Fairs and Elephants

Nothing can deliver nostalgia quite like a county fair — other than the clothes and the cars, they probably look just the same today as they did decades ago in the days of The Sandlot and A Long Way from Chicago. It’s good, pricey, old-fashioned fun, with the added benefit of being a reliable photo-taking ground.










_C1_0304It was an old-fashioned holiday weekend for me, starting with the Washington County Fair, then continuing up in Missouri with some of the most old-fashioned fun there is: exploring a pair of state parks with the family.

First was Elephant Rocks State Park, sitting about 80 miles south of St. Louis and named for its very own herd of massive, rounded granite boulders and hills nestled within the Missouri forest.



IMG_9731These behemoths look like they could have tumbled in from elsewhere, but it turns out rain and wind carved them in place over millennia. The boulders are very big – one of the biggest weighs in near 700 tons, or about the same as a hundred actual elephants – and very old. Granite forms when magma cools underground, and this magma did its cooling about 1.5 billion years ago, perhaps before life had even ventured outside of the Earth’s oceans.

The rocks are also fun to climb.







Nearby sits Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, a stretch of the Black River that winds through outcroppings of tough rhyolite rock that’s around the same age as the elephant granite, worn smooth as carved marble to form a really beautiful maze of little water slides and wading pools.



IMG_9820Rhyolite forms from molten rock, too – it’s the same stuff as granite, but it cooled above ground and quickly instead of below and slowly, giving it that smooth texture. Missouri was active and full of lava back in the day, apparently.

An upstream reservoir ruptured in 2005, flooding the park, but its shut-ins seem unharmed, and the human-made buildings have been rebuilt better than ever. (No one was killed.) I love this place. I could wander between its rocks for hours. Watch your step, though, if you ever go; getting around the smooth rock takes a fair share of scooting and pulling.



IMG_9859Thanks for looking!


The Goatherder

_C1_8812I’ve been sitting on these photos for a while: This is Ella Kraft, a 10-year-old 4-Her and goat raiser in Fayetteville, feeding one of her animals as she prepared for this year’s Washington County Fair. Her grandmother, Wendy Walker, reached out to us at the newspaper back in June, saying one of Ella’s goats had just given birth to quadruplets, a remarkable feat among goat-kind.

I headed out to Walker’s house shortly after that with a notebook and a camera to see what raising goats is about. As I wrote in a story in Monday’s paper, Ella was caring but all business:

“They kind of grow on you,” Ella said with understatement one June afternoon as she tended to a small flock of bleating goats at her grandmother’s barn east of Fayetteville. She hugged and kissed the animals on their foreheads while feeding the little ones from a bottle as they wagged stubby tails and climbed over each other. Ella looked over the group with the cool and appraising air of one used to the commotion.




_C1_8823Devoting the time to raise and show animals as a kid these days seems more remarkable each year, even for someone as grounded as Ella. She’s one of thousands of people descending on the fairgrounds this week for the fair, which started today. Good luck, everybody!

Thanks for looking,