A visit to Shaw Nature Reserve

At least once a year my wife and I go to Shaw Nature Reserve. This 2300+ acre conservation area was formed in 1925 when the Missouri Botanical Garden (which I visited a few weeks ago) purchased five farms southwest of St. Louis to preserve the natural beauty of this part of the state.

We've never gone this late in the year before, but I'm glad we did, as it was beautiful! Many of the trees were still quite colorful, and the overcast day was perfect for photos.


The Reserve contains almost every habitat you'll find in this state: river bottoms, hills, woods, glades, and even a good-sized prairie. There are miles and miles of hiking trails, and although we didn't go as far as we usually do (I was feeling a bit run-down), we got some good exercise and saw plenty.

Although you can feel like you're alone much of the time, you're not going to think that you're in the wilderness, as the main trails are improved and usually marked:

But if you take some of the smaller trails it can almost seem like you're one of the rare humans that have been in this part of the world:

Some of the things I love most about forests: logs, especially those covered in moss:

Or even little grasses (sedges, if I had to guess):

And there's plenty of great bark texture:

I love bark!

I also love grasses, and the trail we chose this trip took us out of the woods and into the prairie:

but I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll talk about the prairie a little later.

Most of the land in the reserve is wooded, so you get to see a lot of forest, and (it probably goes without saying) a lot of trees.

Even though there are a lot of browns at this time of year, there are still pockets of color if you're paying attention, and the muted tones of the surroundings make these discoveries seem even more vibrant:

All of those were either along the trail in the woods, or at the edges of one of the glades in the reserve. I'll have to talk about the glades another time, preferably after another trip. (The glades are where you'll find most of the cool stuff -- snakes and lizards for instance.)

So, the prairie.

The prairie itself is quite impressive, with several different prairie grasses including big bluestem, little bluestem (a fantastic small ornamental grass for the garden), lots of wildflowers and other prairie plants that I couldn't identify, even a tipi (or "teepee") and a sod house!

Click for much larger version. See the tipi in the distance?
Most of the plants had gone to seed by now, and some of them were quite attractive:

As our hike came to a close and we neared our car, we came upon a beautiful sight: a great drift (grove?) of what has to be sumac, in its full blazing fall color:

The late afternoon sun started peeking out of the clouds at the same time, making the lighting just about perfect:

What a sight!

Although it probably goes without saying, there are beautiful mature trees everywhere, some labeled, some not...

But every one impressive in the way that only a very large tree can be, and we didn't even make it down to the river bottoms this visit -- where the really big trees are. Perhaps in the spring -- there's a clearing down by the river that is packed with bluebells in April. If you've never stood in a field of thousands of the same type of flower, it's quite an experience.

So even though I've just returned from this visit, I'm already planning (and excited about) my next one!

What a great resource to have nearby!

For more information, visit the Shaw Nature Reserve website.


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Rock rose  – (November 3, 2011 at 6:26 AM)  

So that's where you took those great shots of fall berries and grasses. Although the name sounds familiar I can't remember if we ever visited Shaw. Seems like we must have, although only went to the Gardens twice. How I have changed since then.

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (November 3, 2011 at 9:45 AM)  

Beautiful! The last three photos are particularly stunning. Thank you for sharing.

Andrea  – (November 4, 2011 at 1:01 AM)  

Oh how lovely it is to really have a great resource nearby! You are so blessed to be living near one. And the photos are amazing and very beautiful.

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