As a kid, the first time that I visited Elephant Rocks State Park, I was very disappointed because I was expecting the rocks to actually look like elephants and upon arrival at the park, discovered that they looked nothing like elephants at all.

However, my disappointment quickly vanished when I was told that I was free to climb all over these giant monstrosities of granite.

They reminded me of all those rocks I was seeing in those western cowboy movies that always had the famous gunfights where Roy Rogers or the Durango Kid always took care of the bad guys.

At that age, I was a big cowboy movie fan so these stones were just the thing to stoke my imagination and make me extremely reluctant to leave this fascinating place.

Even though there is no camping allowed at this park, it is a perfect place to spend the day for a family outing. Picnic sites are scattered throughout the park and don’t forget the gorgeous fall colors at this time of year.

It is a great place to really enjoy the outdoors. There are two short trails both rated “easy.” The Braille Trail is a mile long and is paved, providing access for both strollers and wheelchairs. It has signs written in Braille text along the way.

The Engine House Ruins Trail, which branches off the Braille Trail, is only one-quarter mile in length and takes the hiker by the ruins of the Engine House that provided repairs to trains that carried granite from the nearby quarries. 

I always thought these granite “elephants” were dragged to this area by glaciers during the Ice Age but I was very wrong in that assumption. Erosion over the years has left the stones that we know as the “elephants.”

Scientists say that formation of these stones began 1.5 billion years ago. The “elephants” are what is left after years of erosion by the elements; namely, rain, ice and snow and freezing temperatures. They have always been at this location but have been exposed after years and years of erosion.

Even today the stones are being affected by the elements. Water gets down in some of the cracks and freezes and causes further changes in the appearance of the stones. Even the lichens that grow on the stones produce a kind of weak chemical that eats away at them.

The largest of the stones is named “Dumbo” and boasts dimensions of 27 feet tall, 34 feet long and 17 feet wide.  Its weight is calculated to be 680 tons.

The red granite that is prevalent in this area was formed from molten rock called magma. There have been rock quarries in the area for years and some of the granite from this area was used in the construction of the Eads Bridge spanning the Mississippi in St. Louis and some of the downtown St. Louis streets.

The Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City also used granite from this area.

There are several small lakes that were formed from quarry operations that offer fishing in designated areas. The lakes aren’t stocked but I understand that panfish such as bluegill can be caught.  

I didn’t sample the fishing on our trip there so I can’t confirm this claim. I understand that rappelling and serious rock climbing is also allowed in the park during the winter season but is governed by strict regulations and if you are interested, you should contact the park for further information.

I didn’t look into this very deeply since rappelling and rock climbing aren’t actually hobbies of my wife and I.

During the summer, from April to October, the park is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the winter. It is easy to find as it is right on Highway 21 just a few miles north of the Arcadia area.

To get detailed directions from your home, just click on the website for the park. It is a very interesting place and kids love it.

And like I’ve already said, and I can’t overemphasize, that this time of year with all the fall colors would be a great time for a visit.

(Bill Oder can be reached at oderbill@yahoo.com.)