COVID-19 Disclosure: All travel was done within a personal vehicle. Only accommodations cleaned daily were booked. Experiences consisted of outdoor, socially distant activities and masks were worn when doing essential activities, like filling gas or getting food.
We awoke in our St. Louis safe haven and made a beeline for the coffee. As it began to brew, we checked out our breakfast options, ultimately deciding on the fresh-baked blueberry bagels from Schnucks. We headed out to the porch to listen to the birds waking up with us over breakfast. However, a big day of nature was awaiting us, so, by 9:00AM, we were hitting the road.
Our first stop was Elephant Rocks State Park, which is essentially what it sounds like. Huge rocks towered above us like elephants in the wild. On this safari, we found a bit of wildlife ourselves.
Peering over the cliff’s edge, a pair of turtles cuddled up with each other while sunbathing across a fallen log. However, they were not alone on this retreat. A snake slithered across the calm water’s surface, creating a small rippling current on the green lake. Though snakes aren’t my favorite kind of aesthetic, it was quite a sight watching this scene play out.
As we walked through the winding trail of boulders in the cool forest, we came across our next sightseeing opportunity: The Engine House Ruin. Being a historical ruin, there was only about half of this brick structure left standing. However, sadly enough, the only parts that were left had been vandalized. I watched as a park crew member crouched on his hands and knees, scrubbing graffiti off of the ancient bricks. He looked up at me.
“It happens more often than you’d think.”
It’s hard for me to imagine the desire behind motives like these. I mean, of all the places to put your art, why choose a canvas that already has a completed masterpiece on it? R.I.P. to the misunderstood.
Leaving Elephant Rocks State Park, I was left with one last question on my mind: Had they ever thought about naming it Croissant Rocks State Park instead?
On our way down the road, we got a bit distracted. A sign that read “Missouri Mines State Historic Site” caught our attention. Pulling up the gravel road, we were greeted by a large, rusty abandoned building. Though the tours were closed because of COVID-19, we walked into explore it for ourselves. It was almost a better tour this way, as the emptiness of the buildings gave off this eerie feeling, as if we weren’t really there alone. If you know me, you know it’s these sort of spontaneous and terrifying experiences that I live for, so I carried on about the site, snapping as many photos as I could through the busted windows.
After this exploration, we stopped again about a mile or so up the road to fill up the tank of gas. To our surprise, this station was a one stop shop equipped with local bottles of wine. Deciding on a bottle of St. James Peach, we tossed it in the backseat and headed on down to National Scenic Railways.
As we rolled into the lot, the rain began to pick up until it was at a full-on downpour. This obviously would not be very fun to hike in, so we had to cancel that portion of our plan, but it didn’t really matter, as the highlight of the hike was visible right from the roads.
We took the car for a spin around the campground and a few of the trails to get different perspectives of the river before finishing up our day with a long scenic drive. We were greeted by hill after hill as tons of turtles, birds and bunnies ran alongside our vehicle.
At one point, we drove our fun-sized car through a literal waterfall, as the river rapids overflowed atop the tiny bridge. However, that wasn’t the only scenic adventure we endured.
After passing one too many abandoned houses, we decided to finally stop and check one out. I watched my step as I waded through the tall grass on my way up to the house. I wasn’t trying to surprise any snakes who may have been lurking below. Peering over onto the platforms of the once-kitchen floor, I saw that many of the boards had rotted through, becoming one with the basement. I was going to have to be careful as to not land the same fate as the kitchen.
Feeling out every step before taking it, I made my way through the house. All of the windows had been busted through and tree vines began sewing the structure back together. I could only imagine what additions the local raccoons had made to this joint. Whatever they were, I figured I would leave them to it.
It wasn’t until about 8:00PM when we finally arrived at our home for the night: Cliff House Inn. We put on our masks and walked inside, being greeted by the front desk AKA the host AKA the cashier. She handed us some menus and said, “If you’d like some dinner, get your order in right away! The kitchen is closing.”
There weren’t too many options, however, I always like trying the local favorites when I travel, so we decided to split an order of Hot Water Cornbread. This was an interesting dish with patties that consisted of cornbread and jalapeños topped with Tabasco butter and honey. They had a bit of a kick to them, as you may imagine, but fun to try nonetheless!
Grabbing an order of blackberry cobbler to go, we went out on the deck to enjoy the sunset across the cliff over dessert and peach wine. The view here was breathtaking as we watched the sun trade places with the moon and the clouds with the stars. There really was no better way to end a long day of traveling.