Signed up and ready to explore, Brad and I met the group at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, and we promptly left for our first destination: Elephant Rocks State Park. I was excited to explore southeast Missouri, a part of the state to which I had never been. Eager to wander, I was a little disappointed knowing our hike there was a mere 1.1 miles. At the site, Collins led our group of 12—the maximum number for any 37 North trip—through an ice breaker and some basic wilderness knowledge including how to read a topographical map and the concept of leave no trace. The latter is especially important to Collins, who hopes participants gain a better appreciation of and help preserve nature. Then, we hit the trail, a mostly paved route that passed tons of interesting rocks and an old quarry.
Every so often, Collins would stop to share a quick lesson with the group. The further we went, the more my disappointment dissipated. These were some seriously cool—and gigantic—rocks. Toward the end of the hike, we had a little free time to climb around and explore the crevices between the rocks. I had never experienced anything like it. All too quickly, it was time to go.
Next was Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, another new place for me. We ate our pack lunches then changed into swimsuits before heading to the water. Even though the hike wasn’t long, swimming felt like the perfect reward on this hot summer day. At this point, the group split, and everyone explored at their own pace. Brad and I meandered through the chutes, occasionally watching people jump from the rocks into the cool river water. We agreed this was our favorite part of the trip and again lamented that we didn’t have more time to explore.
The last stop of the day was Viandel Vineyard in Mountain View where the owners led us through a wine tasting. While we waited, we sat on the winery’s lovely back patio, got to know our trip mates and enjoyed a charcuterie and cheese board. If I could end every hike at a place like this, I would hike more often!