridges, random rocks and other geological formations on the side of the road.

Unbeknownst to me, Missouri is known as the Cave State and features vast amounts of granite and marble.

Remnants of the quarry work in the park were visible in rock faces like this one.

As you pull into the parking lot you can see the rocks through the trees. The park allows visitors to climb up, over and under the rocks at will – a delight for children young and old.

There are two pathways, one which is ADA accessible, that wind through the park. Initially we went off path and just climbed around, stumbling upon one of the old quarries which is now a lake. We saw prickly pear blooming beautiful yellow flowers, trees growing out of the rocks, and the remnants of the old quarry operations were still evident on some of the rock faces.

Gianna takes a break next to one of the quarry lakes we stumbled upon in the park.

After lunch and a break in the car – Missouri is hot, by the way; it was 90 degrees with 60 percent humidity, which about killed this Northwesterner off – we headed up the main trail in an effort to find the old Engine House in the woods.

We found two more old quarries that are now lakes, including one that featured a snapping turtle – though the only thing nearby to snap was a bunch of garbage (pack it in, pack it out, people!).

With interest amongst the party – mainly the bored 14-year-old – waning, I sprint-walked ahead and stumbled upon the Engine House, which was well worth the trip.

Remnants of the rail line that ran out of the old Engine House into the woods.

Three walls of the structure remain standing and there are still parts of the old rail line extending off into the woods. The building originally was used to repair train engines and cars from the Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad in the 1890s as well as service Sheehan Quarry operations in what is now the state park.

Three walls of the old Engine House remain, featuring a distinctive pattern that almost looked like mosaic artwork.

Granite from the area was mined from 1869 into the early 1900s. The stone was used as paving blocks for the St. Louis levee, downtown streets, columns on the front porch of the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City as well as many other structures. Today this type of granite is primarily used for monuments, building veneer and crushed stone aggregate.

I love how trees can grow anywhere, even in a giant crack of a granite boulder.

The rocks that help the park earn its name are so called because the giant blocks of granite stand end to end like a train of circus elephants. The tallest of the rocks – called Dumbo – is 27 feet tall, 34 feet long, 17 feet wide and weighs more than 680 tons.

The formation of these geological features began during the Precambrian era about 1.5 billion years ago. The rocks today are ever changing in appearance and size thanks to the freeze-thaw cycle, as well as the lichen that grows on many of the rocks.

– Craig Craker

Reflections in one of the old rock quarries.

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