Tag Archives: winter

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.

20170121_115252

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.

20170121_112343

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.

20170121_101013

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).

20170121_101609

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.

20170121_101832

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.

20170121_104830

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.

20170121_114546

20170121_114934

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.

Advertisements

Approaching the Confluence: An Afternoon Near Alton

Itching for Adventure

For some time now, I’ve been getting the itch to do some more exploring outside of St. Louis. While the city and suburbs are interesting in their own right, something about my flatlands upbringing has forever engrained in me the desire to seek out open spaces and sweeping views. And my adventure last weekend quenchedeven if only brieflythat deep thirst.

Confluence of Missouri and Mississippi Rivers

On that Friday afternoon, I had mentioned to a coworker that I wanted to go eagle watching sometime. I asked if she knew of any local hotspots. In response, she told me all about a beautiful area just north of St. Louis where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers meet. My mind began racing with possibilities. By that evening, I had laid the tracks for a Saturday jaunt up U.S. Route 67 into the Alton, Illinois area, for a day of fun and exploration. And what a day it turned out to be!

Seeking Out the Confluence

The first objective of the day was to navigate our way to a small park on the Missouri side known asget ready, this is a mouthfulEdward “Ted” and Pat Jones-Confluence Point State Park. It’s located at the tip of a talon-shaped piece of land bordered by the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

From U.S. Route 67 just before the bridge into Alton, we hung a right, drove past one of the busiest looking gas stations in America, and continued past a visitor’s center and marshlands filled with migratory birds. Before the road took a sharp left, we turned right onto a bumpy, gravelly road that winds aimlessly for four miles before arriving at an equally gravelly parking lot. For all those concerned, there are restroom facilities available at this point. I’m sure some people would be thankful for them after the bumpy ride.

Confluence of Missouri and Mississippi Rivers

The weather was just favorable enough for the short walk through the treeline to reach the water. At this point, the wind seemed to converge from all directions, uninhibited by the open, frigid waters ferrying chunks of ice southward.

A dozen or so other brave souls were also out at the point. There were a few educational signs, an extremely tall pole commemorating the infamous flood of ’93, and a cement walkway that went further out to the edge of the water.

Sign from the Flood of '93

I ventured out to the very last rock connected to land and stared ahead. It was indeed a neat sight to see the slow-moving, albeit powerful currents of the two rivers colliding and merging into one.

Before we turned to head back to the cars, someone pointed out a lone eagle, soaring above the precise point of the confluence.

The Confluence of Two Great Rivers

Bar Food Extraordinaire at Fast Eddie’s Bon Air

After visiting the confluence, my stomach was growling for lunch. To remedy that, we headed into Alton to experience a local legend of a restaurant. Fast Eddie’s has been in existence since the 1920s, and since then it has expanded to seat nearly 400 people. (Be prepared for packed parking and to flash your ID at the door; patrons must be 21 to enter.)

Preparing Burgers at Fast Eddie's

I’m glad we were accompanied by people who had been there before. After you enter, you then need to snake your way behind a bar to join the end of the food line. Fast Eddie’s has a simple and inexpensive menu, and because of the simplicity, the line moves blessedly fast. You can grab a half-pound burger hot off the grill for $1.99. (Another tip: Come with cash, as that’s the only accepted payment method for food. ATMs are available, but you’ll likely get charged a fee for using them.)

The other half of the experience was finding somewhere to sit. The place was packed to the hilt with all kinds of people, which made for interesting people watching, but it complicated our efforts to find a table with four available chairs. We checked both the indoor and enclosed outdoor seating areas. We did end up finding a table and enjoyed tearing into our food and sharing in conversation.

Winding Down at Grafton Wineries

As the sun was setting, we followed Illinois Route 100, also called the Great River Road, north from Alton toward the smaller town of Grafton. The road tightly hugs the curves of the Mississippi to the left and gives way to the region’s rising bluffs on the right. The combination of scenery and sunset was spectacularly beautiful.

Sunset from Aerie's Winery

We reached our destination,  Aerie’s Winery, with enough light left to enjoy the view. The winery overlooks both Grafton and another confluence—of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Reaching it involved a steep ascent up several hills, but the view at the top was entirely worth it. It was the perfect place to relax, unwind, and enjoy some locally bottled wine.

Another Sunset View at Aerie's Winery

We also stopped by the Grafton Winery, which sits right off Main Street. The owner herself took care of our wine tasting and poured a sample of an item not even listed on the menu. She and her staff earned a lot of points in my book for their attentive service.

All in all, our experience in Grafton was the cherry on top of an exhilarating dayand that has only whetted my appetite further for exploring the area surrounding the Great River Road.

Know Before You Go

The following information was up-to-date as of the publication date of this blog post.

Fast Eddie’s Bon Air

Phone: 618-462-5532

Address: 1530 East 4th Street, Alton, IL 62002

Website: http://www.fasteddiesbonair.com/

 

Aerie’s Winery

Phone: 618-786-8439

Address: 800 Timber Ridge, Grafton, IL 62037

Website: http://www.aeriesview.com/winery/#aeries-winery

 

Grafton Winery and Brewhaus

Phone: 618-786-3001

Address: 300 West Main, Grafton, IL 62037

Website: http://thegraftonwinery.com/Winery-In-St.Louis/