Hickory Canyons Natural Area: An Icy Wonderland

February 7, 2013

We finally had some precipitation followed by single digit temperatures so I thought the timing was right for a trip to one of Missouri’s ice kingdoms in the St. Francois Mountains—Hickory Canyons Natural Area. Some of you know that I was returning to the scene of the crime, so to speak, as I managed a severe ankle sprain during my last trip to this gorgeous tract back in the fall and I had to crawl out of canyon, which is fortunately compact in size, on my hands and knees. I longed to return to Hickory Canyon to finish what I had started and last week I began thinking, “What better time to return than when the trail is covered with slippery ice?” Sometimes my genius knows no bounds!

In spite of my flawed decision, I completed my hike and photography of both trails without falling again but this time I narrowly escaped another hazard. Early in the morning I had been photographing the icicles of the west box canyon by lying on my back under a soaring overhang and shooting straight up at the crystalline swords, many of which were six to seven feet long. After an hour of making images from every angle, I moved out from under the overhang for some longer shots. Suddenly I heard a crash as one of the huge icicles released its grip and exploded on the frozen pool right where I’d been positioned moments earlier. Thankful for the fair warning from Mother Nature, I kept my distance from the canyon overhangs for the rest of the morning, the solitude of which was broken every few minutes by the reports of more ice mortars.

I chose the main image of this post to convey the feel of the east box canyon of this rugged natural area. The west box canyon is even more beautiful in my opinion but you will have to decide for yourself when you visit this area. I’ve also included a second image below which provides a nice example of all of the fantastic ice art you can find at Hickory Canyon’s Natural Area, most of which is formed on the ground from the dripping ice above. I especially loved the bubbly ice sheets that covered the ground below the canyon overhangs. These close-up ice sculptures were the highlight of my trip although they were a complete surprise. I was fascinated to see every log and limb covered with thick layers of beautiful ice as you can see in this image. Wow!

BR8I4190Click on image to enlarge; back arrow to return

I have to thank Joyce for discovering the final image of this post as she was reviewing the morning’s images on the computer. I had overlooked the image as just another of Nature’s random ice compositions but Joyce saw

DJB_HCN_2013_0100 Click on image to enlarge; back arrow to return

a lupine ice critter surrounded by crystal hoodoos. I took a second look and thought, “Wow…she’s right!” Later, I shared the image on Facebook and wasn’t surprised when my friend Deepa Mohan composed a witty quatrain about the little ice wolf. I hope Deepa doesn’t mind me sharing it here:

Ice critters are nice critters; they do not poop or bite. Come spring, they may be quitters, but till then they’re pretty and white!

Hickory Canyons Natural Area is only one of Missouri’s icy wonderlands but I find it particularly pleasant to visit as it isn’t quite as well-known as the likes of Pickle Springs. I’ve had the area to myself during my last two visits, one in the fall and one in the winter. I’m thinking that a fun project would be to find a gorgeous spot on the area and photograph it during each of the four seasons. Wouldn’t that make a beautiful subject for a future Nature Frames? I’ll keep you posted if I ever follow up on that idea but for now, please enjoy these icy images from last weekend.

Thanks for Looking!


View of Hickory Falls: Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 17-40 L Lens @ 18 mm; 1.6 sec @ f/18; Manual Exposure; RAW Capture; B + W Circular Polarizer; Feisol CT3301 Tripod with Markins M-10 Ballhead; Converted and processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP)

Ice Art: Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 70 – 200 L Lens @ 130 mm; 0.3 sec @ f/18; Manual Exposure; RAW Capture; Feisol CT3301 Tripod with Markins M-10 Ballhead; Converted and processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP)

Ice Wolf: Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 70 – 200 L Lens @ 200 mm; 1/5 sec @ f/18; Manual Exposure; RAW Capture; Feisol CT3301 Tripod with Markins M-10 Ballhead; Converted and processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP)


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13 comments on “Hickory Canyons Natural Area: An Icy Wonderland”

  1. Great seeing you on Monday. Sad why we crossed paths. Rick Thom and gene Brunk just told me about this area. They actually talked about the waterfall and seeing it in the winter frozen over. Hope to make it over that way in the near future. Beautiful photos ( as they all alwsys are)!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Always wonderful to see you and Kevin! I hope you make it over to the canyon. There are several other wonderful places to visit nearby. Do you have Don Kurz’ book? I use it all the time to plan visits. Take care.

  2. No wonder you didn’t fall…you have US falling for your images and your descriptions, and you nearly got impaled in one “fell” fall! What a gruesome story, and thank goodness something made you move. I too find that if, instead of curling up with a bot-water hottle as is my first inclination during snow and ice, I go out instead, I see a lot of things, made of diamonds and sparkle. I don’t know when, or if, I’ll be able to visit this box canyon…but thank you for bringing to all of us.

    And the doggerel? I’m honoured that I’m mentioned!

    • Hi Deepa–Always fun to read your thoughts and receive material for my blog postings. You can hike the trail at Labarque Conservation Area right here in St. Louis and see similar box canyons. Take care.

  3. The place where I’ve seen similar images was at Creve Coeur Lake 🙂

  4. Danny, be careful! Others have told me about Hickory Canyons and I hope to visit someday soon. Love the doggerel, Deepa!

  5. Danny – I’ve been to hawn state park, pickle springs area – but not here yet! You may have just helped guide me to yet another gem in my mo! 🙂

  6. Those are amazing. Happy to see them.

  7. Hi Danny, what an incredible experience you must have had, getting those beautiful crystal shots. You could have been seriously injured, if one of those icicles landed on you though. You must be living right. I would love to go visit Hickory Falls in the winter, but time does not permit it. Thanks for sharing you wonderful work with everyone. Be careful out there. You know, it would not be a bad idea, to were a hard hat, when you put yourself in a compromising situation like that. I hope you have a good and safe weekend.


    • Hey Art—Hopefully you can retire soon and spend more time exploring Missouri, as much as you love it! The gandkids will love that.

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