Pickle Springs Natural Area is a unique natural refuge located in Ste. Genevieve county off highway 32 and AA. You will see everything from small waterfalls to cool box canyons at the natural area. You can see from the map on the left that Pickle Springs is located in the upper region of the Ozarks and Southeast Missouri. Many people find the name sort of odd. The land was originally owned by William Pickle. Pickle was an immigrant from England in 1842 and he acquired the land in 1848. It is my understanding that Pickle was killed during the Civil War by a band of renegades. Pickle Springs flows into Pickle Creek which is accessible via Hawn State Park.
My son Alec and I got up on Saturday morning at 3:45 a.m. and headed for the morning blue light at Pickle Springs. We arrived right on queue and made our way the Dome Rock that overlooks the valley. This spot is ideal for a sunset photo but I wanted to check it out at daybreak too. The top of Dome Rock is absolutely beautiful and the view of course is simply beautiful. If you are looking for an easy hike (less than 20 minutes) and a relaxing and beautiful place to watch the sun set then Dome Rock is your place. From the trailhead we headed to the right. The trail is about 2 miles and you can hike it in about 1 hour without stopping and more like 2 hours if you are stopping and taking photographs.
Our first stop was Headwall Falls. This is an area that is beautiful in person but extremely difficult to photograph. I was fighting the clock against sunrise so I enjoyed the view but kept moving. The next stop was Rockpile Canyon. One thing that struck me immediately about Pickle Springs was the raw natural beauty and how it drew me in to want to know more. The rocks are nothing short of amazing throughout the area and I truly enjoyed looking at them. From Rockpile Canyon we made our way across Pickle Spring where we found a bridge and large stone slab where the water fell to the creek below (see photo 7 below). We kept moving and climbed our way to Dome Rock where we waited for the morning light to reveal itself to us (see photos 1, 2 and 3 below). The view from Dome Rock really is beautiful and extremely relaxing. It is a place where you could sit in the shade and not have a care in the world.
As you will see from the photo to the left I mounted my Mamiya 7 Rangefinder on a tripod and worked a couple different angles and perspectives of the lone tree hanging over Dome Rock. After reviewing my photos from the day I want to return and find some additional perspectives that capture more of the natural scene. The view towards the valley is due west so this is a perfect location for sunset photos. I am absolutely planning to return in the Fall when the colors change. The morning light was simply perfect and we both said that even if we didn’t capture a keeper today that we still enjoyed our time at Pickle Springs. I will briefly mention that Pickle Springs is a Missouri Natural Area and national landmark so please be careful and kind when you visit. Leave things where they are and don’t be touching and moving things. Look at the beautiful flowers and plants but don’t touch them. I will also warn you the area has a lot of poison ivy so I wouldn’t get off the trail too far. It is okay to bring your dog on a leash if you want.
In this snapshot to the left Alec was standing between two large rocks on top of Dome Rock. We probably could have stayed at the top of Dome Rock all morning long but we knew we still had over three-fourths of the trail to go so we moved on. Before working our way over to Owl’s Den Bluff and Spirit Canyon we relaxed for a few minutes, got a drink of cold water and enjoyed the panorama view before loading up our gear and moving on down the trail. We worked our way around to the Twin Bridges and I stopped and took a photograph looking back over the second bridge towards Bone Creek (see photo 4 below).
We moved on and hiked through High Crossing and Pickle Creek Bridge before stopping and admiring the Keyhole and the Double Arch that you see in the snapshot to the left. Keep in mind the supporting photos in this article were taken with a small pocket digital compact that we use to document our trips. The photos really can’t do the area justice. The Double Arch in person is much larger than presented in this photo and the detail really is amazing. I was out of film by the time I got to the Double Arch. I wasn’t disappointed because it gives me something to look forward to on a return trip. After you get through the Double Arch you work your way through an area called The Slot which is extremely unique because you are hiking between two rock walls that seem like a very large and long hallway or slot. The Pickle Springs Natural Area was an absolute blast to hike and photograph and I can’t wait to go back again in the Fall or Winter to see how it changes again.
Mamiya 7 Rangefinder Photos
I used my Mamiya 7 Rangefinder today loaded with Tri-X rated at EI 250 and developed in D-76 1+1 for 9 minutes in a steel tank. I used my standard film development process for the exposures today. I used the ultra-wide 43mm lens on the Rangefinder for all of my photographs and an aperture of either f/11 or f/16 for all exposures. My shutter speeds ranged from 1 second to 1/8. All of the photos below were taken at dawn up until about 7 a.m.
You can click on any of the photos for a larger view and then use your back button to return to the article.
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This scenic natural area contains all sorts of fascinating sandstone rock formations including box canyons and wet weather waterfalls. The sandstone rock here is the Lamotte sandstone that was formed from sandy beaches of a shallow ocean that existed here 500 million years ago. Since then layers of limestone were buried upon this sandstone but millions of years of erosion and uplift of the Ozark plateau have exposed the sandstone we see today. Over the eons, ice, rain, wind, plant roots, and streams have worn away this sandstone to form the many unique geologic features here. Some of the interesting geologic features include a double arch that holds up a shelf of sandstone, narrow slot-like canyons, hoodoos (mound or pillar-like sandstone blocks weathered into unusual shapes), a spring flowing out of sandstone (Pickle Springs), and sandstone talus slopes.
Besides the geology, this site supports over 250 vascular plant species including many uncommon species that are considered glacial relicts. These relict species are those that were more common thousands of the years ago when Missouri’s climate was cold and wet because of glaciation. Since then our climate has warmed and some of the species that were more common back then in Missouri still exist in small micro-climates that mimic the cool, moist conditions of the glacial times. Glacial relict species at Pickle Springs include the four-toed salamander, hay-scented fern, large whorled pogonia, and ground cedar, all species of conservation concern, as well as rattlesnake plantain and shining clubmoss.
The cool, moist conditions of the canyon walls support over 40 species of liverworts – one of the most diverse spots for these primitive plants in Missouri. A good number of mosses and lichens also grow on the sandstone rocks. Keep your eyes out for seven species of ferns, including cinnamon fern, and the uncommon partridge berry. On the ridge tops and upper slopes you will see dry woodlands dominated by white and black oak and shortleaf pine with low bush blueberry and farkleberry in the understory. Sandstone soils are very acidic and so plants that tolerate acidic conditions such as blueberries and dittany thrive here.
Walking along Pickle Creek you might spot a pickerel frog, green frog, or southern leopard frog jump into the water. In the waters of Pickle Springs a type of crustacean, an amphipod, has been described that is known only from here.
Directions & Access Information
Pickle Springs Natural Area is located on Dorlac Road. From Interstate 55 go east past Hawn State Park to County Road AA. Turn left (only option) on AA for about 1.7 miles until you see Dorlac Road (gravel). Make a left (north) on Dorlac and drive about .4 miles to the parking lot on the right. The best part is the area opens at 4 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m.
From the junction of Highways 32 and W in Farmington, travel east on Highway 32 for 5 miles, then turn right (east) on Highway AA. Follow Highway AA east for 1.7 miles to Dorlac Road (gravel). Turn left (north) onto Dorlac Road and drive 0.4 mile to the parking lot on the right (east) side. The area opens at 4 a.m. and closes at 10 pm.
Because of the fragility of the sandstone formations and the rare plants that grow here visitors are strongly encouraged to stay on the excellent Trail Through Time hiking trail. This 2 mile hiking trail loop leads visitors to most of the outstanding rock formations with opportunities to view the interesting plants and animals that inhabit the site’s natural communities. Hunting is prohibited.