Johnson’s Shut-ins and Elephant Rocks (Fall 2016)

October 25, 2016

A trio of waterfalls brings life to the salmon colored boulders of Johnson’s Shut-ins in Reynolds County.

Yesterday afternoon, I headed out with my buddy, Miguel, to visit Johnson’s Shut-ins and Elephant Rocks, both state parks in Reynolds County. Our plan was to set up camp at Johnson’s Shut-ins, hike and photograph Elephant Rocks until dark, return to camp for supper, and then photograph the shut-ins the following morning. Although we planned the trip a while back, we did not anticipate the poor showing of fall colors this year in Missouri. But neither of us wavered in our desire to go forward with the camping trip; we knew we would find some photographic gems among the muted landscape of this year’s faltering fall.

Upon arrival at the visitor’s center, we began talking to a gentleman and his wife in the parking lot. He mentioned he was from Oregon and wanted to know our names. A longtime subscriber of “Missouri Conservationist” as well as the “Natural Events Calendar,” the nice man offered a sincere handshake and told me he was a big fan of my stories and photography in the MDC publications. As the conversation continued and the subject of his career in Oregon came up, he advised us that he had recently finished his term as Governor of Oregon! Later, Miguel said, “You just never know who you might meet on photography adventures!”

By mid-afternoon, we finished setting up our tents and laying out our sleeping pads and bags. A campground host also came by for a visit and sold us a nice bundle of wood for a few dollars. Soon we had everything in order and we headed over to Elephant Rocks State Park for some afternoon photography.

We arrived at Elephant Rocks with plenty of time to spare, so we visited with other explorers and I took lots of pictures for families and couples with their smart phones. During my travels, I’ve found that just about everybody wants you to take a picture of their family or group with their smart phones or cameras. They always seem so happy when I offer to do it before they get up the nerve to ask.

I won’t say Elephant Rocks was a bust, but the sky was dead clear and the surrounding colors bordered on dismal, but Miguel and I made the best of the situation and photographed until dark. As is often the case, we were the last ones to leave the park.



Miguel and I spent a lot of time climbing on the huge boulders during our visit to Elephant Rocks.



Last call at Elephant Rocks. I wish you could have seen us trying to scramble up to this point!

By the time we got back to camp, it was pitch dark so we made supper by the light of my lantern. We soon had a nice fire going and Miguel heated some beans up on the camp stove while I cooked some brats on the open campfire. Later, we enjoyed the fire to its last embers while sharing stories of past adventures. As the autumn chill began to set in, we were both ready to hit the tents and get some sleep before our big morning at the shut-ins. We set our phone alarms for 6:00 A.M., put everything that any furry varmints could possibly want to eat back in the 4Runner, and retired.

The next morning (this morning) was chilly, about 40 degrees, but we weren’t concerned about getting in the water because we both had waders. I was impressed as Miguel, who was visiting Johnson’s Shut-ins for the first time, did not hesitate to drop into the chilly water and scramble over the slippery boulders. Both of us began making nice images long before the sun made its way to the treeline of a high ridge to the east of us. The featured image was one of my first captures of the morning and it turned out to be one of my favorites.



A nice look at one of the many rounded scour holes in the gorgeous granite outcroppings.



Miguel was so busy shooting, it took all I had to get him to look up and smile for a snapshot.



My final image of the morning, below the shut-ins portion of the reach. Although this is a more conventional image of an Ozark stream riffle, I loved the cobble substrate, as colorful as the autumn hillside.

After about two hours of wading, scrambling over rocks, and doing our best to capture the spectacular garden of boulders known as Johnson’s Shut-ins, Miguel and I finally called it quits. We made our way back to the car and then back to the campsite where the chore of breaking camp awaited. It didn’t seem like a chore at all though, because we were already discussing our next adventure as we rolled up the sleeping bags and packed the dew-soaked tents. Good times!

Thanks for looking,



Gallery of Images:









7 comments on “Johnson’s Shut-ins and Elephant Rocks (Fall 2016)”

  1. Very enjoyable post…I didn’t know that the fall colours were muted this year in Missouri, but thank you for the Elephant Rocks! (In one photo, it really does look like an elephant is standing, facing away from you.) I also didn’t know what “Shut-ins” were, and just found out!

    • Thanks for the feedback Deepa. I always love hearing from you and I’m sorry we didn’t make it to the shut-ins.

  2. Your beautiful pictures brought back some happy memories of camping with my children
    when they were young. As always the sights were just beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. One of my best adventures. Your knowledge is priceless, thank you for inviting me. Hope we can do this again soon!

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