Giant glaciers, explosive volcanoes, collapsing caves and ancient seas - when it comes to geology, Missouri has certainly seen its share. These earth-shaping forces created some of the state's most spectacular places - millions of years in the making.
Elephant Rocks State Park, Belleview: Wind your way around giant billion-year-old pink granite boulders that stand end-to-end like a train of circus elephants. A mile-long tree-lined trail takes you through one of the state's most impressive landscapes, formed by volcanic forces more than an eon ago.
Hughes Mountain Natural Area, Potosi: Take in panoramic views while hiking through Precambrian rock outcrops that are among the oldest exposed rock in the United States. At the top, an expanse of rhyolite - created by an ancient lava flow - is known locally as the Devil's Honeycomb.
Pickle Springs Natural Area, Farmington: Head out on the two-mile Trail Through Time to see towering sandstone cliffs and arches. The stone found here came from sandy beaches along an ocean that covered the area more than 500 million years ago. Look for hoodoos, pillar-like blocks of rock weathered into unusual shapes.
The Pinnacles Natural Area, Columbia: Find fascinating rock formations and fossilized remains of ancient sea creatures preserved in the limestone bedrock. The Rocky Fork and Silver Fork creeks run through the area, once submerged in a shallow sea.
Johnson's Shut-ins State Park, Lesterville, and Castor River Shut-ins Natural Area, Fredericktown: Get your feet wet in Mother Nature's water parks, created by rivers flowing around dense volcanic rock, carving out chutes, slides and pools. Johnson's Shut-ins are located in one of Missouri's most popular state parks. The Castor River Shut-ins are the state's only known pink granite shut-ins.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Camdenton: See a showcase of karst geology characterized by sinkholes, springs and natural bridges. The collapse of a huge sinkhole left a deep gorge bordered by 250-foot-high bluffs that overlook a large natural spring.
Rocky Falls, Winona: Experience a piece of Missouri's turbulent geologic past when molten rock deep within the earth flowed up to the surface, forming dense layers of volcanic rock. The resulting falls are now part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. A pool at the bottom of the falls is a popular swimming spot.
Loess Bluffs Natural Wildlife Refuge, Forest City: Find rare loess bluffs, formed when streams from melting glaciers left behind deep layers of silt. Wetlands surrounding the bluffs attract massive flocks of snow geese and other birds during migration season. Climb 200 steps to the top of the bluffs for an expansive view of the refuge.
Grand Gulf State Park, Thayer: Explore Missouri's "Little Grand Canyon," located deep in the Ozarks. Created when the ceiling of a giant cave gave way, the gulf extends more than a mile between towering bluffs. A 250-foot natural bridge spanning the canyon is a remnant of the original cave ceiling.
Written by Liz Coleman