An Autumn Hike Along the St. Francis

I started my autumn vacation early on a Saturday morning with a hike along one of the prettiest of Ozark Streams, the St. Francis River.  I was joined by my new friend, Stephen, who knows these waters quite well.  While I had previously visited a couple of the destinations I’ll be describing, I had long wanted to take the hike between two of Missouri’s great shut-ins – Tiemann Shut-Ins and those located downstream a couple miles at Silver Mines Recreation Area.  Stephen and I met at the trail head at the USFS Silver Mines Rec Area, located in Madison County near the towns of Fredericktown and Arcadia.

“Store of Summer Rains″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 58mm, ISO 100,  f/11, 2.5 sec

There is a relatively easy path between these two points, but Stephen and I followed along the river, jumping from boulder to boulder for most of the stretch.  We were pleasantly surprised arriving near dawn to find a nice blanket of fog.  While fog tends to lessen contrast considerably in a photographic frame of mind, the lighting helps those wonderful fall colors pop.  In person, eyes are drawn to a bright warm maple growing between riverside rocks.  Once my camera was out, we were in danger of spending the entire day within the first quarter mile of our hike.  I do appreciate Stephen’s patience as I took the time to set up the tripod and repeatedly dove into my bag to swap lenses.

“Solid Out of Liquid″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 58mm, ISO 100,  f/11, 1/5 sec, Orton processing in PS CS6

The St. Francis is one of the more productive of Missouri’s Ozark streams.  While this means you won’t see the crystal clear waters of the Black, Current, or Eleven Point, the mass of life and biological diversity is more obvious.  Moving along the banks one is forced to path-find between Ozark Witch Hazel and Sandbar Willow.  Organic matter deposited on rocks makes food for algae and makes any wet surface as slippery as ice.  A hike-ending fall was a possibility in the early part of the day.  More than 50 species of fish have been documented in this river and this stretch is home for the St. Francis Crawfish, an endemic species to the St. Francois Mountains and a species of conservation concern.

“Sweet Kisses″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 400,  f/6.3, 1/25 sec

Although making Stephen a bit apprehensive, I was completely stoked that were able to cross paths with five cottonmouths, including this cute little juvenile.  This one I spotted almost on the trail as he flapped his bright-white mouth at me, mere inches from my boot.  My first thought was of a small moth or butterfly flapping its wings in alternating bright dorsal and dull ventral aspects.  Taking a second, closer glance I was able to pick out this well-camouflaged beauty.  I think Stephen will pay me well to save the story of what happened when we came upon a larger relative of this guy in the crevice of a couple of boulders.  😉

“Einstein Mine Dam On The St. Francis″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 65mm, ISO 100,  f/11, 1/25 sec

Here you have a view of the granite block dam built to supply power to the milling operations of the nearby Einstein Mine.  The mine did not last long and is now a nice home for bats.  Did you know that Missouri has almost continually been first in lead production of the USA for almost two centuries?  Today Missouri produces nearly 90% of the nation’s lead and 75% of its zinc as well as large amounts of iron, silver and copper.  This area is of great interest to geologists.  The rock you see in this post, primarily granites and rhyolites, are among the hardest and oldest exposed rocks on the planet.

“Endless Forms Most Beautiful And Most Wonderful″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 67mm, ISO 100,  f/13, 0.6 sec

Many thanks to Stephen for being a great guide and showing me a lot along this hike.  I definitely would not have been able to find as much on my own.  We passed Mud Creek Shut-ins and eventually found ourselves at Teimann Shut-Ins, described as the largest shut-ins in Missouri.  Located within Millstream Conservation Area, Teimann SI is truly impressive.  This spot has a great deal more potential than Johnson’s SI for photography and is on a much larger scale.  I do not know for certain, but I imagine Stephen is contemplating the diverse biological community and if these “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful” go about their existence without contemplating us.

“Wayward Rivulets In Autumn Flowing″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 40mm, ISO 100,  f/16, 1 sec

It took almost the entire day to meander over the boulders to Millstream Gardens.  It was getting so late that in the end, we took the relatively straight and flat trail back to our cars, arriving just after sunset.  We topped it off with a nice meal in nearby Farmington.  I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start off my autumn break.  This was just the beginning to a fun week across the Missouri Ozarks.  I look forward sharing more real soon.

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3 thoughts on “An Autumn Hike Along the St. Francis

  1. “Sweet Kisses” nothing. “Double snake chaps next time,” perhaps 😉 Can’t believe you openly LAUGHED at me when that 8-foot specimen cornered us between the boulders and bolted for my feet.

    No, seriously, what a great day. Thank you, Bill, for such an excellent tribute to such a special area. I’m grateful to have shared it with you.

    “If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.” — Thoreau

  2. This is a great post — beautiful images and a compelling narrative. I love the picture of the snake, particularly, although I agree with Stephen: I wouldn’t want to run across that in my forays out in the woods!

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