Rural Missouri Magazine

Where rocks, trees
and water meet
Royal Gorge Natural Area

by Jeff Joiner

The St. Francois Mountains in southeast Missouri are believed to be some of the oldest mountains in the eastern United States and feature many interesting geologic sites. One of the most interesting parts of the St. Francois Mountains is contained in Iron County which boasts the highest spot in the state at Taum Sauk Mountain State Park as well as Elephant Rocks State Park.

One often overlooked spot is Royal Gorge Natural Area south of Arcadia on Highway 21. The natural area features a canyon-like shut-in along the highway (cover photo). A shut-in is a spot where over millions of years a river cuts its way through resistant igneous rock, which is the basic material the St. Francois Mountains are made of.

At the point where the shut-in passes alongside Highway 21, motorists will see a beautiful wall constructed of granite stones built there by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression (photo left). The Highway Department maintains a scenic overlook and parking pullout for motorists to view Royal Gorge. To visit the gorge drive 4 miles south of Arcadia on Highway 21.

Also located in the St. Francois Mountains are two more of Missouri’s state park gems — Sam A. Baker and Johnson Shut-ins state parks. And if you’re interested in Missouri history Ironton is home to Battle of Pilot Knob State Historic site.

Missouri’s state parks and historic sites are maintained by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. For more information visit DNR on line at or call 1-800-334-6946.

Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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