Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Taum Sauk Mountain State Park: Welcome to the Top of Missouri!


A little over a year ago I took on "Big Buford"... No, not the delicious arterial clogging burger they sell at Rally's/Checkers, but Buford Mountain, located just a few miles outside of Ironton, Mo. Buford Mountain is the 3rd highest point in Missouri and was a well earned victory as I took on it's 10.6 mile loop trail and enjoyed every single second of it. But I have to admit, the very second I finished the Buford Mountain trail loop and I began my ride home my mind was instantly alight with visions of taking on Taum Sauk Mountain, which is officially Missouri's highest point. I needed to make some calls, I would need oxygen, heavy parkas and perhaps a Sherpa or two... Right?

No oxygen tanks or Sherpa needed...
Taum Sauk Mountain makes up one of many mountains found in the St. Francois mountain range created by a Precambrian igneous uplift that is far, far older than the Appalachians. In fact, many geologists believe that Taum Sauk may be one of the few areas within the United States that has never been covered by ancient seas, most likely existing as islands during that time. Topping out at 1,772 feet, accomplishing Taum Sauk's summit was a bit easier than cresting Big Buford. To reach the official top of Missouri it was actually a short walk from the parking lot, only 1,000 feet down a paved trail, to a granite marker near a large boulder. I thought that may rob a bit of the "coolness" from the accomplishment, but honestly... It didn't. I was still at the top of Missouri, so a selfie was in order. But soon I thought, I really came to hike with my furry friend Hyatt, what should we do, where can we go? And it was then that I remembered, Taum Sauk Mountain State Park hosts not only the highest point in all of Missouri, but it also contains the state's highest waterfall, Mina Sauk Falls and I had heard tail that this trail was not quite as "accessible". So, after snapping a few pictures we made our way down the trail, anxious to view the falls.

Want to "earn it"? Take the Mina Sauk Falls trail...
I'll reiterate my desire to have a bit of a hike so that my hiker pride would feel as though the accomplishment of visiting Taum Sauk Mountain was not one of great ease, but earned through the sweat of my brow and the protesting of calves and quads. As I followed the trail to Mina Sauk Falls, it became apparent that this hike would be earned as the trail faded from paved trail, to rock lined trail, to gravel trail and finally to a foot worn path of Earth, leading through the forest toward our watery goal. Now, those who are "in the know" realize that Mina Sauk Falls only run in wet weather, which is one of the reasons I timed my trip here after we had received some rain during the week, so that foot worn path became very, very sloppy. In spots the trail greedily ate my entire shoe, replying only with a "splooch" as I pried my foot from its grip. My hairy buddy however, was absolutely in his element, galloping and prancing in the mud and muck as I could only think about how much fun it would be driving home with a wet and muddy pooch...


From the mud to stone...
The muddy, Oak and Hickory lined wooded trail gave way to our first glade, where a keen eyed hiker may find life better suited for a desert lying about the warm, barren rock. Lizards normally dart across this empty expanse, searching for their insect prey. But it was far too cold for our reptile friends to be emerging just yet. So we enjoyed the melodies of the feathered inhabitants, which drifted easily to our ears, serenading us as we made our way over the stony floor. As we moved forward along the trail I had to pay particular attention to my footing as the rock was very slippery in spots due to the rain water still draining from the mountain, so please, pay particular attention here for wet spots. I will readily admit, it was very hard to look down at my feet, concentrating on my footing with such a stunning view of the Arcadia Valley sweeping in a nearly full 360 panorama. I had to stop, pause and take in an eyeful, so I found myself a nice boulder to perch on and enjoyed a cool drink of water, allowing all my senses to be filled, enjoying the view as the songbirds created the score for this outstanding scene. But my hairy buddy was ready to go, so I was brought back to task by wet tongue and muddy paws upon me. Before we pressed on though I had to snap a photo... or two.

Onward to Mina Sauk Falls
The trail to the falls continued to waver from earth to rock and back again as it continued downhill, and was fairly well marked. However, at one particular point there seemed the foot worn trail led straight, and had it not been for a well placed timber, I would have missed my turn to remain on the trail, so do pay attention as the trail may fade in and out in spots. As the path began to follow the gentle curves of the mountain I could hear rushing water and my mind was awash in anticipation of what was just out of sight. As the trail led slightly back uphill and around a huge, precariously perched boulder, I caught my first sight of Mina Sauk Falls and the crystal clear waters cascading from the top of the fall, stream over a series of ledges and finally end its journey down 132 below. There is something about a waterfall that fills not only my senses, but also my soul. Honestly, I feel completely at peace and find absolute solace in listening intently to the crashing of the water while being cooled by the mist rising from the impact. After soaking in the falls, I realized that I had forgotten a few things, most notably the filter I use to create the cascading fall pictures and my tripod, however the falls washed away any concern of that and I snapped the photos I could with my camera but left with even more vivid pictures taken with my mind's eye. I followed the Ozark Trail down the mountain, being very careful to avoid loose and wet rock in order to gain different perspectives on the falls. It was at the base of those falls that I simply sat, for how long I honestly don't know, and watched the falls simply...  fall. From here I could carry on for another mile and see another great wonder of the area, the Devil's Tollgate or journey another ten miles to reach Johnson's Shut Ins, but I was running short on time, so I began my ascent back up to the top of Mina Sauk Falls to begin my uphill return hike.

A tragic legend for the beautiful falls
As I made my way back down the mile and a half trail, I thought of the legend of Mina Sauk Falls. How the chief, Sauk-Ton-Qua and the Piankashaw Indians once called this wondrous land home. In fact it was chief Sauk-Ton-Qua for which this mountain was named, who the white man called Taum Sauk, because his name was hard to pronounce. The Piankashaw lived in peace on these lands, but would fiercely repel any invasions made by other tribes, in particular the advancements of the Osage. It was said that Sauk-Ton-Qua had a beautiful daughter, Mina Sauk, who fell in love with an Osage warrior. One day Mina Sauk was caught in the young Osage warriors arms and taken prisoner. Sauk-Ton-Qua sentenced the young man to death, despite his daughter's pleas to spare his life. It is said that later that day the young man was executed on the very slopes of Taum Sauk Mountain. He was tossed from the crest of the mountain, crashing from ledge to ledge below with the spears of warriors, until finally coming to rest at the base of the mountain, battered, bleeding and dying. As Mina Sauk watched her lover she could no longer contain her grief and as her Osage suitor lie at the bottom of the mountain, breathing his last breaths, she cast herself from the summit as well, plunging over Taum Sauk's ledges to her death. It was then, that the great spirit became so moved by the lovers deaths that the very Earth trembled and shook, and Taum Sauk Mountain began to crack. Then a flood of water streamed forth, flowing over the very same stones as the lovers, washing away their blood. Such a tragic legend to explain such beauty... There are other versions of this legend, some change the name of the daughter, others create the falls with a thunderous lightning bolt, but all seem to suggest the falls were created by the great spirit's response to the treatment of the young lovers.

Pro-Tips for Taum Sauk Mountain State Park
I truly enjoyed every second I spent at Taum Sauk Mountain, from the thrill of being taller than every single Missourian for a few brief seconds to experiencing the peace that streams from Mina Sauk Falls (despite the star crossed legend) I can't recommend this park enough. I would suggest that you aim to visit the park after there has been a period of rain, especially if you want to see Mina Sauk Falls and snatch your own moment of zen from this busy, noisy world. Be sure to wear a comfortable pair of shoes that you don't mind getting absolutely covered in mud and muck. Which brings me to this... Bring a towel for your car, especially if you are bringing a four legged companion, I'm still finding bits and pieces of Taum Sauk Mountain in my truck. Also, keep an eye out for the watchtower. I didn't see it, or know it existed until I had finished my hike, returned home and began to type up this entry. I'll certainly be looking to take some shots from it on my next visit! Finally, be sure you have enough time. I didn't expect the hike to Mina Sauk to take as long as it did, and once there I didn't have enough time to press on to the Devil's Tollgate. The area is rich in wildlife, views, sights and sounds so be sure to provide yourself ample time to really take it all in.

I can't wait to go back to Taum Sauk Mountain and I will certainly make time to search for the watchtower and also make my way further down the Ozark Trail to see the Devil's Tollgate. I hope you enjoyed the write up about the area and let me know if you have any questions or suggestions down there in the comments. As always, happy trails to you!

Directions


More Information:
Local Treks on facebook 
Missouri Department of Conservation: Taum Sauk Mountain Webpage
MO State Parks: Taum Sauk Mountain Webpage
MO State Parks: Taum Sauk Mountain Hiking Trails
MO State Parks: Mina Sauk Hiking Trail Map
MO State Parks: Taum Sauk Section of the Ozark Trail Map
Missouri State Parks.net: Taum Sauk Mountain

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