Monday, August 24, 2009

Inside The Grand Gulf

I have to say that my favorite spot that we visited in Missouri was a place called The Grand Gulf. The part of the Ozarks that we got to see were relatively unimpressive when it comes to vertical. Those "mountains" just aren't very tall. However, the plateau is cut by all sorts of gorges and valleys due to the softness and permeability of the underlying rock.

The Grand Gulf is a true chasm, being deeper than it is wide at many points. It averages about 130 feet deep and is a pretty impressive little geological oddity. It started out as a cave system. About 10K years ago the roof of this section of the cave collapsed, forming what is today a very deep and precipitous gorge.

It's now protected as a day-use state park. There's not much there in the way of facilities. Just a vault toilet, some trails and stairs, a parking lot, and a picnic area with a few tables and benches. However, the point of the park was to protect and preserve the Gulf, so it serves admirably for that.

This was one of the first views I got of the Gulf. Looking down into all of that steep terrain and pure green, I knew that I'd have a hard time finding my way down to the bottom. And even though there aren't any official trails down there, I was bound and determined to get to the base of the valley to get some good photos.

I kept coming across one false trail after another. They would lead down from the rim and eventually end up at the edge of a cliff face with no way down. But the more I saw of the place, the more I knew that I had to find a safe route down the walls.

At last, at the far end of the gorge from the parking area, I spotted a trail that seemed to go all of the way to the floor of the Gulf. I took it and found that it did end up where I wanted to go.

I passed a couple of small caves that vanished into the shadows as I hiked along the floor of The Grand Gulf. I didn't muck about in them, though. I was there to get some shots of the great stone arch and the vertical walls and not to wander around in caves.

I had to pretty much just wade through the green when I finally picked my way down the trails to the bottom. Thoughts of snakes and ticks and chiggers occurred to me as I passed through this knee-high green stuff.

This was at the bottom of the stone arch. This is a spot where the ancient cave roof did not completely collapse. So instead of a gorge we are now left with the largest natural arch in the state of Missouri. On one side (this one) it's over 75 feet high. On the other end it's about ten feet high. Inside the arch it's very shaded and cool, even on this day which was quite warm and humid.

The trail leading into the archway.

I couldn't find a good place to set up my little tripod for a self-portrait. This was about the best I was able to get.

After passing through the arch I looked up to see this view of one of the heads of the canyon. If you look at the top of the rim, you can see the edge of the wooden deck built there to afford casual visitors a glance into the depths.

I ended up climbing out of the gorge via a different route than the one I took down. I found a trail leading up to my right after I visited the arch and made my way in that direction. It seemed to be well-traveled.

The trail took me to the base of this stairwell that was the only official way down to the foot of the gorge. Of course you're not supposed to vault the fence at the bottom and hike even farther down. I just climbed over the fence and made my way back to the parking area at the top of the canyon.

I took this of the opening of the arch. It's quite an impressive sight.

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