Shaw Nature Reserve is a sprawling natural area with many hiking trails not too far southwest of St. Louis. From my house it's pretty convenient, about 30 minutes away. My wife and I usually visit in April each year, and one or two other times during the year.
We went for the first time this year last Sunday when the temperature was forecast to get into the 70's, and I saw new things along with the familiar. (This post won't cover everything that SNR has to offer, but you can see my other posts here and here.)
Shaw Nature Reserve has a lot to offer: river bottom, bluffs, prairie, forest, wildflower gardens and much more, but my favorites might be the glades. Rocky clearings where there is not enough topsoil to support tree growth -- the edge of one is shown in that first photo.
For me the edge of a woodland is where so much "magic" happens, and I saw several great things on this visit, starting with this crazy bloom emerging:
Plant unknown (please help with ID if you can!), but so strange!
Indian paintbrush, so orange-red:
Along with Manfreda virginica (false aloe, American aloe)...
...of which there were so many in this spot:
This photo isn't great, but count the plants:
There are almost 40 showing just in this little spot! (In some areas they are rabbit-nibbled like mine are)
Which gives me a good reason to show what a glade looks like at this time of year:
There has been some burning done to keep things healthy, so this is about as clean slate as you'll see -- soon it will be all grown back, a mixture of grasses and wildflowers and rocks. Such great habitat for snakes and lizards!
The star on this map might indicate the glade from these photos...
...but at least the map will help you see the lay of the land.
All of the trails here are pretty easy, but some you could almost do with your eyes closed:
We love visiting the overlook before going down to the river, and unfortunately just as we got to it on this windy day a branch blew downward a little as I passed under and a sharp branch stump hit me in the head. Looking over the edge of the bluff is probably not the best thing to do after a good whack and some blood loss...
...and the photo doesn't do it justice. It's a long way down.
The view from the bottom up only gives you a little more perspective...
...but it's much more impressive in person. (It's steeper than it looks)
This is where you'll find the Celandine poppies:
And I spotted (hehe) this wonderful leaf:
I wonder what plant that is? Does anybody know?
After coming down from the bluff you're in the river's floodplain, the home of the bluebells:
There were nowhere near as many bluebells this year as there have been in the past, probably due to the flood in late December.
This whole area was deep under water then...
...which you can easily visualize due to the debris clumps...
...that are everywhere in the trees overhead:
It's quite amazing.
My wife noticed this log...
...which appears to be magically attached to the supporting tree.
Upon closer inspection you can see that there is a small branch stump stuck in the crotch of the upright tree, and the log is perfectly balanced there. So strange!
Some great trees down here, including a sycamore that must be one of the biggest in the area:
That thing is just huge!
I really love the mix of colors here right now:
You must visit the gravel bar down at the river's edge:
Again signs of the power of December's flood:
Was the gravel bar always this big?
We spent so much time looking at rocks, searching for fossils or anything interesting. This is our version of walking the beach looking for seashells, as it's difficult to get farther away from the ocean than St. Louis.
Only one photo on the hike back from the river, but the prairie is really quite beautiful right now:
Fire-blackened grass stumps still dominate but the new growth is starting to come through. It has a harsh beauty now that will soon become lush greenery, a different beauty.
Shaw Nature Reserve is such a great place for a spring hike!