This article was originally published in our July/August 2021 issue.

On a sunny Friday afternoon this spring, I headed out to Rock Bridge Memorial State Park in search of a cave.

I’ve been here many times, but my favorite part about this park is that no matter how many times I visit, there’s always something new to discover. There are sinkholes, small bodies of water, and an array of hiking trails to explore.

One of the park’s primary draws is the Gans Creek Wild Area, one of only a few wild areas in the state. Missouri State Parks defines wild areas within its parks as areas of more than one thousand acres that show little evidence of human development, and the Gans Creek Wild Area offers a sense of seclusion despite being so close to one of Missouri’s largest urban centers. Currently the Canton Estates Development, a residential development that would build 113 houses on 65 acres on the borders of the park, is being reviewed for approval by the city of Columbia. The City Council was scheduled to consider the issue during its June 21 meeting.

The boardwalk trail is another draw for visitors, including avid hikers, beginners, and families. One of the main attractions is the natural rock bridge, hence the name of the park, and the Devil’s Icebox Trail. Underneath the rock bridge, my first stop after arriving at the park, it stays a cool fifty-six degrees year-round.

As I walked toward the rock bridge, I could hear water rushing after some heavy rain the week prior. At the entrance to the tunnel beneath the rock bridge, I was one of only three people there, which was somewhat unusual. Typically the area is full of people in awe of the natural beauty. As I walked through the entrance, I hopped on the dry rocks to make my way under the shaded area. A fatal flaw of mine, which I recently realized, is that I never wear the right shoes. I once accidentally wore heel boots on a spontaneous hike. On this day, I did a little better than that and wore slip-on Vans, but they still gave me little traction on the algae-covered rocks.

As I stood in the middle of the tunnel, I could only hear the waterfall in front of me that drowned out the outside noises of the world. To the left, there are tight crevices you can squeeze into if you’re curious to see what lies inside, but because of my claustrophobia, I opted out of that adventure. Instead, I turned around and hopped back on the boardwalk to search for Connor’s Cave.

I have been inside of this cave before. During my senior year of college at the University of Missouri, one of my journalism professors, Dr. Berkley Hudson, took our capstone class to this cave. In an effort to improve our writing, he gave each student a sense to pay attention to and write about. I had hearing, which was fortunate since it was difficult to see anything in the pitch-black cave, but my hearing was heightened. I wrote about the trickling water I could hear and the nervous laughter of my classmates. We turned on our phone flashlights, but the light was swallowed up by the vast darkness in the cave. On this sunny Friday, more than three years after that class, I had a hard time locating the cave again. I could only remember that it was down. I followed the boardwalk, up and then down, becoming a bit out of breath from a lazy winter, then located the entrance to the cave. It looked as dark as I remembered. Visitors are allowed to explore this cave at their own risk, but considering my shoe choice and lack of gear, I opted for a leisurely stroll on the boardwalk instead. I was just happy I found my way back to the cave, and maybe one day, I’ll write in the dark
there again.