Missouri’s Highest Point

Want to hike to the top of a mountain?
Just park in the lot of Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and walk a mere 1,000 feet on a paved path to Missouri’s highest point. Here, an elevation marker sits, guiding visitors to the mountain’s 1,772 foot summit. If that’s not enough, the hike to Mina Sauk Falls will take your breath away. It’s not the hike itself, as it’s only a slightly-rugged three-mile loop (1.5 miles downhill then 1.5 miles back up), it is the awesome sight of Missouri’s tallest waterfall that is breathtaking. In wet weather, water rushes over the fall’s peak, crashing relentlessly into several volcanic rock ledges before meeting the clear, rock-bottomed pool 132 feet below.

(Please note: Although they bear the same name, Taum Sauk Mountain was untouched by the breach of the Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Plant Reservoir atop Profitt Mountain in December, 2005. The reservoir is in a totally different location and should not be confused with Taum Sauk Mountain.)

Activities: hiking/backpacking, picnicking, bird-watching, camping

The Legend of Taum Sauk Mountain ~ A Native American “Romeo and Juliet” story as told to John Russell, from the Kansas City Star, by “Old Uncle Jim Connelly” back in 1953, the summer after the park became accessible by automobile to the public.  Uncle Jim, an ex-railroad worker, who for many years ran a service station and tourist court from his home near Ironton, knew a host of stories and Indian legends tied up with the mountain.

“Uncle Jim’s favorite story probably is one about Taum Sauk, the Piankashaw Indian chieftain after whom the mountain is named, and his daughter, Mina Sauk, for whom the beautiful waterfall on the northwestern slope of the mountain is named.

“Long before the white man came here,”  Uncle Jim relates, “this land of flowers, now called the Arcadia Valley, was the hunting grounds of the Piankashaw Indians.  The Piankashaws had a famous chieftain, Sauk-Ton-Qua.  Because the name was hard for the white man to pronounce, he was later call Taum Sauk.”

“Taum Sauk was wise and although the Piankashaws were not as large a tribe as the Cherokees or Osages, he was able to hold his territory against their invasions.  The Piankashaws lived in comparative peace in and around the Arcadia Valley, where they hunted and fished and raised a little corn in the summertime.  In the winter they would move to the limestone bluff shelters along the Mississippi river and stay there until warm weather.”

“Taum Sauk’s beautiful daughter, Mina Sauk, was greatly desired by all the young warriors in the tribe.  However, Mina Sauk met a young Osage warrior in the woods and lost her heart to him.”

“For a long time he wooed her secretly, but one day she was discovered in the arms of the young Osage.  The young warrior was captured and taken before the chieftain.  He was tried and condemned to death.”

“He was executed on the slopes of Taum Sauk Mountain, where a great porphyry outcrop form an escarpment overlooking Taum Sauk creek and facing Wildcat mountain. The young warrior was tossed from the parapet down a succession of benches on the mountainside, thrown from bench to bench with the spears of warriors.  He fell bleeding and dying in the valley below.”

“The grief-stricken maiden was restrained by the tribal women from interfering with the execution. But at the fatal moment, she broke loose from her captors and threw herself to death on the same benches.”

“The old Indian legend says that this displeased the great spirit, and that the earth trembled and shook, and the mountain cracked. Then a stream of water poured forth and flowed down the rock benches, washing away the blood.”

“The place is still known as the Mina Sauk falls and along the edges of the rivulet, even today, there grow little flowers with crimson blossoms which the Indians believed got their color from this ancient tragedy.” (For more about Native American Indian history in our region, please click here.)

A mile down the Taum Sauk section of the Ozark Trail waits the Devil’s Tollgate. This eight-foot wide passage of volcanic rhyolite stretches 50-feet long and 30-feet high on both sides. From here, hikers can continue on the over 10-mile hike to nearby Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. *The trail to Johnson’s Shut-Ins is temporarily closed for restoration.

Nearly 1.5 billion years ago, this largest mountain and the St. Francois Mountains surrounding it were created by volcanic eruptions which threw hot gas and ashes into the air. This fell and cooled, forming a dense layer of fine-grained igneous rhyolite over a heart of coarse-grained granite. The majority of the Ozarks were once covered in seas which deposited over a mile of sedimentary dolomite and sandstone atop them, and were only created when the Ozarks region uplifted about 250 million years ago.

On the other hand, Taum Sauk and its closest neighbors are ancient, volcanic, Precambrian uplifts many times older than the Appalachians, and may be among the few areas in the United States never to have been submerged by ancient seas. This volcanic origin can be seen in the many open, rocky expanses called glades that are scattered throughout the park and are home to many desert-adapted plants and animals. Also, prairie plants such as Indian Grass, Little Bluestem, Ashy Sunflower, White Prairie Clover and Rattlesnake Master thrive in the glades and open, carefully burn-controlled woodlands.

Other natural communities including Oak and Hickory upland forest, flatwoods, savannas and bottomland forest abound in the over 7,500-acre, virtually untamed expanse of wilderness. These diverse communities provide habitats for a range of wildlife from the brilliant red cardinal and sly red fox, to the docile whitetail deer and frisky raccoon. Still, hiking trails and abundant plant and wildlife aren’t the only things Taum Sauk has to offer. The lookout tower, owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation and not part of the State Park proper, is perched above the trees overlooking the valley. Taum Sauk Mountain State Park gives visitors a glimpse of nearly unspoiled wilderness and an opportunity to imagine the world before civilization interfered.

Just down the road lies the overlook which allows visitors a wide, incomparable view of the mountains to the north, and a guide to help identify and distinguish them. Nearby, a small camping area offers 12 basic campsites ($9 per night) and a picnic area which gives visitors a chance to enjoy a relaxing picnic under the trees. Also, a special-use area is available for organized non-profit youth groups.

Come for the spacious, expansive view, and stay for the relaxing quiet and solitude that are so hard to find in today’s busy, crowded life. Whatever brings you here, you’re sure to have a great time.

by Mary Eakins Bullis, November 2007