Castor River Shut-Ins Natural Area

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There are some places in nature that you just luckily stumble across. Places that are in the vicinity of your regular spots, that you finally take notice of, and are amazed that you could have missed them all this time. Castor River Shut-Ins Natural Area is not one of those places. It is tucked away inside the Amidon Memorial Conservation Area, down remote gravel roads, susceptible to wash outs after a heavy rain, that dead end at your destination. From St. Louis, it is also a bit of a haul (to be more precise, it is about the exact distance away as to necessitate ten or twelve "Are we almost there?!"'s from a growingly impatient five year old). That said, it is totally worth all the effort.
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KAMP Counselor Jason and son, Harper
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Inside the Natural Area is a single dedicated hiking trail, and an additional access trail that just grazes in from the larger surrounding Conservation Area. The hiking trail is fairly short and unchallenging, though pretty, but it offers many spurs, including down to the shut-ins, which makes the trip worthwhile. It's unlikely that you'll get actually lost, however it is fun to test your map reading and compass skills by trying to pinpoint where the trail picks up again after you've wandered off for a ways along the shut-ins. Keep in mind though, if you are visiting with kids and planning to go off the trail a bit, that you may have to scramble over a few big boulders- nothing too tough for our five year old with parental help, but worth mentioning (also, actual rock climbing is prohibited).
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KAMP Counselor Mandi with the Fjallraven Kanken in Ocean 
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Missouri's Natural Areas were established to protect and preserve natural landscapes and historic sites, often these landscapes represent what the land was like long before westerners arrived. Best rule of thumb in these locations is to use the Leave No Trace approach. There is plenty of evidence that this can be a popular recreation spot when it's hot and locals are looking to cool off, so try to use one of the well worn paths of these revelers and to not disturb the ecosystem by carving a new one. Unfortunately, we also found evidence of people abusing the Natural Area by violating some of its rules and regulations. Open fire and littering are both prohibited, and we encountered evidence of each (we checked that the fire was fully extinguished and removed the trash, including some really gross items that we'll spare you the details of).
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Five-Lined Skink (possibly juvenile?)
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In the article for Hickory Canyons Natural Area, we showed you what the bottom of the ocean over Missouri looked like, millions of years after the fact. What you are seeing here is the result of ancient volcanic activity, cooled long ago, and after time and erosion, finally exposed for the world to observe. 
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Castor River Shut-Ins Natural Area is the only pink granite shut-ins in the entire state. Shut-ins are caused when a river is funneled through a narrow passage by canyon walls, and over time, slowly erodes the ground below until exposing bedrock. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation's website for the Natural Area:
"This picturesque pinkish granite is from the Breadtray formation, an igneous rock formation that is 1.5 billion years old. Most of the exposed igneous rocks of the St. Francois Mountains region are rhyolite rather than granite. Igneous rocks are formed from volcanic activity. Granite is a coarse-grained igneous rock formed from magma that cooled underground and was later exposed. By contrast, rhyolite is formed when magma is cooled above ground."
Pretty cool stuff indeed.
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Down stream from the shut-ins, though still inside the Conservation Area, is the former location of Hawn's Gristmill (as it is referred in MDC documents). It's hard to tell if this is the same mill as in the "Haun's Mill Massacre", where over a dozen Mormons (I think, some reports indicate they were Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints members) were killed in an 1838 shootout with a local militia. There's not a lot online about it, so we need to do some more research at the library to be sure. Anyway, this could be something additional to explore when down there.
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Harper using a LifeStraw to grab a quick drink from the shut-ins
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KAMP Counselor Mandi enjoying some sun in her Meridian Line tank
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Castor River Shut-Ins Natural Area is yet another example of the great work done by the State's Department of Conservation. The Area is wonderfully maintained, and seems enjoyed by a wide range of visitors. If you decide to make the trek out from STL, you won't be disappointed. From Fredricktown, it is a short jaunt, and it's not too far from St. Joe State Park and St. Francois State Park (which you'll likely pass on your return trip home), so one could easily combine either lunch/dinner in Fredricktown or a second, longer hike or overnight camp to an outing here.
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Harper hiking out, complete with wet socks strapped to his bag (a sure sign that fun was had)
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Equipment Used:
  1. Nikon D7200
  2. Nikon D300
  3. GoPro Hero 4 Silver
  4. Nikkor Lenses (24mm f/2.8D, 35mm f/1.8G DX, 50mm f/1.8D, 105mm f/2.8G)
  5. Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro Lens
  6. Lifestraw Flex Water Filter (the rain-swollen streams were cold and delicious!)
  7. Deso Supply Cap
  8. SWRVE Cordura Skinny Jeans (pictured on Jason)
  9. Meridian Line Feather Lite Tank (pictured on Mandi)
  10. Fjallraven Kanken in Ocean (pictured on Mandi)