The quickest introduction to the St. Francois Mountains in the state. The St. Francois Mountains offer a different experience from what we usually find in Missouri. There's more exposed rock, hard igneous rock instead of the usual limestone. Sometimes there's so much rock that trees have a hard time growing, and the landscape remains open, with views that stretch to the next line of hills.

Hughes Mountain Conservation Area is fabulous introduction to the area. It's about 90 minutes from South County. Google knows where it is, more or less:

The Conservation Department web site has good directions, and Wikipedia has a page with some nice pictures and a discussion of the geological oddities of the place.

The attraction, the thing that draws most people to the place, is the enormous glade at the top of the mountain:

I don't know how big the glade is, or if I should even think of it as one glade. Perhaps it's more accurate to think about it as a sequence of glades, or as a complex of glades. I tend to use the word "complex," like some people will say "temple complex" in archeological discussions, because glades tend to come in sequences, in connections, almost architecturally. And because, if they aren't exactly holy, then because they are so different:

Everyone who visits Hughes Mountain is draw to the top, where the "devil's honeycomb" is visible:

It's about as trampled a spot as you're likely to find in the Ozarks away from a parking lot. But it's a great spot for a picnic, and the view stretches all the way to Buford Mountain, the second highest point in the state:

I didn't eat lunch at the top. Instead, I wandered off the beaten path. Eventually I found the remains--the faint, almost erased remains--of an old trail stretching through the forest, shining brightly against the fallen leaves. How could I not follow it?