Wilma

“My wife…. She is as wild as they come. She is up on those rocks and I just can’t get her down.”

Griff, Fox and Fox’s family looked up at Courthouse and Jail rocks to see a woman easily navigate the rocks while occasionally stopping to take in the view. Looking back at the man, Fox’s brother and sister-in-law smiled and walked on toward the trailhead. Fox’s dad, the social one of the group, stopped to listen to the man’s story. Eventually, Griff and Fox walked on while the man continued to talk about his 86-year-old wife, Wilma.

Along the trail, we met Wilma and had an ever-so-brief conversation with her about what we could expect on the rocks. She was wearing the same shirt that just the day before I had bought in Sydney, NE. She looked comfortable and in-place with the surroundings so I knew that it was a smart purchase.

Hiking now will help us stay young at heart and hopefully keep our hearts healthy. This elderly woman is enjoying a moderate hike at Courthouse and Jail Rocks in NE.

This elderly woman is enjoying a moderate hike in Nebraska. We hope that hiking now will help us stay young at heart and have healthy hearts for a long life.

Over lunch, my dad told us about this couple’s age, how much they travel and their enjoyment of outdoor activities. With awe in my voice, I told my family that I aspire to be just like Wilma at the age of 86.

The next morning, in the hotel’s breakfast room, we were planning our day when Wilma and her husband walked in to eat. We were many miles from Courthouse and Jail rocks and surprised to see them, but my dad took the opportunity to converse further with this inspiring couple. Before they walked away, Wilma told my mom that they would see each other soon. Well, they did, when we all checked out at the same time. However, I really liked her attitude toward life and truly hope that our paths do cross again.

Wilma, if you are reading this, thank you for being such an inspiration. Your enthusiasm for life and the outdoors is everything I strive to be now, at 86 and beyond.

Elephant Rocks State Park

To take a giant leap or turn around and head back to the trail? That is a question that I found myself asking a lot when Griff and I visited Elephant Rocks State Park in Missouri.

Climbing on boulders can be great exercise and fun at Missouri State Parks.

Climbing on boulders in Missouri.

The park: gentle trails and giant boulders

The paved trails with easy inclines are nice for visitors out for a stroll, while giant granite boulders call to those looking for a more moderate hike. Along the paved path there is a braille trail with ropes leading to signs with short paragraphs that explain the history of the area and encourage visitors to enjoy the natural beauty in the park. Climbing on and around the boulders requires visitors to be more cognizant of their footing as slopes may be steep and it is important to watch for gaps as some are wide and/or deep.

 

One of the easy unpaved paths at Elephant Rocks State Park.

One of the easy unpaved paths at Elephant Rocks State Park.

 

There was a youth group visiting at the same time who jumped across the gaps of the boulders with ease and a carefree attitude. I, on the other hand, thought very seriously about the direction that I would take in order to make the smallest possible leap from one boulder to another. Although the choices that we made on the hike were less youthful, we couldn’t resist the urge to take silly photos with the rock formations. Griff also found ample opportunity to take other (more artistic) photos throughout the park. The maze created by these rocks provided a fun place to get light exercise and capture the fresh air before getting back into the car.

Watch your head! Fun photo opportunities at Elephant Rocks State Park.

Watch your head! Fun photo opportunities at Elephant Rocks State Park.

 

Elephant Rocks State Park offers opportunity to take silly photos with the giant boulders.

Elephant Rocks State Park offers opportunity to take silly photos with the giant boulders.

The history: volcano, granite and railroad

Granite built the area and is still a major resource for the community. For many years, the granite in Iron County, MO has been transported throughout Missouri to build some of the most admired buildings in the state. To transport the rock from the quarry to other areas, the railroad was once a major factor. A short detour trail in the park will lead to the old engine house. While the former engine house is in ruins, the granite walls are still a beautiful sight to see. It is easy to envision what this area must have looked like at the time with multiple former railroad tracks convening near the engine house. Griff and I definitely thought the sidetrack to the old engine house was worth the time.

The ruins of the Old Engine House demonstrates how beautiful the granite is from this area. This can be found on a detour from the main trail of Elephant Rocks State Park.

A slight detour at Elephant Rocks State Park leads to the ruins of the Old Engine House.

A wall at the Old Engine House in Elephant Rocks State Park. Trains carried granite out of Iron County to other areas of Missouri.

The Old Engine House wall along the former rail that carried granite out of Iron County to other areas of Missouri.

 

Visit Iron and Reynolds Counties

The granite and other large rocks formed by a volcano have left behind beautiful parks in the area including the nearby Johnson’s Shut-Ins. Visitors to Iron County (Elephant Rocks) should consider visiting Reynolds County (Johnson’s Shut-Ins) if time is available. We heard that there are other parks and natural sites in the area that we did not have time to visit in 2014 but hope to in 2015. Visitors to Elephant Rocks, and probably other area attractions, may find the Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park campground a convenient place to share stories around the campfire about their day at play in the great outdoors.

This boulder looks like a turtle that has come out of its shell.

Elephant Rocks State Park.

This boulder sits atop a hill of giant granite rocks at Elephant Rocks State Park in MO. It reminds me of when I was a kid and would try to crush people with my thumb and finger.

Ever try to crush someone at a distance with your thumb and finger? Unfortunately for these people, the camera angle and the giant boulder made it look like they were being crushed at Elephant Rocks State Park.

The Tallest Peak East of the Rockies

Looking up at Harney Peak from the trail

Looking up at Harney Peak from the trail

As we walked along, the gravel trail had changed over to dirt and narrowed substantially. We were now required to walk more or less single-file along the old, dusty pathway as the elevation once more started to increase. The late morning sun beat down from above, sapping my energy despite the day’s moderate temperature. Maybe the thinner atmosphere 6,000 feet up transmitted more of the rays to my skin or maybe being one mile closer to the big ball of flaming gas 93 million miles away made a difference. Probably not, but it sure felt like it.

Another hiker approached as he descended the trail. “You’re about halfway there,” he said, repeating what we had heard from several other hikers over the previous 30 minutes. The trail must abruptly teleport us from the halfway point to the top at some point.

Dead tree along trail up to Harney Peak

Dead tree along trail up to Harney Peak

Let’s rewind a bit back to the start of this adventure. Fox, her parents, and I were on vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We had seen buffalo, prarie dogs, and Mount Rushmore lit up the previous evening. We had seen advertisements for the highest point in the Black Hills, Harney Peak. I had listened to Fox reminisce about hiking Mount Christoffel during a previous trip with her family to Curacao before I had met her. I wanted to experience something similar with her and so I suggested we hike up to Harney Peak.

So there we were about an hour into the hike. We had walked up and down a wide gravel path which passed multiple overlooks from which we could see the inactive fire tower at the top of the peak far in the distance. Eventually the path descended to a small creek which seemed to be at a lower elevation than the 6,000+ feet at the trailhead.

Near beginning of Harney Peak trail

Near beginning of Harney Peak trail

From there, it was all uphill to the top. None of us was in great shape, but at least Fox and I had youth to combat the relatively thin atmosphere compared to our home in Saint Louis. Her parents had more difficulty, but we made steady progress through the numerous switchbacks.

Looking southeast from near Harney Peak summit

Looking southeast from near Harney Peak summit

Soon the tree cover cleared signficantly and we had a fantastic view of the Black Hills for many miles in some directions. It was inspiring me to reach the top. I periodically took a sip from my Camelbak filled with nearly a gallon of water as we climbed. Although the air felt about room temperature, I was sweating profusely along my back, under my arms, and under my hat. Perhaps the dry air and elevation had something to do with it.

Once it seemed that we had ascended above the competing peaks in the area, I knew we were closing in on the top. We came across an old hitching post for tying up pack animals and then the path changed from rocky dirt to man-made stairs. Fox and I pushed ahead, eager to get a view from the top.

Stairway to fire tower on Harney Peak

Stairway to fire tower on Harney Peak

The old fire tower appeared to be in good condition, but the strong winds unobstructed by the surrounding hills made our footing feel a little precarious. But it didn’t really matter as the thrill of being at the top of the Black Hills and all the land for hundreds of miles around forced my camera up to my eye. I got busy shooting off dozens of mediocre photos as I forgot about good composition and merely captured anything that caught my eye.

View from the Harney Peak fire tower

View from the Harney Peak fire tower

Climbing Harney Peak was a wonderful experience. It was my first hike up anything even resembling a mountain and it immediately made me want to do more. It may be a little while before we can do another high elevation hike, but hiking Harney Peak has me in the mood to do more hiking closer to home.

Another dead tree on Harney Peak trail

Another dead tree on Harney Peak trail

Outside at the Giant’s Causeway

It has been a year since we returned from our visit in the great emerald isle, but on this Monday I am dreaming about being back where many shades of green could be seen rolling along the countryside of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Although I loved the vibrant greens on our trip, there is one not-so-green natural area that is deserving of its own post. This area is the Giant’s Causeway.

Northern Ireland's Giant's Causeway has this wall of natural columns formed from a volcanic eruption.

This wall of natural columns is the result of a volcanic eruption.

The tops of pillars at the Giant's Causeway formed from a volcanic eruption in Northern Ireland.

Exploring the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

One cannot understand how powerful and wonderful this bit of the outdoors will be until the trail is hiked and the causeway is in sight. Long before our time, a volcano erupted in Northern Ireland that left behind columns of varying heights perfect for climbing and exploring. Many of the pillars are clustered together to form something similar to natural stairs that are fun and easy to climb. Along the trail there are green pastures intermixed with many other interesting rock formations. These rocks are intriguing to view, sit on, stand on and photograph.

Interesting rock formation along the hike to the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Taking a nap on the natural recliner after a hike to the Giant’s Causeway.

The day that we were there, it rained heavily most of the day and we were feeling disappointed that the rocks would be slippery and it may not be enjoyable to explore the area. We were on a tour and the bus driver said with a laugh “Don’t worry, Robbie (the tour guide) always has sunshine at the Giant’s Causeway.” Well, regardless if Robbie had anything to do with it or not, moments before we arrived, the sun and a rainbow appeared overhead. It was a beautiful afternoon to be along the water exploring this natural playground. A local band (I presume) must have had the same feeling because they were out taking photos on the rocks.

Band on top of pillars formed by a volcanic eruption in Northern Ireland.

Band on top of pillars formed by a volcanic eruption in Northern Ireland.

The volcanic eruption that left these columns must have been something spectacular, but the outcome is definitely something to be seen in person. The area stretches a few miles and has tens of thousands of the stone pillars. Unfortunately, it has been too long for me to remember all of the specifics, but it is a vision that I will keep with me for a very long time. If you are ever in Northern Ireland, get outside and explore the Giant’s Causeway.

The tops of the columns at the Giant's Causeway.

The tops of the columns at the Giant’s Causeway.