Tag Archives: friendship

Hike #1: Shaw Nature Reserve

(This is the first post of my Twelve Hikes, Twelve Months series.)

My first official hike in 2017 took place on an unusually mild January day at the Shaw Nature Reserve, located just forty minutes from downtown St. Louis.

Though not intentionally planned this way, Shaw Nature Reserve turned out to be the perfect kickoff to my year of seeking new hiking adventures. This place is a quintessential St. Louis experience—a wild extension of the Missouri Botanical Garden that owns and operates it.

Within its 2,400 acres are 14 miles of networking trails that meander through a veritable treasure trove of habitats, including prairies, glades, and woodlands. The Botanical Gardens began acquiring the land in the 1920s, and over the years has transformed the private reserve into a hiking destination and preservation tool for Missouri’s unique landscapes.

Be forewarned that since it’s private, there is a small entrance fee unless you’re already a Garden member. My friend Erica had a pass, so we met up and she checked us in at the visitor center right at the park entrance.

Then we parked further back in the reserve and began our hike outside a stately brick home. I learned later that it is known as the Bascom House.

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Originally built in the late 1800s, it has been restored and maintains regular visiting hours. Had I known that then, I would have tried to detour us through the house before we hit the trails. I find old homes, and architecture in general, quite fascinating. But instead we walked on past it, leaving me curious for another visit.

From the Bascom House, we followed a meandering path that connected to the Brush Creek Trail, a more established trail that leads toward the Meramec River. I was surprised when we came upon a fenced off area in the woods that we could only access by letting ourselves through a gate in the so-called “deer exclusion fence.”

The wooded trail we continued along soon opened into a wide space rippling with golden prairie grasses. It was a beautiful sight.

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At the top of the long, grassy hill stood a few structures reminiscent of the settler days in the 1800s. We passed by a large teepee structure and spotted a miniature sod house. To our surprise, the door to the sod house wasn’t locked, and we peeked our heads in. A rich, earthy scent filled the interior, which was comprised of a single room no more than a hundred square feet.

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After lingering around the sod house, we continued through the open prairie and reached the next tree line, which was also the location of the Maritz Trail House. This large shelter is accessible by a long driveway extending from the Bascom House. The parking lot outside the shelter was empty, so the driveway must not have been open (It turns out it doesn’t open until April).

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From there, we picked up the Goddard River Trail loop, which circled through woods, glades, and a sandbar along the Meramec River. My favorite part by far were the open glades. I would love to see them again in spring, when they’re teeming with flowers, all different types of plants, and songbirds.

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We also encountered some of our first fellow hikers in the woods, who appeared to be enjoying the morning by bird-watching.

About halfway through the loop, the trail abruptly disappeared by the Meramec River. Fortunately, Erica had hiked this section before and knew to skirt part of the shoreline via the sandbar until the trail picked up again. While we were at it, we wandered to the river’s edge and I took a good look at the solemn currents etching the water’s dark surface. With each step back toward shore, the sandy gravel produced a satisfying crunch, crunch beneath my shoes.

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Upon finding the trail again, it followed close to the river for a while among large, towering trees. It reminded me of Castlewood State Park, where a trail similarly hugs the riverside under a canopy of ancient looking trees. We stopped for a few pictures beside a tree with a particularly impressive girth. When we ran into a park employee cleaning up the trail nearby, I asked him about the age of the tree, and he estimated at least 100 years old, if not older.

We only ran into one other person on the back half of that loop, a trail runner who we ran into a few more times. A series of steep hills led us back up through the woods, and eventually we made it back to the large swath of prairie. The downhill hike from there felt so good after tackling several switchbacks earlier in the trail.

We took a slightly different path to reach the car again, which led to a boardwalk over a small pond with an ethereal looking gazebo situated next to it.

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Overall, we hiked a solid three or four miles in a few hours out on the trails. It was a great start to the hiking season, if I do say so myself.

Know Before You Go

Address: 307 Pinetum Loop Rd, Gray Summit, MO 63039

Hours: 7 a.m. until sunset. For more information on visitor center hours and Bascom House hours, check out the Botanical Garden’s website.

Admission: $5 general admission, $3 admission for students, seniors, and children, and free for Garden members. The reserve doesn’t permit pets.

Facilities: Bathrooms are available at the visitor center, near the Bascom House, and at the Maritz Trail house shelter.

Trails: Shaw Nature Reserve has about 14 miles of interconnected trails. For trip ideas, view the complete trail map or this list of trail runs (complete with water/bathroom stops) put together by the Botanical Garden staff.

General Info: Some assorted tidbits… The visitor center doubles as a gift shop and bookstore, which I plan to check out next time. Aside from hiking trails, other activities like wagon rides take place at certain times of year. The Botanical Garden also promotes gardening and other educational activities through the reserve. See the website for Shaw Nature Reserve for more information, including activities and upcoming events.

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An Accidental (Mis)adventure at Blackburn Park

Sometimes, life needs a dose of spontaneity—and that’s exactly what my friend Stephanie and I got ourselves into recently when I casually posed the question, “What if we just turned left at the next stoplight?” We had just finished eating lunch and were driving back from a nondescript diner in South County that I had wanted to try for awhile. A little disappointed from that experience, I was feeling restless.

Stephanie gamely took the bait, saying “Why not?” After all, we were driving on a thoroughfare that cut through neighborhoods teeming with unique, mid-century brick homes. We both enjoy random adventures and exploring neighborhoods, so the next left-hand turn would likely deliver on both accounts.

Oh yes, it did.

After traipsing down several side streets and gazing admiringly at row upon row of modest and beautiful houses, we took another left-hand turn. This time, instead of launching us into another neighborhood, we ended up parallel to what appeared to be, of all things, a park.

“Turn into the parking lot,” Stephanie insisted. Driving up to the sign, I saw it read—Blackburn Park. A moment later, something registered. “Blackburn Park! This is crazy! I was just looking at this on Google Maps the other day, and have really been wanting to come out here!” When I get excited, the feeling can be hard to physically contain. “I can’t believe we ended up here!”

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As we got out of the car, I realized an additional two things. One, my phone had very low battery, and my car charger was sitting on the kitchen table at home. And two… did I just hear thunder?

Undeterred, Stephanie spearheaded the exploration, starting by veering off the wide brick path that appeared to cut through the center of the park. On we went to inspect knobby old trees, stand under park shelters that more closely resembled Spanish-tiled villas, and watch two squirrels whirling around tree trunks, locked in an endless chase.

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Almost every time we hang out, something inevitably leads to a photoshoot. Since my phone has a higher quality camera, we pulled it out for several shots, warily watching the battery creep lower, but unable to resist the advantageous scenery around us. Since you’re seeing this post, you know we came away unscathed, and my phone battery eventually did recover. But in the moment, it added an extra bit of urgency and hilarity to the proceedings.

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A group of teenagers was hanging out in the center of the park, and I couldn’t help but think what an unusual sight it must have been to them when we spotted a Swallowtail butterfly and followed its erratic flight path, trying to take a picture before it disappeared in the tree canopy.

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Meanwhile, the column of clouds approaching from the west continued to climb higher. With the underbelly turning a dark shade of blue, I was getting a little nervous about being caught out in the storm. But on the playground we passed, kids continued to play and parents continued to watch. Walkers continued walking, and occasional bicyclists kept passing through.

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While taking a rest under one villa/shelter, a young mom approached and commented that she was inspecting the shelter for an upcoming birthday party for her child. “It’s a beautiful place for that,” we agreed. She lingered for a few minutes, sharing snippets of her plans for that day and details of the community pool, before resuming her afternoon errands. It was a breath of fresh air to meet a stranger in that random place, at that random moment, and share some bits of small talk. It reminded me of the good rooted deep in our neighborhoods, the togetherness and sense of community that perhaps helps form the backbone of society.

Right then, another roll of thunder jolted me to attention. “Let’s keep going,” I suggested, and Stephanie agreed.

Meandering down several paths, we got an overall good scope of the park. And it was beautiful. Everything I’d hoped to find when I examined the square of green from my laptop, just the week prior.

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The storm clouds were almost directly overhead now, threatening to release fat droplets of rain, and my phone battery couldn’t take much more excitement. So we descended a hill back into the parking lot, laughing at the adventurous misadventure that had just befallen us. I turned the engine on and directed the car back toward the street.

“Which way should we go?” Stephanie asked.

“How about that way. Past the stoplight and up over the hill. I was wondering what’s over there when we drove by earlier.”

 

Know Before You Go

Address: 394 Edgar Rd, Webster Groves, MO 63119

Hours: 6 a.m. to a half hour past sunset.

Facilities: There are two locations with restrooms in the park. Several shelters (which may need to be reserved ahead of time) and picnic tables are also available. There are tennis courts, a bird sanctuary (which we didn’t get to, but sounds neat), a playground, and other amenities tucked throughout its 38 acres.

Trails: There are paved walking paths throughout the park. See this map from the City of Webster Groves.

General Info: With walking paths, shelters, and loads of shade from mature trees, Blackburn Park is a very restful place to enjoy a birthday party or just walk and think. In 2012, the Riverfront Times highlighted Blackburn Park as the best birdwatching opportunity in the St. Louis area. Curious about its history, I found that the park was created when an inventor named Jasper Blackburn and his wife donated their land to the city of Webster Groves for the purpose of a park. There doesn’t seem to be much out there in terms of a good history of the park, so if you find more, comment and share below!