Saturday, June 16, 2012

Elephant Rocks, Well Worth The Walk

Jackie, Devyn, and Dumbo, 27 x 35 x 17, 680 tons.

If you’re traveling this summer, visit my favorite place on the planet, Elephant Rocks State Park, seven curious acres of granite bliss.

We grew up near Elephant Rocks, before it was a state park. We would sometimes picnic there, climbing on the rocks, admiring the adults swimming in the quarry and diving from the steep cliffs. As a teenager, it was a favorite place to hang out, although my hanging out was while the sun was out. A lot of teenagers did their hanging out after dark, with campfires and alcohol.

Kelly is the one on the left.

As a parent, we went to Elephant Rocks at least once a summer, but often more, and my kids still love to go. It was a genuine state park by then, with picnic tables, his and her outhouses, a paved walkway through the boulders – the Braille Trail – with signs describing features, written in Braille.

The granite outcropping is 1.5 billion years old, but doesn’t look a day more than 1.2 billion. I love the mystery of the place, however these elephant-shaped rocks formed. The obvious, round rocks balanced together for centuries are wonderful, but I am fascinated by the enormous expanses of bulging granite, like the backs of giant whales, forever trapped just above the surface of the sea.

I marvel at the extinct industry, the relics of a once-thriving rock quarry, established in 1869. The granite was used for construction in St. Louis and part of the governor’s mansion in Jefferson City. I can see the cuts they made into the stone, the piled scraps of rock that weigh more than my car. I can see it but can’t imagine what it was like for these men, more than 140 years ago, with little more than picks and hand drills. How did they cut the stone so cleanly, and how did they move pieces that weighed many tons? Some carved their initials into the stone, whether for practice or for posterity, I don’t know.

Me with Aubrey, 2005. She has changed so much.
These rocks have not.

The social history of the place also fascinates me. Like mine, it is part of the history of generations of families who live within 30 miles. I’ve learned that my parents did some of their sparking there. There are rumors of swimmers eaten alive by snakes in the quarry, but that might have just my mom’s attempt to get us to quit asking to swim. There are rumors of mafia hits and drug slayings in the park, with bodies being tied with chains and stone, dumped into the bottomless pit of water. In fact, some years ago, there was a trial in St. Louis where the judge ordered the quarry drained to find a body. Two wrapped corpses were found, but not the one they were looking for.

Can you believet that my mom wouldn't let us
dive from here as boys?

Anyway, I digress. Do the research. Make the plans. Take the time. Go see the Elephant Rocks while you can. They’ve been waiting a billion years, just for you.

My dad claims to have carved his initials here as a teenager.
It seems unlikely someone else was named Gairhart Arthur,
so maybe he did.

Nearby places of interest: Johnson Shut-Ins, Fort Davidson, the mine where my dad worked underground all those years, and my grandma's house.


  1. Well since we are not likely to make it to Missouri, thank you for the tour!

    1. Gosh, Grandma Kc, that's what those big busses are for.

      Just kidding, but if you ever happen this way, Elephant Rocks is worth a detour for an afternoon.

      Thanks for stopping by.


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