Hickory Canyons Natural Area

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At KAMP, we are well aware that much of the country does not think of Missouri first when they think of "outdoor adventure", and that's just fine. As a state positioned dead center in the continental U.S., we enjoy an abundance of  resources that result from being a point of convergence: the convergence of cultures (and the legacies of those cultures- often this is a struggle too), the convergence of the largest rivers in North America, the convergence of a once sprawling ocean and once soaring mountains lost in time but leaving a geological uniqueness found little elsewhere on Earth. It's all here, and frankly, if you want to flyover it, that's fine too; it just keeps the crowds down for those us that choose to revel in it.
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A rather diminutive sign, one on each side of a small parking lot, greats visitors to Hickory Canyons Natural Area. The State's Natural Areas are not managed by the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the State Parks, but are instead  maintained by the Department of Conservation, which also cares for Missouri's Conservation Areas. The Natural Areas tend to be smaller than State Parks (though not always), and are designed to preserve areas of unique ecology still existing as they were in a time prior to western civilization's encroachment.
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If you read my last post, Rainy Day Hiking and Nature Photography, I mentioned drinking out of a stream using my Lifestraw Flex water filter, and the images above show exactly where I gathered that water. It was so cool, and delicious! These little, lightweight filters are easy to add to an existing kit, and in addition to things like bacteria and protozoa, they reduce or remove lead, some chemicals and fertilizers, and micro plastics. Sort of a no-brainer if you don't like hauling heavy liters of water around all day, and they provide clean drinking water to communities around the world in desperate need of it.
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photo by @skiye30 of KAMP Counselor Jason crossing one of the streams
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images of @skiye30 setting up a shot
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One of the persevering nicknames of Missouri is "the cave state", and that is for good reason. The karst topography of the State features more than 6,000 known caves (there are only approximately 17,000 caves in the whole U.S.). The caves have factored into local lore as well, from the story of Tom Sawyer, to the legend of MoMo, to their real life use as natural refrigerators for lagering (ever wonder why Anheuser-Busch is in STL?). The State even possesses some extremely rare cave formations, such as the "showerhead and bathtub" formation at Ozark Caverns in Lake of the Ozark State Park, one of only 14 such formations known to exist in the whole world. At Hickory Canyons, the box canyons feature many small, cave-like indents right along the trail. 
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KAMP Counselor Jason enjoying the view, photo by @skiye30
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One of the things that makes Hickory Canyons really special is it's abundance of wet-weather waterfalls. As you begin hiking, little ribbons of water tumble across the path seemingly every few feet (sometimes coursing along the path itself), and it's a question where they must all be heading. The thunder of cascading water that you hear echoing through the forest is a clue. When you finally catch up to the source of the sound, a moment of awe transcends, and the stigma of Missouri wilderness as unexceptional instantly evaporates. On this April day, we observed no less than twelve waterfalls over the course of only 1.25 miles of trail, and while those were not all spectacular torrents, it's still some great waterfall density, not just for Missouri, but for anywhere in the lower 48.
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 Hickory Canyons was designated as a Natural Area in 1974, and for great reason. It's website states: "This area is botanically rich, supporting 541 native vascular plant species and 152 bryophyte (liverworts and mosses) species. A number of these species are considered glacial relicts. Glacial relicts are species that were more common in Missouri 12,000 years ago during the last Ice Age. Since then, the climate has warmed, forcing some species to inhabit micro-climates that mimic the cool, moist conditions of glacial times. Glacial relicts at Hickory Canyons include hay-scented fern, fir clubmoss and winterberry. The area is rich in fern species with over a dozen species represented.

The Lamotte sandstone here was formed from the sandy beaches of a shallow ocean that existed 500 million years ago. Layers of limestone were deposited over the sandstone, but millions of years of erosion and uplift of the Ozark Plateau exposed the sandstone we see today."
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It is passages like this that make you truly appreciate the place where you live. For us, the idea of walking on the remnants of an ocean floor is just incredible, and it is fun to imagine the water once towering overhead. Likewise, knowing that some of the plants that we passed by along the trail are the same species that were there 12,000 years ago is impressive. Not far away, at Mastodon State Historic Site, the remains of prehistoric elephants and giant ground sloths have been discovered, as well as other megafauna. Imagine if, alongside those 12,000 year old ferns, you came across a beast of the same era!  
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Jason standing in front of a second huge waterfall, photo by @skiye30
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@skiye30, photographing the waterfall and his return stream crossing
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No matter where you are, you should always respect the environment you are in and abide by any posted rules. At Hickory Canyons, trail blazes are few and far between, so it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between what is the trail, what is erosion, and what is unfortunately the paths of visitors going where they shouldn't go. It is possible that we even veered a bit, though we certainly did not mean to. When in situations like this, always employ the philosophies of "Leave No Trace" which can be found here. Note: camping and/or fires are NEVER allowed in State Natural Areas.
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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 Wool Cap
  8. SWRVE Cordura Skinny Jeans (pictured on Jason, in-store only)