The season--late May--was perfect for ferns, and Hickory Canyons was almost the perfect place to see them. Hickory Canyons--a Natural Area administered by the Department of Conservation, is an easy detour on the drive to Hawn State Park, where I went for few days to camp and hike.

Google hasn't located it yet. But it's not that hard to find--see the Department of Conservation's website for directions. The last mile or so is on a good gravel road, and there are no facilities at the trailhead; however, the drive from highway 32 to the trailhead passes through one of the prettiest of Missouri's rural landscape. If you're going to or from Hawn State Park (and everyone in St. Louis, it seems, goes there at one point or another), then your owe yourself a detour, since the detour and the short trail together won't add more than two or three hours more to your drive.

The trail passes through several deep ravines cut deep into layers of sandstone. Some, it seems, resist erosion. Others must melt before the force of even a small stream. The result is a vertical relief which, if not exactly big, is nevertheless absolutely steep.

And the ferns absolutely love it. There are ferns all over the Ozarks, usually on north facing slopes, protected from the full force of the summer sun, especially where water seeps from the underlying strata. But the ravines at Hickory Canyons are just deep enough, and plenty steep enough, to shade and cool even the south facing slopes.

I visited at noon on a bright, hot day. Not a cloud in the sky, with the temperature approaching 90. And yet is was noticeably cooler in the bottom of canyons--as much as 10 degrees, I guess.

I'd like to try to time my next visit so that I can see the canyons in the rain. There's at least one wet weather waterfall that's perhaps fifty feet tall, a really unusual feature for the Missouri Ozarks. If I get video of it, I'll post it.

Lastly, Hickory Canyons features a reminder about how such places come to be. God may make them, but people make them accessible to the rest of us:

The LAD Foundation is, of course, Leo Drey's outfit (why Wikipedia calls him a "timber magnate" escapes me--true, they harvest timber from the Pioneer Forest, but their methods hardly seem industrial). This month we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Pioneer Forest, and the 75th anniversary of the Department of Conservation. So if you haven't hugged a Conservation Department agent this month, then do so.