Mina Sauk Nightmare

October 12, 2012

A few weeks ago I headed down to Taum Sauk State Park in Iron County to scout the Mina Sauk Falls trail for some fall photography. It had rained for a couple of days in St. Louis so I hoped the falls would be raging, even though it had been dry for a full day. I arrived before daylight and made it down the trail (three-mile loop) to Mina Sauk Falls and found them quite underwhelming. The extra day I’d waited before checking out the falls had given the little creek all the time it needed to drain down to a trickle. Mina Sauk Falls, which cascades over several rock ledges from a height of 132 feet, is Missouri’s highest waterfall. It is a must see for Missourians who love the outdoors but plan accordingly to make your visit after a rain or during heavy snow melt. Any trip to Taum Sauk Mountain is worth the time and effort, even if you are denied by the falls, because it is the highest point in Missouri and the scenic vistas are, excuse the overused term, breathtaking.

A few weeks after my first trip, I planned another trip to Mina Sauk Falls as rain was predicted for the evening and throughout the next day. I departed again at 0 dark 30 and made it to Taum Sauk just before sunrise. I stopped at the scenic overlook area near the trail head and talked to a camper. I asked him how much rain the area had received over night and he said, “Not a drop.” Disappointed, I started off on the rocky trail again, hoping for a miracle. As I began to close on the falls, the first thing I noticed was the distinct lack of the sound of water crashing over rocks. A short while later, I sat at the head of Missouri’s most renowned waterfall, a tiny trickle.

Dejected, I found a comfortable spot and began to enjoy the incredible view of the St. Francois Mountains that surrounds the falls. It had been growing more and more overcast during my hike and it looked like rain was a definite possibility. A few minutes later it started to sprinkle and then a full-out downpour began. I couldn’t find much cover to get out of the rain but I found a dry spot about the size of a raccoon under one of the rocks for my camera equipment. I had already donned my rain gear at the trail head so I sat and waited, thinking my luck might be changing, falls-wise. Suddenly, everything took a turn for the worse as I began to hear lightning cracking all around me, popping so loud that it hurt my ears, kinda like firing a handgun without ear protection. Soaked and getting a little nervous, I cowered like a puppy between two huge rocks at the fall head. As I scanned the wooded hills surrounding me I then saw something I’d never seen before. Each time a lightning bolt struck the ground a huge column of smoke emerged from the oak/hickory landscape. This went on for about 15 minutes all around me and I patiently waited for one of the bolts to find my location. I suspected Zeus was trying out a giant bug zapper and I was the fly he was looking for. As I sat on the highest mountain in Missouri in the worst electrical storm of my life, I thought, “Darn…..I might not get to try some of Joyce’s chili tonight!” I’d been looking forward to it all week.

Finally, the lightning passed but the rain continued and I sat another hour waiting for it to subside. By that time I’d been on the trail for over four hours and was getting a little hungry. I asked myself, “Would it kill you to put a Luna Bar or something in your shoulder bag just once!” As I sat, back against one of the ancient volcanic rocks, I heard a new sound and it wasn’t the rumbling in my stomach; it was the sound of water flowing over rocks. I got up for a better look and after stretching out all of the kinks in my body I saw what I’d been hoping for. Mina Sauk Falls had awakened! I found my camera and tripod in the raccoon hole and began my scramble down the rocks to get some shots. It didn’t take me long to take a header on a slippery rock and crash my Mark IV right into the creek so hard it popped the lens cover off my 17-40 lens. After what I’d been through, I wasn’t even annoyed. I began making images until I ran out of dry material to wipe the fog and rain off of my lens. I’d gone through all of the dry spots on my t-shirt, two bandannas, and the last of the toilet paper. It was then I decided to head home. After another hour on the trail, in more pouring rain, I made it to my truck, changed clothes and as I started down the highway I tried to remember where I’d seen a McDonald’s on the way to Taum Sauk Mountain that morning.

Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 17-40 L Lens; 5 seconds @ f/13; Manual Exposure; Black Card Technique (5 seconds lower falls; 1 second upper falls); RAW Capture; Feisol CT3301 Carbon Fiber Tripod with Markins M-10 Ballhead; Converted and Processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP)

Thanks for Looking!

Gallery:  http://www.dannybrownphotography.com

Find me on Facebook where I post additional images every week.


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10 comments on “Mina Sauk Nightmare”

  1. Scary story but great shot Danny! BTW, can please tellJoyce if you ever fail to make it home on chili night she can call me; I will help find you after I eat your chili 🙂 Kevin


  2. Wow, Danny–I actually feel serene looking at this shot–how gorgeous! Happy you didn’t get fried–wow–scary. Not feeling very serene reading my latest hot-suggestion. “Live By Night,” by Dennis Lehane is stellar. Happy weekend,


  3. Great photo and story. Reminds me of a similar experience I had with golf ball size hail during a spring turkey hunt.

  4. What a scary thing to happen! And how you underplay it as usual. Shows how the drama before (or after) a photograph might far exceed what is in the image. I wouldn’t blame Joyce if she clapped you in irons and refused to let you go….

    • Ha–she just told me I spelled “chili” wrong. She said you can’t eat a country. It is now corrected in the text.

  5. And alas….I *have* to say it…I’ve never liked the “silk” effect in images of waterfalls, because that’s just Not The Way It Actually Looks.

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