23 July 2011

Tavern Rock Cave (St. Albans, Missouri - 21 July 2011)

The History

Early in their journey up the Missouri River, the Lewis & Clark Expedition stopped at Tavern Rock Cave (also known as Tavern Cave). Several group members recorded the brief visit in their journals (23 May 1804): Gass says the cave is "a noted place among the French traders" and Clark observed that "many different immages are Painted on the Rock."

In his book, Missouri Caves in History and Legend, H. Dwight Weaver describes the changes that have altered the place: "The river once lapped at its banks just below the cave but has since retreated some two hundred feet, leaving its flow to deposit enough silt and sand to create a substantial amount of land between the cave and the river. Today, the cave is almost invisible to boatmen, except in winter, because of the cottonwoods that have since grown up on this new landmass" (38).

Above the cave rises a three hundred foot bluff (which the Expedition scaled, and which almost killed Lewis (see Clark's journal entry)). The bluff remains, although much rock was blasted away to allow railroad track to be laid above the cave.

Weaver notes that today "access to [the cave] is difficult because of landowner restrictions" (38). The cave is within St. Albans, described on its website as "a distinctive, carefully planned 5,400-acre residential community, with a luxurious country club, two championship golf courses and a wonderful lifestyle." Further, the railroad track is property of Missouri Central.

The Trek & Trace

Landowner restrictions aside, Tavern Rock Cave is not too hard to find. Annie and I parked in the St. Albans Post Office parking lot and walked northeast along the train tracks after crossing the short bridge over Tavern Creek. On the west side of the tracks runs the creek, which was pretty high and swampy because of this year's floods, though the heat on the tracks kept the bugs away during the walk, which is about 1.75 miles.

The cave sits just below RR mile marker 38, and the bluff rises just above it. The incline of the hill is steep and finding footing is very difficult because of loose rocks and gravel, though some kind soul tied a rope from the mile marker pole down to a secure rock toward the bottom of the hill, which helped the descent immensely.

Once down, follow the (extremely rough, hardly visible) path to the right to find the opening in the rock. As you can see in the photo, there is a large mound of dirt and rocks outside the mouth of the cave, which is the result, I assume, of the railroad's blasting. On our trip there was a few feet of water in the cave. I've seen pictures of the cave without water, though the picture is a few years old, so I'm not sure if it is always there or if it, too, is the result of the recent flooding.

Because all the foliage was in full growth, it was difficult to see the river from the cave. It's quite amazing, though, to stand there and imagine the cave the way the Lewis & Clark Expedition experienced it 200 years ago.
The trip was well worth it.

Finds & Spottings

Some unidentified bones on the tracks: several vertebrae and what appears to be a hip bone.

A dead turtle between the tracks, retreated into its shell and dried up.

A pile of old sun-bleached beer cans beside the tracks with bullet holes in them.

Several whitetail deer.


The tracks get extremely hot. Take plenty of water.

Dress to stay cool, but also keep in mind the terrain. We wore jeans and boots for fear of copperheads.

Use bug spray. While the heat kept mosquitos off the tracks for the hike, we got attacked once we were in the trees.

We didn't have an encounter, but I've read that the St. Albans security guards take their job pretty seriously. Keep the laws in mind, especially the RR laws.

Entries mentioning Tavern Rock Cave from the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

More reading on Tavern Rock Cave (article is a few years old).

Note: We took this trip before we came up with the idea for this blog. Future posts will have more/better photo documentation.