Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, a 2,400-acre park that includes two miles of the East Fork of the Black River in southeast Missouri, was named for the section of river where the churning water is “shut in” by enormous upended domino-like slabs of volcanic rock. Since the park opened in 1955, it’s been one of the state’s most popular state parks, drawing thousands of visitors every year who come to swim, climb on the rocks and camp.
The formation is a geologic wonder, begun some 1.4 billion years ago when volcanic eruptions created the hard rhyolite bedrock. Slowly, over the years, water eroded cracks in the stone into narrow channels, which sand and gravel — carried by the water — wore steadily deeper, creating canyon-like gorges, thus shaping the rocks into potholes, plunge pools below small waterfalls and chutes that made exhilarating, natural water-slides.
There’s no better place to spend a hot summer day. When my husband, Guy, and I were kids, our families came here often, as we have continued to do ever since.
We and others who love it were horrified to learn, on a December morning in 2005, that the night before there had been a “breach” in the wall of the Taum Sauk Reservoir (a hydroelectric power station atop nearby Profitt Mountain). More than 1.3 billion gallons of water had blasted down the mountain, ripping up trees, scouring the landscape, filling the shut-ins with boulders, gravel and debris — annihilating in seconds what nature had taken millions of years to create. The disaster destroyed park facilities and the campground, and slammed the park superintendent’s house off its foundation and broke it apart. Fortunately, no one in the house was seriously hurt and the campground was empty.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources immediately set about repairing the damage, but the park was closed for the next three and a half years. The day-use area was reopened in June 2009. In May, 2010, a “grand reopening,” featured an address by Gov. Nixon, a ceremonial tree planting, ribbon cutting for the magnificent new Black River Center and other ceremonies.
A fine new campground with 70 sites (basic, electric, and sewer/electric/water hookups) has been built in the Groggins Mountain area of the park, several miles from the destroyed original campground. The new facility includes a store, playground and amphitheater.
For information about Missouri’s state parks, call 877-422-6766 or visit www.mostateparks.com.