Hawn State Park will always hold a very special place in my heart because of its connection with my father. It was a year ago yesterday that I lost my father in death. He had always been a healthy and active man but eventually he succumbed to heart disease after a long life. At an early age, he instilled a love of the outdoors in me and introduced our family to hiking, camping and canoeing. We spent many of my youthful summers vacationing in Missouri during the sixties and enjoying those activities. In those days, the hiking trails were not as developed and we rarely encountered others as we floated the Missouri rivers. However, it was not until my late high school years that we discovered Hawn and thus we shared hiking trips there in my adult years.
Unquestionably, my father's favorite Missouri park was Hawn State Park. He loved to hike the Whispering Pine Trail. In his later years he would even log his time to track his pace, yet he still took time to explore the unfamiliar. I remember once we used a detailed topo map from the St. Louis Orienteering Club to explore some features I noted and spent a day with map and compass exploring off the beaten path. I believe he was quite impressed at my navigational skills. (High praise from someone who rarely offered commendation).
What though is it about Hawn State Park that makes it so special? I think, at least for me, it is the geology that makes the difference. Throughout my life I have enjoyed hiking and exploring the Missouri Ozarks. Much of the Ozark landscape is characterized by clear, spring-fed rivers flowing beneath limestone and dolomite bluffs or the ancient exposed igneous formations of the St. Francois Mountains (some of the oldest exposed rock in North America). Geologically speaking though, Hawn marks the transition from these features.
The sandstone bluffs of Hawn stand as a reminder that ancient waters once deposited their sands at the feet on the Ozark mountains there. Pickle Creek, which flows through Hawn over the sandstone bedrock, meanders beneath the park's sandstone bluffs. When the creek overflows with heavy rains, it deposits sand on the trails. The pine trees growing on the hills send their roots into the sandstone crust of the earth at Hawn. It is that geology which makes the ecosystem at Hawn State Park seem different.
Missouri's landscape does not have the drama of the Rocky Mountains nor the deserts of the southwestern United States. There are no rugged ocean coastlines and certainly no giant redwoods. Missouri has a subtle beauty and Hawn State Park encapsulates that subtlety. Peacefully sitting beside Pickle Creek or looking out over the south loop of the Whispering Pine Trail from an overlook, the tranquility is soothing to the soul.
I recall driving my father down to Hawn a few years before his death. He was showing signs of dementia and didn't have the stamina to walk even the mile trail along Pickle Creek, but his spirit came alive as he walked the paths and tried to recall familiar sights. It wasn't long before he began striking up a conversation with some hikers coming off the Whispering Pine Trail, something that came so naturally to him. Yes, Hawn State Park will always have a special place in my heart.
Visit my website gallery to see more images of Hawn State Park