Grotto Falls, aka Ghost Falls (LaBarque Creek Conservation Area)

May 18, 2016

A beam of diffuse morning light conspires with the 20-foot ribbon of Grotto Falls to produce a magical scene, deep within the urban wilderness of LaBarque Creek Conservation Area in Jefferson County.

Okay, I better come clean about the name, “Grotto Falls.” This beautiful waterfall, which is well off the hiking trail at LaBarque Creek C.A., doesn’t have an official name, but my buddy Mike Arduser, who accompanied me on a five mile hike/bushwhack across the area, looked up at the falls this morning and said, “We should call this Grotto Falls.” I agreed that it was the perfect name, and said, “Let’s see if it sticks!” Oh, and another correction. Mike, a retired natural history biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, didn’t just accompany me to Grotto Falls, he guided me to the beautiful site. Once we were off the hiking trail, I soon lost my bearings and depended on Mike the rest of the morning. I did have the forethought to mark the parking lot with my GPS unit, just in case he injured himself during one of our Billy goat scrambles along the banks of Labarque Creek and its tributaries.

We started at sunrise and began working our way toward the waterfall. I was optimistic as we passed several smaller falls along the way, including the interesting “Hole in the Roof Falls” that I plan to photograph on another day. After several creek crossings, switch-backs, and cross-country bushwhacks, Mike said we were getting close, and a few minutes later we heard the falls. I was thrilled when we finally saw the ghostly ribbon of water which actually disappeared into a mist before it hit the ground. I unpacked my gear and began shooting from every angle.

After shooting for about 45 minutes, I was still disappointed at what I was seeing on my LCD. The surrounding trees were catching a slight breeze which meant that their leaves were blurry at the slow shutter speeds I was using in the dark canyon. In other locations, the sun was giving me fits as it was “blowing the highlights” in the trees above the canyon. The area was a nightmare of dynamic contrast, even with the use of stacked, split neutral density filters.

Finally, as I settled in a spot where I could limit the aforementioned problems by framing my shot below the top of the canyon wall, a beautiful beam of tree-diffused light appeared from the head of the falls. I clicked the shutter and made the featured image. I was happy to see promise in the image on my LCD because the beam disappeared within a few minutes. At that point, I told Mike I was ready to “call it” so we packed our gear and began our 2.5 mile hike back to the parking lot.

LaBarque Creek Conservation Area is a treasure box filled with gorgeous water features, slot canyons, box canyons, and other rock formations. Although it is only about 25 minutes from my house, I find it as fascinating as more iconic destinations, such as Pickle Springs Natural Area. If you plan to visit LaBarque Creek C.A., your best bet for a memorable experience is shortly after a rainfall. If you don’t mind getting your feet wet along the way, you’ll be hard pressed to find cooler water features anywhere else in Missouri.

After I got home and processed the images, I sent this one to Mike for his approval. He emailed me back that he had decided, after looking at the image, that we should call the waterfall, “Ghost Falls,” instead of Grotto Falls. I agree that Ghost Falls is even more appropriate, given the disappearing nature of the lower third of the falls. Oh well, regardless of the name, my visit to the falls was a memory I’ll cherish. But boy, my dogs are tired!!

Thanks for looking,


Email:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery and Print Information:  Danny’s Website





10 comments on “Grotto Falls, aka Ghost Falls (LaBarque Creek Conservation Area)”

  1. Danny, I have hiked the trail at LaBarque Creek Conservation Area numerous times and really like that area. I have gone the short distance from the nearby trail to a location where I would expect to see a beautiful waterfall after a rainfall. I wonder if this is the same area — FF, Doc Sargent Road, Valley Drive and then a parking lot. I didn’t need to bushwhack to get to the waterfall site. So I wonder if there is a different location I don’t know about yet.

    Thank you so much for sharing your photos. I enjoy the birds, the animals and the beautiful nature scenes.

    Linda Schneider


    • Hi Linda — there are too many falls to count on the area, especially away from the trail. This one was about a mile off the closest spot on the trail. Thank you for your nice comments.

  2. Just beautiful!

  3. What a beautiful place. Thanks for sharing these wonderful places.

  4. I believe this is the same falls I like to visit.
    I have called it subway falls as the stream goes around a little subway “tunnel” under an overhang. I wonder how many other names it has.

    This produces some really nice Ice falls in winter.

  5. Posterity will celebrate your documentation. But at present….we are enjoying every image!

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