Sunrise hike at Lewis and Clark trail

Today I did something I've always *wanted* to do, but was either too nervous and/or lazy to actually try. It was the perfect weekend too-- still somewhat warm (well, not warm, but not too cold to be bogged down with winter gear) and the last weekend before the time change that would have pushed sunrise back an entire hour.

That's right! I finally did my "catch the sunrise" hike today! Even though my original plan was to get up by 4/4:30am, I ended up pushing it back to about 5am because I've been having some sleep issues lately. I was packed and ready to go the night before, so all I did was get dressed and grab a few waffles to eat on the drive there. It was pitch dark still, and I had to stop along the way to get gas and use a bathroom (separate trips, unfortunately), so I actually got to the trailhead a little later than planned.

The first thing I noticed was how *dark* it was. Turning my car off made everything go quiet and dark. When I stepped out of the car (I was the only person in the parking lot), I noticed how many stars there were! It's incredible how every time I get out of the city, I remember how beautiful it is to see the stars. Stargazing is another thing that just makes me truly happy. So I stood in the parking lot looking up at the stars for a good while after getting my things together. It was pretty cold, so I was glad to have my fleece, hat, and gloves. I also had stolen my roommate's little lantern flashlight, not really meant for the outdoors, but it was the best I could do on short notice. The moon was about half full, so there was also a bit of light from the moon as well.

It was interesting how quickly it got light. The first peeks of twilight happen far before the sun actually rises. Slowly the woods became less dark and scary and more bright with early morning light. There was actually one hiker on the trail ahead of me (he had been parking when I went back to the car to get my hat). I had tried my best to stay a good distance away from him mostly because I know that I don't like someone tailing me on the trail (and also there are too many stories about hikers and axe murderers. Next time I take someone with me). Eventually, however, I ended up catching up to him at the first mile marker because it ended up we were both trying to do the same thing-- make it to the best lookout point in time for sunrise. We talked and walked the rest of the way to the overlook together: he told me about the sunrise hikes he did often and where he went to school, and it was actually really pleasant. Whoever you were, Hiking Man (I forget your name now), thanks for the pleasant morning conversation and unofficial morning tour of the trail.

Seeing the sun rise over the horizon from a bluff overlooking the Missouri River is an experience I won't easily forget. First came the very first peeks of color, which had been reflecting off some of the clouds for a good deal of time before the actual rising of the sun. Then, the very top of the sun peeked out over the horizon. It's amazing how FAST it actually happens, that you can actually watch the sun physically rise from obscurity into view. I took about a million pictures, all of which look mostly the same but I can't bear to get rid of them because it is like a flip book of the sunrise. I stayed there for nearly 40 minutes after the sun actually rose, just watching the colors and the  changing of position, and the river below. After I finally got myself moving again, I finished the Clark trail (decided on just  the 5.3 mile option today) exhausted by extremely happy. I can see myself doing more sunrise hikes in the future!

I know the pictures aren't great: I don't have a good enough camera or good enough knowledge on how to take pictures in that kind of lighting. Hopefully one day I will!  I am sure I will post most of the pictures, no matter how alike they all are, at facebook: hiking album on facebook

Creve Coeur Lake

I didn't do nearly as much hiking as I wanted to during my week off, but the trip to Johson's Shut Ins was totally enough to make up for that. I did do a walk at Creve Coeur Lake today though. I took the main Lakeview loop for most of the way around, probably 3.5 miles or so, and also added on the Mallard Lake loop for an extra 2.6 miles. Even though it was a good length, the paved trail and level ground makes for a really nice walk that is best for exercising. I kept up a good pace most of the time (except when I stopped to take pictures), but I did slow down for the pedestrians only section of the Mallard Lake loop, where suddenly the trail became more gravel and the surroundings quieter and peaceful. I even saw two deer during this section. Creve Coeur Lake is a place I really like to go when I need some exercise but don't feel like driving out to do a big hike.

Day Trip: Elephant Rocks State Park & Johnson's Shut Ins

Taking advantage of an absolutely beautiful day off, my father and I took a road trip about 2.5 hours away from St. Louis to go see some natural wonders of Missouri that, despite living here nearly all my life, I have never seen. This included Elephant Rocks State Park and Johnson's Shut Ins. I took over 100 pictures there, and tried to narrow it down to about 50 for the facebook photo album. There was just something about this place that was just intensely beautiful, especially in fall.

Elephant State Park was pretty amazing. We stayed on the main Braille Trail, which seems to mostly go around the perimeter of the main rock dome. Though we did see what seemed to maybe be another trail marked by blue cards on the trees, there didn't seem to be any signs or information nearby about what the other trails were. The trail itself was uneventful, all paved and even, but really interesting in the fact that the trail accomodates for any visitors with visual or physical impairments. The trail would sometimes take a short break for sightseeing like an old railroad engine house with a bit of track still left in it. The best part is definitely the trail when it leads up onto the rock domes of Elephant Rocks, overlooking piles of stones leftover from when the area was a quarry, or over the giant rocks that give the park it's name. Climbing over the giant rocks, squeezing through the narrow passageways, and overlooking into the Ozark hills was a brilliant experience, certainly worth it!

Johnson's Shut Ins, however, was the clear star of this trip for me. There aren't even words to really quite explain how overwhelming this place was. I've never seen an area quite like it. Usually during the summer, this area is full to the brim with the people who have come to swim and immerse themselves in the surging waters of the Shut Ins, but on this warm October day in the middle of the workweek, the park was mostly empty and the water was at a fairly low level. We first did the Shut-Ins trail. At first I was worried, because the trail is mostly just a boardwalk following the shut-in waters and rocks. We walked down the steps "at our own risk" and climbed over the rocks and water, exploring the shapes the rocks have slowly been worn into, how deep some of the pools were, how the water gushed out between the rocks below our feet in others. Then we  continued to follow the trail to the overlook, where the boardwalk ended and the  trail turned a sharp right. From this point on, the trail was all soil, rocks, and climbing. I have to say that the Shut Ins Trail was one of the more challenging trails I've done in a long, long time despite only being a few miles long!!! There was a lot of uphill climbing and carefully slippery downhill descents. While the trail was for the most part well marked, at one point it joins with the Ozark Trail leaving you wondering if you've accidentally strayed from your path. Parts of the trail actually demand that you climb up hillsides of rock into the glades, leaving your out of breath. There are parts of the trail, especially when you follow in the sand right next to the pools of the river, where the trail is somewhat overgrown, but worth it. We stopped to picnic for a snack at one of the pooling points of the river. The trail was completely empty (any other visitors had not gone down the rest of the trail) and sitting there on the rocks with the ozark hills all around you is the most peaceful and amazing feeling. Between the overlooks of the shut ins and the river, the glades in the hillsides, the deep woods and the rocky dirt trail, this trail was exciting and quite a work out!!!

After we made the whole loop, my Dad and I went back down in the shut ins to climb around the rocks, where we took off our shoes and relaxed by dipping our feet in the very cold rushing water! It was exhilerating and the perfect way to end a long hike. I can see how this area, when the water is higher and the sun is hot, can be crowded (people are actually turned AWAY from this park during the summer after it hits maximum content).  We finished the day off the the shorter Glades trail, which was not nearly as exciting as the first trail, but a nice quiet way to end the day after our lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This hike also did have a really nice overlook when it came up into the glades, especially with all the trees turning colors in the distance. Lots of gnats on this trail though, but that could have been the time of day/temperature/etc. By the time we were done, we were too tired out from all the sun to do the last trail, the Scour trail, which actually looked a bit challenging, but have no doubt that I will return to do this sometime, as well as check out all the other hiking in the area, like Taum Sauk Mountain! Dad and I also saw the old mine off of US 67, but it was closed.

Queeney Park (with photos this time)

I have the WHOLE week off from work!!! I'm hoping I can do a lot of hiking during that time. Yesterday my roommate and I took a 4.5 mile walk around the neighborhood, which felt really good.  My original plan for today had been to get up really early and try to catch the sunrise at Lewis & Clark trail overlooking the river, but I slept very badly last night-- I figured the time to do a 5-9 mile hike is NOT when you've only managed to grab four or five hours of sleep. So instead I reset my alarm and had a lovely breakfast with my father at the Bread Company, where I had a breakfast power sandwich, two cups of tea, and really nice long conversations with my Dad. Afterwards, I decided I better get some exercise anyhow and went back to Queeny Park for a walk.

Started out again on the Hawk Ridge Trail for most of the hike, but took a few detours on the .2 mile lake spur so I could get a look at the really pretty lakes where some people were fishing, which joined to the very end of the dogwood trail, which then met up halfway through the White Oak trail, which I took back to the Hawk Ridge Trail for the last bit of the trail. I even walked about halfway down the Fox Run Trail before turning back because I decided I was ready to head home and eat lunch. It was kind of nice to get a feel for the other trails at Queeny Park,  which were much clearer of horse dropping this time around, so they must be really good about cleaning it.

FLASHBACK 2006: Salzburg, Austria--Gaisberg

In the winter/spring of 2006, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Salzburg, Austria. This was, as many had said it would be, a life-changing experience. My living there was partially responsible for my now obsession with hiking, though as a child I continually told my father I wanted to climb mountains and, at one point, even became upset because I wanted to live in the Alps like Heidi (my father claims I cried, but I will deny this). I didn't really take enough advantage of Austria while I was there, which always seems to be the case. I was 20-25 pounds heavier then than I am now, so I wasn't really up for a lot of hiking either. However, despite the fact that I was eating a lot more in Austria than I was at home, I was losing weight. In Salzburg, I walked everywhere. Even when I took the bus to and from school/town, walking to and from the bus stop was a start. When I would go out at night with friends to the beer gardens, the buses would stop running and a bus taxi would cost too much money, so we would simply walk the few miles back to the house I was staying at with my hose family. The scenery was gorgeous. Walking along the Salzach River or up along the fortress overlooking the city, chances to walk were everywhere.

Sometime in the early spring, I went with a group of my school mates to hike up Gaisberg. To us, it was a mountain, but to the Austrians it was surely little more than a glorified hill compared to the mountains that stand out so sharply in the skyline. It stands about 4,226 ft and seemed a popular spot for paragliding. I was probably far too out of shape to do this hike. As I was overweight, my asthma was worse then than it is now. This was the first thing I had climbed where the landscape actually changed into SNOW halfway up. I managed to stick with my friends for a little bit, but quickly fell behind. I told them to keep going without me, but didn't turn back. I was determined to do this, on my own if I had to, no matter what. It was a hard trek, I won't lie. While a lot of the details are fuzzy from nearly 5 years ago, I remember a lot about how breathtaking the scenery was. I remember being passed up by old Austrians with white hair and walking sticks, and thinking of what a great quality of life these people must live. I remember the ground slowly turning into snow and ice, and how hard it was to see the trail and get traction-- I was wearing terrible shoes that looked like hiking boots, but were clearly either not well fitting or more for fashion than climbing.

I reached the top and felt more accomplished than I had in awhile. The  view of Salzburg and Austria stretching out before me was gorgeous, the mountains in the distance, the paragliders jumping off the edge one by one.  I really do think that what had always been a fascination from afar with hiking had become something else entirely.

Here is my original blog entry for this hike when I wrote it on April 8th, 2006: Livejournal Entry for Gaisberg 2006

Queeney Park: Hawk Ridge Trail

Fall is finally here! The leaves on the trees are slowly turning colors, the morning air is just a tad bit crisper (though today it was getting warm fast in the direct sun, with an expected high this afternoon of 88 degrees). It's the time of year where I try my best to go hiking at least once per week. Today I went to Queeny Park based on a recommendation from a coworker. I wasn't sure what to expect and couldn't decide whether it would be a hiking trail or more like a park trail. I wore my usual hiking pants and boots, but next time I go I think I will definitely wear gym shoes and work-out shorts if it's warm enough-- the park reminded me a lot of Creve Coeur Lake trail. It was crowded with runners and dog walkers, but because of wide pathways it actually didn't bother me too much most of the time. Because it is in an urban area, there is quite a bit of traffic noise from time to time, but my ipod fixed that easily enough. Queeny park also offers a lot of equestrian trails-- one big drawback about this is that there was horse droppings from time to time on the trail. I have to admit, though, I really, really enjoyed this place!

The park may have been updated since the edition of 60 Hikes I have was put out. Many of the landmarks Steve Henry uses weren't there, but it hardly mattered. While there are a LOT of trails throughout the park, there were multiple signs posted along the trail with maps showing the trail network as well as your position in time, and the trails themselves are very easy to follow and well marked. I chose to do the main loop that follows the park perimeter, the Hawk Ridge Trail, which runs about 4.4 miles. About 1/3 of the trail is pavement, and the other 2/3 of the pathway are gravel and rock with the entire route being very wide and spacious. I found the trail to be a little more various than the Creve Coeur Lake trail, both in scenery and in offering a little bit of incline here and there (though nothing strenuous).  I passed through a lot of medows, native grass growth areas, and deeper wooded areas. Large open green areas that the trail goes through seem to be meant for horses, with obsticles for jumping and running. The trail never really strayed off of the well worn path, so not a lot of challenge, but it is a good way to get in a longer walk without being gone for two or three hours. In fact, I almost thought about doing another round before heading home!

I did not explore the other trails except to look at the maps to see the general directions of where they went. Since the Hawk Ridge Trail goes all along the outside of the park, I was left with some curiosity about what the center of the park holds. You could probably wander for hours throughout the trails, crisscrossing back and forth.  Despite the drawbacks of crowds and horse droppings, all the cons of this trail are definitely won over by the absolute beauty of this park. It is strange to find such a nice piece of land nestled in between housing projects and roads and still get a feeling just a little bit of wilderness. Between the numerous lakes, grassy fields, native prairies, and shady woods filled with giant white oaks (some of which are thought to be over 250 years old), Queeny Park definitely kept my interest. I could see myself returning there easily as an alternative to Creve Coeur Lake when I need a morning exercise walk, either to do the Hawk Ridge Trail again or explore the inner workings of the park.

Brought my camera, but forgot the memory card so I was only able to take 6 or 7 pictures and I'm not sure if I'm able to get them off. I will try though.

Return to Valley View Glades

A very good friend of mine who had moved to New York is back in town for a couple weeks, so I knew Allison and I had to go hiking as soon as she came! As we sat looking through my hiking book watching movies, we came across the Valley View Glades hike in Hillsboro, Missouri that I had done almost exactly one year ago. I remember being completely taken in by the landscape, so that was the trip we made.

Hillsboro is about an hour away from where I stay, but the drive is fairly painless-- I don't enjoy driving 270 much, but MO-21 is an easy, mostly empty route. There was quite a bit more vegetation this time despite the fact that it is September and last year I went on this hike in November. Most of the trees still had their green leaves, though a good deal of them were just starting to be touched by color. The grass over the glades was the same golden brown color that I remember from last time. We took the path counter-clockwise this time around. The hike is a wonderful mix of open areas of glade and deep forests. I'd say more of the hike is forest than the open glades, but it is nice to walk in and out of both throughout the 3 miles. The streams were dry for the most part this time, with the exception of a few pools here and there, but there were a ton of really fascinating mushrooms that we both had a great time taking pictures of to look up later. We saw a great deal of birds as well, and the trail was nearly completely empty the entire way. It was wonderful to revisit this trail, and I will surely to so again-- maybe in spring, when the wild flowers are blooming!