Going to the devil
in Missouri
Published:
Mar/Apr2004

Above: Within Rock Bridge Memorial State Park near Columbia is the Devil’s Icebox, a sinkhole that is part of an extensive cave system that runs for miles underground.

Below: Visitors can peer into Devils Well near Akers Ferry to see the dimly lit lake below, which is at least 100 feet deep. Missouri Division of Tourism photos

Before You Go
To order Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri, call 1-800-361-4827 or (573) 368-2125. To view and order online, go to dnr.state.mo.us/geology/
adm/publications/Edu_ser.htm.

To plan a devil of a trip, stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information about Missouri through the Reader Service Card online and click on reader resources.

Fascinating geologic formations named after the devil
abound in Missouri.

B Y   B A R B A R A   B A I R D

he devil has left his mark all over Missouri. Travelers can go to the devil in at least 80 places. From up high on the devil’s backbone to below the earth’s surface in the devil’s well, geological formations named after Lucifer abound.

A former state geologist and University of Missouri-Rolla professor, Thomas R. Beveridge, described several places named for the devil in “The Devil in Missouri,” a chapter from “Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri” (second printing, Missouri Division of Geology and Land Survey, 1980).

Beveridge attributed the naming of these geological wonders–such as dens, tables, racetracks and hollows–to settlers from the Appalachia Highlands, including Scotch-Irish Calvinists. He claimed these settlers were suspicious of dark, dank places and craggy, twisted rock formations.

The following places are just a few of the many listed in the book. Try going to the devil. It might be a refreshing and thought-provoking trip.

Devils Well–near Akers Ferry

Beveridge likened the Devils Well, a river that runs 100 feet under the earth’s surface, to the earth’s digestive system, “a chance to peek at a part of the plumbing system of a major spring, with a daily flow as great as 50 million gallons.” Visitors may peer through a vertical sinkhole down onto the dimly lit surface of the groundwater system. The lake below is at least 100-feet deep, as long as a football field and a beautiful blue-green color.

The well was originally explored by a few brave souls who accessed the water through the vertical sinkhole. Modern day tests using dye connected this system to Cave Spring near the Current River, a mile to the south.

The site belongs to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, part of the National Park Service. To find the Devils Well, take Highway 19 south of Salem, Mo. Turn west on Route KK, and drive two miles to a sign for the well. For details, call the National Park Service at (573) 323-4236.

Devil’s Icebox–Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

There may be bats in the belfry somewhere in the Ozarks, but the devil’s got bats in his icebox. The Devil’s Icebox is actually a sinkhole, part of a cave system running for several miles underground. It is perhaps Rock Bridge Memorial Park’s most impressive geological feature.

The cave is open by appointment only from Aug. 1–Oct. 8. Gray bats, an endangered species, occupy the cave during the rest of the year. Cave visitors must lie flat in a canoe for part of the first half-mile of the trip, with their noses practically pressed against the ceiling. This cave is not for the faint-of-heart spelunker. Guided tours are available but must be arranged for in advance.

Numerous trails, some on a boardwalk system, run throughout the park. Some trails go to ridge tops, while others make it easy to explore the icebox sinkhole without being ankle-deep in mud. It’d be easy to spend a whole day on trails–such as the High Ridge Trail, the Deer Run Trail and the Spring Brook Trail.

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park is located off Highway 163, about seven miles south of Columbia. Take Highway 63 and follow the signs to the park. Primitive camping is available by appointment. Call (573) 449-7402 for more information or visit the Web site: www.mostateparks.com/rockbridge.htm.

Devil’s Kitchen–Roaring River State Park

This state park, much of it built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s–’40s, contains more than 3,000 acres and part of the Roaring River in Barry County, south of Cassville. Besides having a fish hatchery, a pristine trout stream, rustic cabins, several campgrounds and a lodge, the park also boasts several hiking trails, including the Devil’s Kitchen Trail.

The Devil’s Kitchen formed at the end of a bluff from the erosion of a soft layer of shale in between two layers of limestone. The top layer of limestone shifted and caught on the larger portion of rock below, forming a dark, narrow room with a front and back entrance. In 1985 further erosion caused more rocks to break loose, blocking the front entrance.

Once inside the kitchen, it’s easy to see why it was so named. In the olden days, kitchens were often attached to houses–small, with slanted roofs and few windows.

Civil War buffs might be interested to know that this site purportedly housed Civil War guerillas. That image adds to the mystery and to the sense of malevolence associated with the site.

A wide range of flora and fauna fills the forest around the trail. At the highest point, about 1,300 feet above sea level, a virgin conifer forest stands tall. On the trail’s descent, the landscape changes into a dry chert forest, where blueberries and farkleberries appear later in the springtime.

All in all, the Devil’s Kitchen Trail ranks as one of the most interesting trails in Missouri. Not only does it have several historical features, but it also allows the opportunity to see springtime in the Ozarks at its best. Grounds are open from sunrise to 10 p.m. year-round. For more information, call the park at (417) 847-2539, or visit the Web site www.mostateparks.com/roaringriver/geninfo.htm.

More devilish places

If you’re looking for more devilishly interesting geologic formations in Missouri, try these:
• Devil’s Tollgate–Rock fissure in Taum Sauk Mountain State Park;
• Devil’s Sugar Bowl–Promontory in bluff in Pulaski County at Devil’s Elbow;
• Devil’s Backbone Wilderness Area– Mark Twain National Forest, Willow Springs Ranger District;
• Devil’s Promenade–“The Spooklight,” an area of mysterious phantom light, 12 miles south of Joplin near Hornet.


Barbara Baird is a contributor from Rolla, Mo.

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