I know, I know. How can a sculpture park possibly count as a hike?
Well, I can promise that if you’ve never been to Laumeier Sculpture Park, you’ll find yourself in for a bit of a hike when you go. It might not be one of the entirely rugged, natural type, but I found it a unique way to experience art in a natural setting.
Located near the 44 and 270 interchange in Kirkwood, Laumeier Park offers three short trails and participates in St. Louis County Park’s 30/30 Hikes Program. Two of the trails go through woodlands, and the main, paved path stays mostly out in the open and leads walkers past the most prominent art installations in the park, such as Tony Tasset’s Eye and Alexander Liberman’s The Way, both shown below.
On this particular visit, my friend Stephanie and I stayed on the Central Pathway, the main .64-mile trail, because we had decided spur of the moment to attend the Mother’s Day weekend Art Fair. This annual event attracts artists from all over and offers a variety of food vendors. So, even if you’re not feeling up for a long walk, you can still see some of the main attractions, eat some delicious food, and peruse artists’ wares.
After visiting the food vendors (toasted ravs, anyone?), we followed the Central Pathway trail to the back of the park to escape the crowds and stretch our legs a bit. Works of art are everywhere – a tree trunk covered in hammered metal, a chain of steel buoys tucked just into the woods, a pavilion with a roof shaped like flower petals. Visiting in the late afternoon also provided beautiful golden hour light.
If you’re looking for an out-of-the-box hike, I recommend giving Laumeier Park a chance. I’m looking forward to my next visit to complete the Art Hike Trail once real spring arrives.
Know Before You Go
Address: 12580 Rott Rd, St. Louis, MO 63127
Admission: Free, except for special events like the Art Fair.
Trails: Three trails are available, each less than a mile long. Laumeier’s detailed trail map also shows locations of the sculptures and works of art you can expect to see on whichever trail you choose.
March’s edition of the Twelve Hikes, Twelve Months challenge took me to a truly new place. Until a few days before the hike, I had never heard of LaBarque Creek Conservation Area, a 1,200 acre park about an hour southeast of St. Louis.
As per usual, I discovered it while scrolling around Google Maps. This challenge has really put that unusual pastime to good use. I spotted a cluster of parks in northern Jefferson County, including LaBarque Creek, Young Conservation Area, and the Myron and Sonya Glassberg Family Conservation Area. I was curious to visit at least one of them, and LaBarque Creek ended up fitting the bill.
My friends Erica and Josh were game to join me for a nice Saturday morning hike. We met in the gravel parking lot at the foot of LaBarque Creek’s only trail. I say foot of, because this trail is a three-mile adventure in hills. If you conquer the trail clockwise as we did, you will find a nearly continuous gain in elevation on the first half. It made for a challenging and satisfying workout.
The trail travels in a loop through woods, along a scattering of short rock formations atop a ridge, over a stretch of exposed rock (possibly sandstone) leading to a cliff, and finishes by briefly touching the path of LaBarque Creek. It was scenic throughout, showing off a scrubby and rugged landscape. I couldn’t help but pause several times to photograph the surrounding beauty.
Although spring had yet to touch the woods, the ground was coming alive with green. The views through the leafless timber, especially along the highest part of the ridge, were arresting.
We crossed paths with a few hikers but mostly enjoyed having the trail to ourselves – one of the benefits of an early start. I burned through a water bottle easily from the strain of continuous hill-climbing. After reaching the trail’s highest point around halfway through, it was a delicious feeling to descend back into the valley on the second half of the loop.
The back half contained some of my favorite scenery, including some exposed rock, contrasting light and dark ground cover, and views of LaBarque Creek. Near the end, the trail also skirted someone’s property, so we got to observe horses grazing in a field to the left of the trail. The trail became a well-defined path etched into the hillside as we approached the bridge leading back to the parking lot.
I was surprised to learn later, while looking into the history of the park, that it has only recently been designated as a conservation area. The land was dedicated in 2010, due in part to the work of a group known as the Friends of the LaBarque Creek Watershed.
It is wonderful that this glimpse of Missouri’s original landscape has been preserved for generations to enjoy. Go challenge yourself to the loop – and enjoy this example of the beauty and diversity of the Missouri landscape.
Know Before You Go
Address: Valley Dr, Pacific, MO, 63069 (Detailed driving directions are provided on the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website.)
Facilities: Good sized parking lot, but no picnic tables or restrooms. The nearest city is Pacific.
Trails: LaBarque Creek has a single, looped trail around 3 miles long.
If you like photography—whether you’re an amateur or seasoned professional—you likely have a favorite spot or two for whipping out your camera whenever you get the chance. I am no different.
Just a few months after moving to St. Louis, I stumbled across a location that I’ve come back to time and again—with friends and by myself, for my own engagement and wedding photos, and even recently to try out my first ‘real’ big girl camera. Every time I return, I know where to head for reliably beautiful backdrops. And so far, it’s never failed that a different aspect of this place has captured my attention and imagination, whether I’m in front of or behind the lens.
This place is Thornhill Estate. Tucked behind Faust Park in Chesterfield, Thornhill is where Frederick Bates, Missouri’s second governor, called home.
The estate is comprised of a stately white house and a collection of well-preserved barns and other outbuildings, all perched atop a sloping hill at the end of a long gravel drive. Dotted with features like rows of mature trees, a period vegetable garden, and an open expanse of field, the grounds are filled with photo opportunities from end to end.
According to a site history I found from St. Louis County Parks, Gov. Frederick Bates had the house constructed around 1820 in a style inspired by homes from his native state of Virginia. Shown above, one feature of the home (when viewed from the front) is a symmetrical floor plan.
I first discovered Thornhill while exploring Faust Park with a good friend. After walking around the front of the park outside the Butterfly House, a popular attraction Faust Park is known for, we drove through the roundabout skirting the Butterfly House to see what else we could find. As we started down a gravel drive that appeared to be an extension of the park, we almost questioned whether we were entering private property. But as the beautiful farm came into view up the hill, I realized we had just stumbled upon a gem of a historic site. A sign at the wood fence separating the property from the parking lot confirmed that it was okay to explore.
I’m pretty sure my friend and I had the entirety of Thornhill to ourselves during that initial visit—and that’s something that has struck me every time I’ve gone back. There are typically not many people there. This scarcity of visitors adds to the appeal of this unique location as a backdrop, or the main attraction, for some serious photography, because there is no competition for the best vantage point or frustration of needing to crop or edit people out of your photos.
After I got engaged, one of my best friends agreed to come to St. Louis and do an engagement session for Nathan and me. We ended up doing two locations: the Gateway Arch (which is where we got engaged), and Thornhill Estate. I must say, Sarah Jacquel Photography did a pretty good job.
We got some beautiful images in front of the dark wood barn that I admired so much the first time I saw it, as well as other locations throughout the property. It was fall, so the field beside the house offered another gorgeous backdrop. On a side note, every season is an ideal time of year to visit Thornhill. In autumn, the golden color of the field makes for an awesome background, and in June, the edges of of the same field are filled with soft purple flowers.
When Nathan and I got married in 2015, we went back to Thornhill after the reception for a special photoshoot with our wonderful photographer, Woven Bone Photography.
Once again, we got some photos in front of the dark wood barn, as well as the front of the house, and other locations around the property. And like almost every time I’ve been there, we barely encountered anyone. That made it much easier to relax and be ourselves, which I think showed through in our photos.
For me, Thornhill is an oasis from a busy and fast paced life. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the everyday. This place forces me out of that. I never expected I’d end up living and working in a larger metropolitan area, so it was an unexpected treat to find this undisturbed piece of land—and slice of history. Each step into the property takes me further back in time and allows me to wonder and marvel at the beauty around me. I’ve always left feeling refreshed… and mentally planning my next Thornhill visit.
So all of this is to say, if you’re in St. Louis and looking for a good location for a photo op, you now know my personal favorite and best kept secret. Feel free to share some images if you get out that way!
Know Before You Go
Address: 15185 Olive Blvd, Chesterfield, MO 63017
Hours: 7 a.m. to a half hour past official sunset.
Facilities: Bathrooms are available near the front of Faust park by the playground area. There are some picnic tables on a hill behind the main house (pictured above).
Trails: The Governor Bates Trail (named for the governor who resided at Thornhill) is just over a mile long and begins at the estate. It’s rated as difficult (as of this post, I haven’t yet hiked it).
General Info: If you’re a thorough explorer, you could spend over an hour poking through the nooks and crannies of the Thornhill grounds. The rest of Faust Park offers a variety of attractions, like a historic village, playground, the Butterfly House (which is managed by the Missouri Botanical Gardens), and the Carousel.
Did you know that the St. Louis County park system has at least forty parks? You’d have to visit one just about every weekend for an entire year to experience them all.
While I’m not quite up to challenging myself to that (at least not in 2016, with the year being two-thirds over already), I’ve consciously been trying to explore more parks and build a better internal map of the recreation opportunities this area has to offer.
One that I ventured to this summer is Cliff Cave Park. Situated in the southernmost part of the St. Louis metro region, it hugs the curves of the mighty Mississippi River. As its name suggests, the park boasts towering bluffs, and somewhere in it, a cave that I haven’t laid eyes on yet.
My husband Nathan and I drove there on a whim one Saturday afternoon, and not being the best dressed for prolonged outdoor activities, decided to stroll along the loop north of the main parking lot and pavilion (see the map above), rather than venturing on a several mile long loop in another part of the park.
From the parking lot, we could see the park’s namesake cliffs extending to the south. Atop the cliff right overhead, the roof of a residence was slightly visible, as well as several rows of well tended grape vines. With an abundance of sunshine and being situated on a rocky, mineral rich cliff, I could imagine the conditions creating an excellent terroir for the grapes.
Little did I know, those grapes would have greater significance the more I learned about the park. By the pavilion and restrooms, a covered sign shared information about the park’s history, trails, and ecosystem. Before opening to the public in 1977, the site of Cliff Cave Park passed through several owners, and its uses included a failed winery venture, a spring fed pool, and a marina. The railroad also went through the area, which to me helped explain the long, flat stretch of ground in an otherwise rocky and cliff-covered environment.
After perusing the park’s background, we started off on the freshly blacktopped path toward the river. From the path, several skinny dirt trails crisscrossed down the embankment to the river’s edge. The sight was too much for me. I veered straight off and followed one to the river and soaked in the view. I hadn’t been so up close and personal with the Big Muddy since an adventure to the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers nearly a year and a half ago.
While I didn’t know it then, as I was standing right by the river, there’s a chance I may have been in Illinois. If you take another look at the map of Cliff Cave Park at the top of this post, you’ll see that the Illinois state line technically doesn’t end at the Mississippi—in some stretches, it crosses over and eats up bits of land we’d typically imagine as being Missouri. Interesting fact of the day, huh?
We both enjoyed the view and eventually trudged back uphill to rejoin the path. For about a mile or so if you follow it north of the parking lot, it offers additional views of the Mississippi (further upstream, we caught sight of a barge making its way down the river) before looping back through a wooded area that almost resembles a swamp.
Overall, it made for a nice walk on a humid summer afternoon. And at a mere 25 minutes from Busch Stadium and the rest of downtown, it’s an easy escape to get back in touch with nature.
I’m really hoping to return again soon, this time with hiking gear, so I can explore the southern loop trail that leads to several overlooks. With the flat terrain and nicely finished path, it’s also ideal for runners and bikers looking for a change of scenery.
See you there soon!
Know Before You Go
Address:806 Cliff Cave Rd, St. Louis, MO 63129
Hours: 8 a.m. to a half hour past official sunset.
Facilities: Bathrooms available, as well as a picnic shelter that can be reserved.
A lot of the photos I use in on this blog originate from my Instagram feed, which I’m happy to say is now available on the web.
Check it out!
Instagram is primarily a mobile-based app, so these new user profiles are a step outside the box. I just viewed mine for the first time and am pretty pleased with it overall. Some of the photos were taking awhile to load, but I presume that’s a bug that’s going to be fixed in the long run.
I use this app to curate photos from my adventures. It has a range of filters you can use to edit photos, but I prefer to edit most of mine with other mobile software before uploading them.
Hard core photographers usually don’t like Instagram, but seeing as my iPhone takes better quality photos than my current camera, I’m happy to have a fun alternative available.
You’ll continue to see lots of Instagram photos showing up on this blog, and if you’re interested in seeing everything I post, here you go. All the photos are mine except if I do a collaboration (something I haven’t done much of yet), and if it is my edit of someone else’s photo, I denote in the caption.
I look forward to the day I can afford my own camera with multiple lenses and all that jazz.
Until then, this is what I have.
And I try my hardest to post images that reflect what I feel: “The beauty we see will only happen once.”
Admit it. We all have at least one of those; a park or place whose name is so synonymous with your area, you tend to forget about it.
For the Bureau County area, that award mostly goes to the Hennepin Canal.
The canal traces through the whole area on a map; it swings south of Interstate 80 and brushes Wyanet before plunging southwest of Princeton. Everyone in the area knows what it is. The canal is like an artery: We all know it’s there, and it’s important to the body’s functions, but that doesn’t mean we give it the attention or respect it deserves.
I’m no history buff. I do know that by its completion, railroads had rendered the canal obsolete. If you’re curious beyond that, a visit to the Bureau County Museum might provide a better background, or look at the Illinois Department of Natural Resource’s page about the canal. It provides background, including that it’s a “104.5-mile linear park spanning five counties,” and helpful information for planning a visit.
The canal might not be used for its intended function now, but it’s been a great resource for the area. A gravelly and sometimes paved trail is good for walkers, bikers and equestrian use. I know that because of the occasional piles of you-know-what I encountered. There’s also fishing, camping, a plethora of animal and bird species to watch for, and many points along the canal are picturesque backdrops for photography and portraits. It’s an extended park with numerous entrances and lots of variety.
For all its graces, I don’t see a lot of people out when I’m there. Oftentimes months or years pass between my own visits. For such a wondrous resource, the canal is little used. I was awakened to this fact on three recent occasions, all within the last two to three weeks: two brisk walks to enjoy the fall colors and a photography bike ride.
I’ve gone on walks there before, but believe me. If you’re a walker, the canal can seem like heaven on earth. The same goes if you’re into bike riding. The trail is fairly flat, so you can focus more on the surrounding scenery. Fall is an especially beautiful time to visit with all the changing leaves.
On both walks, my cousin and I barely saw anyone other than a few fishermen near where we parked. My friend and I saw more people on our bike expedition, but we did cover more ground over a longer period of time. We saw two groups of bikers, a few people fishing and two groups of walkers. In the same setup in the suburbs, the place probably would’ve been choked with people. I think they appreciate open spaces all the more because of the crowded nature of city life. Not to say that rural folks don’t appreciate it as much, but we’re used to it.
That’s my point about the canal. I think we’ve collectively grown used to the place.
In some ways, that gives the visitors who do go more peace and quiet to enjoy the area’s natural beauty. But mostly, I think it’s a shame. We’re lucky this park was preserved and not destroyed. The locks are still there, albeit covered in spiderwebs. Trash also has a tendency to collect in places just before the water drops off.
The Hennepin Canal isn’t perfectly manicured, and I don’t think it should be that way in some respects.
Sarah and I jumped off our bikes to explore the ruins of some old building right off the path. I wondered what it was, what it was used for. The foundation was still solidly there, like the basic blueprint of a building. Vines were creeping up the walls and pillars that stood freely in the interior. The place had an aura of mystery. There it was, but there was no plaque, no clue as to what the building was in its former life. It’s cool to have places like that along the path to discover.
If we started rediscovering the canal, maybe we could do a better job keeping it trash and graffiti free so we could preserve the canal’s antiquity and continue to step back generations and walk along a literal path of history.
If and when you do decide to pay your respects to this age old fixture, it doesn’t matter what lock you go to. You will find something worth experiencing. There are points when the trail tunnels under the road. There are old railroad bridges and bridges. There are old locks with massive wooden gates. At times the canal is straight and narrow, and sometimes it billows out into a refuge for shorebirds.
We saw snakes, cranes, cardinals, blue jays, fish jumping out of the water, frogs, fuzzy caterpillars and all sorts of creatures. You might even bring a guidebook to identify the various flowers and native plants adorning both sides of the trail. Maybe you want to bring a pole (and your fishing license) and settle down for the afternoon. Primitive camping your thing? It’s there too.
If you’re at a loss for where to go first, the official Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park bordering I-80 and near Sheffield makes a good starting point. Informational displays help visitors get the most out of their time at the canal. Whatever you choose to do, don’t just think about it. Thoughts are nice but don’t accomplish anything unless they are carried out through actions.
Let’s get back to knowing the treasures that are a stone’s throw away from our backyards.
Ok, perhaps this isn’t a tutorial on barn photography, but I sure felt like I experienced a crash course today. My friend Sarah asked me to help her document the plethora of ribbons she has won at horse shows over the years. The set: one of the old barns at her family farm, located near Wyanet. The weather: sunny and conveniently blustery, perfect for blowing about ribbons as we were setting up shop.
I’ve photographed friends on hiking trips and day trips, but never anything as full scale as this. Sarah had already started tacking string to the barn wall that morning, and I was the assistant for the rest of the setup. We grabbed handfuls of ribbons and arranged them by color from blue, the crème de la crème, to brown. Even Sarah didn’t have an exact count of them all until after the shoot; there’s so many it’s overwhelming. She has 78 ribbons and five neck ribbons.
The original intent was to get a few good photographs and then bike a portion of the Hennepin Canal. After a few head on shots and trying to vary the angles, however, I found myself in want of a ladder. Standing on the trunk of my car just didn’t cut it. We marched over to the house and carried the tallest of three available specimens back to the photo site.
From there, it got interesting.
I stepped up several rungs, took a few frames and discovered I wanted another angle. And so it went. Adjust ladder, climb rungs, examine scene, direct model, shoot. Sometimes I was on the ladder, and other times I was on my knees or laying flat on the ground in search of the perfect framing. We both experienced spurts of creativity that would then lead to more scenes, more poses, more rearranging of ribbons.
After we exhausted all our ideas for playing with ribbons against the barn wall, we dismantled that set and made a nice arc on the ground. The object was for me, while situated high on the ladder, to capture some nice images of her in the midst of her collection. We also attempted a series of jumping shots and opened a window on the side of the barn for yet more modeling and fun.
Playing photographer was fun. Even if you think you’re a deadbeat with a camera, I urge you to go out and try to make one of your dream photo shoot ideas come to fruition. Today’s setup had been brewing in Sarah’s imagination for at least two years. I was happy to even be a part of it. The fact that we got decent photos out of the deal was icing on the cake.
Exploring St. Louis and the surrounding area one experience at a time.