The Amazing Elephant Rocks of Missouri

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St. Louis needs a narrative. It's time we move beyond shoes, booze and baseball (and crime). The city and region are an amazing place. That's the note we sounded when featuring Riverlands and the coolest bird blind one can find anywhere. So what you've heard is true, St. Louis doesn't have mountains, or an ocean, but we shouldn't care. The land here is spectacularly diverse and beautiful. From bird watching at the confluence, we go just beyond the far south metro area to Elephant Rocks State Park.

Far from a hidden gem, or quiet retreat (at least on beautiful fall weekends), the 131 acres of boulders and forest is big enough to spend hours exploring. Bouldering with a three and five-year-old is a bit challenging, but a lot of fun as well. Of course I could go bouldering there all day by myself – climbing on rocks is just fun, right? Elephant Rocks reminded me of two of my favorite bouldering experiences; Remarkable Rocks and Uluru (images below). Luckily it's 9,780 miles nearer to home.

Granite quarries are still active in the area, but produce mostly headstones today. In its heyday, the area supplied pink granite for projects across the nation. Nearer to home, one can find the stone at the base of St. Louis City Hall and used to construct piers for the Eads Bridge. And if you wish to explore more, just a little farther afield is Taum Sauk Mountain and Johnson's Shut-Ins State Parks.

From Wikipedia: Geologically Elephant Rocks State Park consists of a tor, which is a high, isolated rocky peak, usually of jointed and weathered granite. The alkaline granite here was formed in the Proterozoic 1500 million years ago from a dome of molten magma. Nearly vertical fractures formed in the stone as it cooled, and uplift of the formation enhanced the fracturing. Eventually the overlying strata were removed through erosion, exposing the granite dome. With exposure, water and ice worked to weather and erode the surface of the granite and to expand the fracture joints. Eons of weathering produced the rounded boulders that are the park's signature.

Uluru - Northern Territory, Australia (1997)
{on top of Uluru – Northern Territory, Australia – image by Alex Ihnen}

Uluru - Northern Territory, Australia (1997)
{halfway up Uluru – image by Alex Ihnen}

{Remarkable Rocks – Kangaroon Island, South Australia (via Wiki Commons)}

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  • john w.

    “Uluru” is the Aboriginal name for Ayers Rock?

    • samizdat

      Yes, as Denali is the true name of Mt. McKinley.

  • guest

    For those jealous of the natural beauty found in those (high cost) places like California and Colorado, take a look at this site and remember that St. Louis sits in the heart of a rich variety of very scenic landscapes:

  • guest

    Another great day trip from STL to see fantastic rock formations:

  • Marshall Howell

    Guess its kinda sad I have never even heard of this place, yet its so close.

  • samizdat

    “…1500 million…” What, are we British? 1.5 Billion years, please.

    Fantastic place. Don’t forget the graffito carved by the stonecutters and visitors in the 19th century. It’s incredibly common in other parks Nationwide where stone is a major feature of the attraction. The red granite is almost a ubiquitous feature of many homes in St. Louis, too. Red granite steps, columns, finely-cut foundation stone (some with rusticated edges), and numerous other architectural features can be seen on houses around town. Most seem to fall in the 1890-1910 range.

    Another interesting geological feature in this area can be found at the Hughes Mountain Natural Area. It is formed from rhyolite, which is also an igneous rock, like granite. Also formed during the same era as the red granite Elephant Rocks and Taum Sauk. The unique thing about the rhyolite deposits is the shape: hexagonal. Think of it like MO’s own Devil’s Tower–without the tower. Still a great landing spot for aliens, though, I reckon. When visiting, be careful of the entrance, you will miss it.

    Kind of amazing, really, walking on rocks so old.

  • John R

    Elephant Rocks is a must-see for sure. Its not far away at all from the metro and is a great place for a picnic and adventure with the kids.

    Also, there is much more to explore nearby that is closer than Taum Sauk Mountain and the Shut-ins. Buford Mountain for example provides a tremendous hiking experience with beautiful views of the Belleville/Arcadia Valley below and the peak is just a hair shorter than TS Mtn. And Fort Davidson State Historic Site outside Pilot Knob was the site of an important Civil War battle in 1864 where Union defenders ended the last, desperate hopes of the Confederacy of taking Saint Louis.

  • RyleyinSTL

    Never been…always mean to every year. Is there actual honest to goodness bouldering going on out there or just folks going for a hike on top of a big rock?

    • Alex Ihnen

      I use “bouldering” loosely. On weekends when it’s nice there are a lot of people just hiking on top of big rocks. There is definitely some challenging climbing to be found, however. I’ll defer to any bouldering enthusiasts as to the quality of the rocks.