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  • Writer's pictureTrail Guide Joe

MO State Parks Centennial Passport Challenge (part 1)!

Updated: Jun 24, 2022


In addition to the centennial passport challenge, it was time to start a second challenge I am quite fond of, the Missouri Camper Award! This challenge, unlike the passport challenge, is much easier to complete and is offered yearly. Simply camp in five different Missouri state parks within a calendar year and you have earned the award! This weekend, I would start my 16th MO Camper Award while trying to visit as many other state parks as I could in the southeast section of the state. The base of operations would be Trail of Tears State Park where I would setup camp for the weekend. Setting up this trip more-or-less last minute almost left me out in the cold as there was just 1 spot remaining while half of the campsites still, oddly, closed.

The next day, bright and early, I would head out to my first stop of four for the day, Big Oak Tree State Park. This park would very quickly become my favorite of the day as it provided a glimpse into the way things were when the area was first settled. What makes me particularly happy about this park is that it was land once held by a farmer then donated to the state later on. The foresight of this farmer to saved a large chuck of land to preserve a piece of the area is nothing short of incredible considering how every acre surrounding the park for miles around is flat, cleared farm land.

Within the park is a cool boardwalk that takes you out into what used to be known as the "swamp-east" of Missouri. Here, many hickory and oak trees found their home for centuries growing to over a hundred feet tall! On a more personal note, the trees are not the only things to have found a home here. Much to my displeasure, the trail was overrun with mud dauber wasps... hundreds and hundreds of mud dauber wasps. I foolishly left my windows open just a crack and, on my way back out of the park, I made the terrifying discovery of one of these flying demons on my rear window. It must have been quite a sight to see me screech to a stop, fly out of the vehicle, and run for my life... Beside the wasp situation, this park will definitely be on my list for a visit again someday! Maybe in late fall when the wasps have left...


The next stop on the tour for the day would be Towosahgy State Historic Site. Here I would find the archaeological remains of a former Mississippian settlement inhabited between 1000 A.D. and 1400 A.D. Although there wasn't much here to speak of, it was nevertheless inspiring to stand in a place inhabited by a people that lived so long ago! It is a wonder to imagine what life might have been like so long ago without the modern conveniences we have today.

 
 

After exploring Towosahgy for a bit, it was time to move on to the next stop of the day, Morris State Park. Morris, like Big Oak, was formerly private property donated to the state for public use. Here, visitors get to see first hand the unique geology of the area and explore an excellent display of the power of erosion.

Unfortunately I did not spend a lot of time at this park due to time constraints but it is one I would come back to explore more thoroughly in the future. My own personal note to this visit would be the unique wildlife as well! I have never seen a milk snake in the wild before now! This rather sizeable reptile was hanging out guarding the bathrooms, one stop I was hoping to make before moving on... I decided maybe the next stop was close enough after all!


Departing from Morris, the final and arguably the most important stop of the day was Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site. I say most important because, up until now, every site I had visited was unmanned. All that means is that the park officials at Hunter-Dawson would be providing the stamp for all 4 locations visited for the day. This site, like Deutschheim, stands to represent a bygone era: the Bootheel Mansion. What is unique about the Hunter-Dawson mansion is that the house still contains most of its original furnishings! Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I was unable to take the tour of the house though, on a subsequent trip, I would absolutely take the tour! For now, I was glazing from the outside at the Missouri mansion, imagining what it would be like if I had that house! After walking around the property for a bit, it was time to head back to camp and collect the stamp for Trail of Tears state park before the park office closed for the day.


On the final day of my weekend trip, I wanted to roll out early enough, but not too early, to try to hit as many stops on the way back as I could. I was quickly learning what it would take to make the most of my time; namely, not arriving too early or too late to a location and missing out on a stamping opportunity. Before departing Trail of Tears SP, I wanted to check out the river overlook once more, an incredible sight worth visiting each stay, before setting my GPS to the first of several destinations on the road home.

Up first would be Bollinger Mill State Historic Site. Here I would find a prime example of some of the earliest industry in the state and even the country! This particular mill was used to grind corn into meal and wheat into flour. It was impressive to see the heavy machinery within the structure and even more impressive to realize the water pressure of the river is what powered it all. Also on site was 1 of 4 of the state's remaining and original covered bridges, Burfordville Covered Bridge. I have always wanted to go see all 4 but, like completing the passport challenge, it was something that was always left unfinished. Covered bridges are fascinating to me as they are a lost art in modern society. Their architecture may not be able to withstand modern day traffic loads but they have proven to withstand the test of time! Best feature of all is the roof covering on the bridge! Quite frankly, I find that cool almost as if it were an above ground tunnel! Safe to say, this stop would be one of my favorites on the whole trip as well!


The next stop would be to one of my favorite parks I rarely get to visit, Hawn State Park. Hawn is one of my favorites for it's pine tree rich campground and scenic hikes. Having been here many times before, it was a quick stop before heading to the next location, Felix Vallé House State Historic Site.

Felix Vallé House, like the other state historic sites, provides another glimpse into the rich history of the state. This particular historic site puts on display an American-Federal style Vallé house built in the early 1800s by the first settlers to this area, the French.

After the quick stop, my sights were set on another historic site, one with an attached personal story from a prior visit. This stop would be Gov. Daniel Dunklin’s Grave State Historic Site. The personal story for this location dates back to the late 1990s, the years of the last passport challenge to visit every state park. Imagine a time when the world didn't have broad use of GPS, no Google Maps or Navigation. Imagine trying to find a small state historic site in the middle of, at the time, an unfamiliar area. Sometimes it's the destination and sometimes it's the journey that builds the story. The first visit to Gov. Dunklin's Grave was the latter. Fast forward nearly a decade when everyone carries GPS navigation in their pocket and this trip was all about the destination! What a relief...

Here I would once again find the final resting place of Missouri's 5th governor, a noteworthy figure for bringing public schools to the state. Surrounded on both sides by urban development, there is still an outstanding view of the Mississippi River that would be hard to beat!

 
 

Pushing on, with just 2 stops remaining, next on the list would take me to the second covered bridge of the trip, Sandy Creek Covered Bridge State Historic Site. In my opinion, Sandy Creek covered bridge is one of the top 2 most scenic of 4 covered bridges in the state. The painted red siding of the bridge against the green natural backdrop of the vegetation and the gently flowing creek gliding under the bridge really come together to make a beautiful afternoon hangout spot!

After taking in the beauty of Sandy Creek covered bridge for a bit, it was time to make the final push towards the final stop of the day, Mastodon State Historic Site. Mastodon is a very unique park, in that, it was determined here that both early humans and mastodons coexisted on the north American continent! Today though I would be collecting the stamps for Sandy Creek covered bridge and Governor Dunklin's grave as well as Mastodon. As this was my last stop of the day and I had quite a bit of time left in my day, I decided to take a hike on one of the trails in the park. It was nice to get out and stretch my legs for a bit more than I had all day an no better way than with a hike! Plus, as far back as I could remember, I had not taken a hike at Mastodon before! It seemed now was as good a time as any! After spending some time reacquainting myself with Mastodon, it was time to get back on the road one last time for the weekend.


Having embarked on a mission to knock out as many of the MO Centennial Passport locations of the southeast as possible, I returned triumphant! 11 more of the 88 total State Parks have been visited bringing the overall total to 14 out of 88!


Span of 3 days; Approximately 610 miles; Approximately 50 gallons of gas (some used before trip began); Approximate average MPG 15.5


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