From Trip Advisor and the Triple A Website:
an ancient valley
Beauty of southern Missouri’s Ozarks shines through Arcadia
Johnson Shut-ins now open!
Published: Mar/Apr 2003
By Jinny Ravenscroft Danzer
Johnson’s Shut-ins is one of the more beautiful and popular
natural attractions in southern Missouri.
Pink in color and large as a pachyderm, Elephant Rocks State Park
attracts visitors of all ages who are interested in experiencing whimsy
created by Mother Nature. /Jinny R. Danzer photo.
I first visited the Arcadia Valley in southeastern Missouri when I
rode the Iron Mountain Railway from the Delmar Station in St. Louis
to Arcadia to visit a college friend. She took me up a fire tower
overlooking the spreading St. Francois Mountains, which lie like sleeping
giants in the broad valleys. We played in the potholes of Johnson’s
Shut-Ins State Park when only the locals knew about it. I began visiting
Elephant Rocks before it was a state park, when only a small path
led through a quarry to the gigantic pink boulders. The valley soon
became one of my favorite places.
Valley has much to offer the casual visitor and the history buff.
tribe is known to have camped at the foot of Pilot Knob Mountain as
late as 1819. Whites began settling the valley in 1805 and started
the first ironworks west of the Mississippi. Ox and mule teams hauled
iron ore over plank roads for 42 miles to a steamboat-shipping depot
in Ste. Genevieve.
began quarrying local granite as early as the 1840s. Immigrants from
Prussia, Germany, Great Britain and Ireland came here to work in the
granite quarries and iron mines. Quarries produced granite blocks
that paved the St. Louis levee and formed the rotunda columns in the
state capitol in Jefferson City.
the county seat of Iron County, and Arcadia–share one main street.
Along with nearby Pilot Knob, all have a pleasant small-town atmosphere.
The valley boasts a 19th-century courthouse and brick homes, four
stone water towers, the former Ursuline Academy, and interesting old
churches. The Union Army used Immanuel Lutheran Church as headquarters
and a hospital during the Battle of Pilot Knob. More history will
be showcased when the valley sponsors a home and church tour Oct.
Davidson State Historic Site commemorates the Battle of Pilot Knob.
The fight took place when Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price swept
north through Missouri in September 1864 towards St. Louis. He attacked
the fort, which guarded the iron mines and the railroad that carried
iron to St. Louis for gunboats and industry.
details the bloody battle between Price’s forces and the greatly
outnumbered Union troops led by Gen. Thomas Ewing Jr. and the daring
late-night evacuation of his small force. Exhibits display artifacts,
fascinating photos of individual soldiers, some posed with an array
of guns, and letters that give intimate glimpses into the thoughts
of the men. Every three years–the next in 2004–Civil War
buffs re-enact the battle, complete with uniformed soldiers, horses,
tents and artillery.
landscape is deceptively pastoral since the hills are actually quite
rocky. Ancient granite from 1.5 billion years ago juts from hillsides
and caps mountaintops.
Rocks State Park, this exposed granite has eroded into amazing pachyderm-sized
boulders. A paved one-mile Braille trail, also accessible to wheelchairs
(there is a slight hill), winds through the boulders. Signs in Braille
and English point out touchable features along the trail such as stoneworkers’
names carved into the granite and a curved iron rod for anchoring
a crane that lifted granite blocks from a quarry. A kiosk displays
photos and historical information about the early stonecutters' life
Taum Sauk State Park claims Missouri’s highest point at 1,772
feet–not spectacular by Western standards, but it produces a
nice view. A loop trail leads to the highest point and to the state’s
highest wet-weather waterfall, Mina Sauk Falls. The Taum Sauk section
of the Ozark Trail passes through the park and continues on 12.8 miles
to Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, where the East Fork Black
River flows through a narrow section of hard volcanic rock. This park
has become so popular over the years that only a certain limited number
of cars are allowed in at one time; if it’s full, you have to
wait till someone leaves. Large potholes created by rushing water
make for exciting water play, but can be a little rough for young
children. They will do better in the calm swimming hole below the
shut-ins. No pets are allowed in the shut-ins area.
north, Council Bluff Recreation Area includes a swimming beach and
a 10-mile trail around the lake. It’s a good place for boating
and fishing for large-mouth bass and bluegill.
on the clear waters of the Black River just south of the valley is
an activity that can’t be beat. The river can be crowded on
weekends but still makes a beautiful float. Weekdays and fall and
spring floats are less congested.
and picnic spots are available not only in most state parks but in
areas of the Mark Twain National Forest like Marble Creek, Council
Bluff and Sutton Bluff.
offers numerous scenic trails–from sections of the Ozark Trail,
planned eventually to stretch some 500 miles from St. Louis to the
Arkansas border–to trails in the Mark Twain National Forest.
Several areas have shorter trails: Taum Sauk State Park, Johnson’s
Shut-Ins, Marble Creek, Sutton Bluff, and Millstream Gardens, where
Missouri Whitewater Championships are held each spring.
and horseback riding are other ways to get out in the open. The five-mile
Crane Lake Trail and the 24-mile Trace Creek section of the Ozark
Trail are open to horses and mountain bikers as well as hikers. The
new Goggins Mountain equestrian and hiking trail makes a 10-mile loop
near Johnson’s Shut-Ins. Guided trail rides are available at
Brushy Creek Resort. Arcadian Outfitters and Tours offers shuttle
service as well as cycling tours, Black River floats and a local history
indulge your palate at a variety of restaurants. One of the most pleasing
is the Arcadian Café, which offers gourmet cuisine at reasonable
prices in a restored 1880s grocery store. The café hosts acoustic
musicians on weekends and sponsors wine tastings and other events.
in style at bed-and-breakfast inns, including The Parlor and The Green
Roof Inn, or find a room at the Fort Davidson Motel and Restaurant.
Neighboring Caledonia, Annapolis and Lesterville also have bed-and-breakfast
inns and lodges.
and Arcadia have a number of antique shops–as does historic
Caledonia to the north. The Arcadia Valley Academy, built as a Methodist
High School in 1846, houses an antique mall, specialty shops and a
bed-and-breakfast inn. The towns sponsor several events, including
a Celtic festival April 12–13, and a spring festival May 10.
easily run out of things to do in the Arcadia Valley. Just grab your
hiking shoes, your inquiring mind, and your wallet for that special
antique and head for the southeast Missouri countryside.
Jinny Ravenscroft Danzer is a contributor from St. Louis