October 25th, 2016
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is state-owned, located in Reynolds County, Missouri. The East Fork of the Black River flows like a maze through the dominant rocks called rhyolite, formed from magma that extruded onto the surface as a lava flow. For nearly one-and-a-half billion years, the Black River has eroded a channel through the boulders, which range in hues of purple, pink and gray. That erosion left behind a series of rock chutes and channels called a “shut-in.”
The promise of fall colors leads me to this rugged landscape and one of the state’s deepest valleys. By late September, black gum, bittersweet, and dogwood are turning. The peak of fall color in Missouri is usually around mid-October. This is when maples, ashes, oaks, and hickories are at the height of their fall display. Normally by late October, the colors are fading and the leaves are beginning to drop from the trees.
My adventure started, when I met up with Danny. I transferred the camera gear from my car to his, then we set off to our destination. We drove on several county roads, made a pit stop to refuel, then we headed back out. On our way, we talked about life, photography, music, politics, family and a little about our childhood.
We stopped off at the Shut-ins visitor center and Danny went inside to get some info. I stopped by the topographical map of the St. Francois Mountains and before long I was having a conversation with a nice lady, her brother and his wife. It turns out that all three of them were subscribers of the Missouri Conservationist Magazines Calendar. I mentioned to them that I am just here for the journey to learn from Danny. As I mentioned Danny’s name, all three of their faces lit up; they were huge followers of Danny’s columns in the Conservationist and they expressed their admiration for his photographs in the stories. By this time Danny had returned, and I stepped aside and I let him do his thing, the conversation developed and it was discovered that the gentleman we were chatting with was the former Governor of Oregon.
As we headed back to the car, I said to Danny, “You never know who you might meet on photography adventures!”
It was time was time to set up camp, so we drove over to the campground for what would be my first time camping in Missouri. Danny showed me the ropes; on setting up camp, with sleeping pads and he loaned me his old Air Force Sleeping Bag. With both tents all set up, we drove over to check out Elephant Rocks State Park.
We walked the trails looking for the elusive Rock Formation. We peered over several look-outs, none of which looked anything like elephants. I was beginning to think maybe we missed out. As we were heading to what we thought was the final trail, we ran into two women and asked if they could point us to the Rocks, they said, “right around that corner.”
We arrived at the rocks well before sunset, the fall colors were a little underwhelming. We decided to do what any good photographer would do, we improvised. Danny being a little more adventurous than I, climbed on top of Rocks and I took his portrait.
As the sun approached the horizon, we started to work the angles looking for decent shots, that was when we decided to climb on another outcropping of rocks to get a better vantage point. We could not figure out how best to scale up the rock face, so I gave Danny the ole heave ho and up he climbed to the top of the rocks. I handed him our gear and now we had to figure out, how I was getting up to his rarefied air. So after several failed attempts, Danny said, “grab a leg,” so that seemed logical at the point and I did, luckily it worked and that gamble paid off. As I reached the summit and looked around the scape, I found the elusive Elephant Rock right as the sun was setting.
We scampered down the Rocks, by this time the light was fading fast. When we arrived back at camp, it was dark, so Danny started a fire. Danny grilled some brats and beans and I had veggie chili. You could tell that it was fall, the air got cold really fast. We chatted for a bit, then we both retired to the tents we had set up earlier. With alarms set for 6 am, we called it a night.
Well, 6 am is here, I slept pretty well given that it was my first night camping in Missouri. But boy it was cold, woke up to temps in the low 30’s. With gear already packed, we made our way to the parking lot of the Shut-Ins. I put on my Gander Mountain Hip Waders and with gear in hand, I followed Danny’s lead down the trail, towards the Shut-Ins. As we neared the Shut-Ins you could hear the undeniable roar of the water, and as it came into view, I could see it cascading over and around the rocks in its path.
I was instantly in awe, as I stood before the Shut-Ins. There are so many views and Danny pointed out unique perspectives, I did my best to keep up. Some spots in the Shut-Ins drew me in like a moth to a flame. For one of my favorite shots, I had to work to get the view I wanted, sliding by the seat of my pants, using my tripod as a gauge to get the depth of the water. In the end, I got an image that I was after.
What an adventure, I want to thank Danny Brown for everything. I am a huge admirer of your work, knowledge, ethics and approach to photography.
Danny trying to get me to smile, but I was in the zone trying to figure out how to capture this scene.
Danny’s efforts paid off. I smiled for the camera and that was a wrap on our day’s adventure!
Until the next adventure.
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