Clifty Creek Natural Area

May 15, 2016

Clifty Creek Natural Area was the first site to be designated as a Missouri Natural Area in December, 1971. A few days ago, I set out to visit the area and photograph its primary feature—an impressive natural bridge. I prefer soft, morning light, so I left my house at 3:30 A.M., allowing time for both the trip and the headlamp-assisted hike down to the natural bridge. My timing was perfect as I arrived at the parking lot with about 30 minutes left for the 1.5 mile hike to the bridge. I knew I would be wading Clifty Creek a lot so I just put on some neoprene wading shoes for the hike. The hike was quite enjoyable, as I was serenaded by wood thrushes most of the way. I can never get enough of their dreamy voices. As the sun began to illuminate the forest, I started hearing the distinctive calls of Acadian flycatchers and Louisiana waterthrushes. What a great morning!

About half-way down the trail, I thought, “Man, these wading shoes are comfortable!” But later, when I started the steep decline to the creek near the end of the hike, my right shoe quickly wore a blister on the back of my ankle. Drat! Fortunately, I had some moleskin in my shoulder bag—problem solved.

Clifty Creek’s natural bridge is impressive, as compared to other natural bridges in Missouri. The archway is 40 feet across with a 13-foot ceiling. The natural bridge was formed by erosion from Little Clifty Creek, which finally broke through the bluff wall to join Clifty Creek on the other side. The featured image was taken from Clifty Creek on the south side of the bluff and natural bridge. It was overcast, so I spent much of the morning waiting for ample light to illuminate the detail of the dark-colored bluff and bridge.



While waiting for a little more light to make it through the clouds, I explored Clifty Creek. This image is typical of the shallow, mini-shut-ins of layered bedrock that I encountered. At this location, I’m pretty sure I got a glimpse of a couple of baby minks! I didn’t get a good look because my camera set-up was back at the natural bridge, and my binoculars were back in the car where I left them in my haste to make my way down the trail.



By mid-morning, I decided I had enough images in the bag to convey the beauty and presence of the natural bridge, so I packed my gear and headed back up the trail, this time in full light—no headlamp needed. Along the way, I passed some gorgeous bluffs with rock overhangs so I took a side hike down to the creek to investigate. I immediately saw two phoebes so I started looking for a nest on the bluff face. It didn’t take long to find this mama phoebe tending her eggs. It was a great place to get an image because a car-sized boulder had fallen from the bluff right in front of the nest. I climbed up on the boulder with a little 300 mm lens that I had packed for just such an opportunity, and made an eye-level image of the nesting phoebe. Too bad there were no babies yet.



As I neared the end of the trail, I found myself on top of the bluff, looking down on the rugged, boulder-strewn channel of Clifty Creek. I made this final image, only a few minutes from the parking lot.

Clifty Creek Natural Area is one of Missouri’s smaller wonders but it is full of heart. It features a dramatic change in vegetation from the north slope to the south slope of the loop trail, a great diversity of birds, and fascinating geological formations everywhere you look, including an iconic natural bridge. I plan to return some day after an all-night rain when the creek is really ripping! That should make for some striking images. Can’t wait!

Thanks for looking,


Reference:  Missouri’s Natural Wonders Guidebook by Don Kurz

Email:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery of Images and Print Information:  Danny’s Website


2 comments on “Clifty Creek Natural Area”

  1. Oh…beautiful. What is moleskin and how does it help shoe blisters?

    • Hi Deepa — moleskin is a fabric with a sticky peel-off backing that you cut to size and attach to blisters, sores and hot spots from hiking. It works like a charm. I carry a pack everywhere I go and my friend actually had to use some of it on our hike this morning.

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