Last Friday, Eric and I hiked in Graham Cave State Park, in Danville, Missouri, on our way to Jefferson City, where we were going for my brother's wedding. We had hoped to hike somewhere closer to the city, because of the hills and bluffs that overlook the river, but there don't seem to be many trails there, other than the Katy Trail, which is wonderful, but not what we were looking for.
The park is right off Interstate 70. For much of the hike we could hear highway noise, but that didn't bother me at all. The only bothersome things were the heat (95 degrees and 43 percent humidity) and the mud.
Much of the trail we took goes through the flood plain of the Loutre River (pronounced “looter,” according to my dad – Eric and I spent quite a while discussing possible pronunciations, but we missed the correct one). It looked like the water had recently flooded in much of the area. The vegetation was completely coated with mud and the ground was very mushy.
Other parts of the trail were dry and sandy. That's one of the things I love about hiking; you can pass through vastly different terrain on one hike. I don't know if this is true everywhere, but it certainly is in Missouri, where I've done most of my hiking.
The park was covered with goldenrod, although we weren't certain it was goldenrod at first, I think because we have seen more lush goldenrod other places and this seemed kind of scrawny for whatever reason.
The most noteworthy feature of the park, the cave, came early on our hike. According to “Trails of Missouri State Parks,” which is an awesome book if you're in the market for such a thing, “archaeologists uncovered artifacts revealing human use of the cave dating back to as early as 10,000 years ago.”
We weren't able to go into the cave. All Missouri caves are closed as part of an attempt to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome, which kills cave bats. There may have been more information about the artifacts inside the visitor's center, which was open, but we didn't go in. Usually I'm all about the visitor's center. I like to get a paper map if I don't have one and I like to check in with the rangers, just in case they have any tips about what to see (or avoid). Maybe it was the heat, but I just took the above picture of the map by the parking area and we were off.
There were several small waterfalls along the path, thanks to recent rains.
Shortly past the cave, as soon as we got on the longest trail, the Loutre River Trail, we came across a big black snake on the path. I don't know what it is about the first snake, but you'd have thought we'd never seen one before and had no idea what to do. We took some pictures. We discussed snake's ears and whether or not this one was watching us. We finally backed up and the snake took off into the weeds.
The boat ramp was covered with mud so thick we couldn't even walk down to the water, so we entertained ourselves with the photograph opportunities a second black snake presented. This one seemed a little bloated, as if it had just eaten. It barely moved the entire time we were there.
The Loutre River itself was a muddy, sluggish mess that did not look inviting in the least.
The final section of trail climbed away from the river and the trail grew rocky and rough. We saw a couple lizards. Lizards always look to me as if they're in on some joke. I don't know what's so funny, but it's pretty amusing.
When we were finished, we'd spent almost two hours covering 3.65 miles comprised of four trails (Indian Glade Trail, Fern Ridge Trail, Loutre River Trail and Woodland Way Trail). We're not the type to race along a trail; we prefer to take our time, take pictures, and stop to eat when we're hungry.
Although this our first choice for a place to hike, I'm glad we went. The shorter distance turned out to be perfect, given the heat, and there really was a lot to see along the way.