Yesterday was a gorgeous, sunny day. The Younger Daughter persuaded us it we needed to see Pickle Spring Natural Area, a space administered by the Missouri Department of Conservation located a few miles outside Farmington. Total acreage isn't huge, but it includes a 2-mile long hiking trail. A rock with a plaque on it lets hikers know they're about to see an area that's been recognized as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service, a designation the average person has never heard of and has no clue exists.
There were a lot of people out hiking, all lured out by the warm sunny weather. Pickle Spring has a fairly small parking lot, but earlier in the day must have maxed out because there were cars parked on the roadside when we arrived. We thought we'd have to do the same but someone left the lot just as we arrived. The area is basically no amenities. There's the parking lot and one picnic table -- no comfort station, no water. I had to wonder a little bit about just how crowded it might get if the Missouri Department of Conservation provided better directions in tourist guides or had signage out on Highway 32.
As it is, the big state guide to tourist attractions in Missouri just says Pickle Spring is in Farmington, which is sort of true. It's a few miles east of town and private property close to it probably has a Farmington address. That guide, however, does not say one word about how to find it. You have to go the Department of Conservation website to get driving directions. You have to turn off State Highway 32 on to a county road. After you've driven a half mile or so down that road, there is one sign right where you have to turn on to a gravel road to get to the Pickle Spring parking lot. In short, you either have to be local enough to know the place exists or be willing to put some effort into locating it. Lots of people must put the effort in, though, because the area is laced with social trails. Lots and lots of places where multiple people obviously decided they didn't feel the need to do a switchback or decided a shortcut would be handy.
Those shortcuts, incidentally, served as yet more proof people can be idiots. There were a couple that no doubt evolved because some fool decided he or she didn't want to do a long switchback to get to an upper portion of the trail but in doing so they unknowingly skipped right by some of the niftiest rock formations or a spectacular overlook. Their desire to avoid walking a few extra feet -- something I truly don't understand when you're on a hiking trail, by the way. You've decided to go for a hike that you know is 2 miles long. Why decide in mid-hike to make it shorter? Anyway, the desire to skip going the long way around on a switchback means they also fail to see stuff like a lovely little waterfall or some unique stone formations.
Besides seeing some interesting eroded rock, we found Spring. The service berries were blooming, there were violets and other wildflowers at ground level, and there were these flowering shrubs, which I think are a type of magnolia. We were kind of hoping the dogwoods would have started blooming, but it was still a little early for them. Saw a lot of dogwoods where the buds looked like they could burst open any second, but they hadn't done it yet as of yesterday.
Overall, it was a nice hike in an interesting area. The trail is long enough to feel like you've actually hiked, not just walked to an overlook by a parking lot, but short enough to qualify for a leisurely afternoon outing. The one thing I'd do differently if we did it again is to wear different shoes. My Converse All-Stars weren't quite right for the walking we did. The Younger Daughter says there's a similar Department of Conservation Natural Area not far from Pickle Spring so the next time we feel like walking we'll check that one out.