Tag Archives: walking

Two applications that are making me even more outdoors-mad than I am already!

So far in the St. Louis, MO area we’ve had some really nice weather in April which is an intoxicating antidote to the awful winter we just endured. I’ve been finding it very difficult to stay indoors to actually do any work (except in the garden of course!). As if I needed any more motivation to get outside, I’ve recently tried out a couple of applications that really help pump my enthusiasm.

The first is one that a lot of people have heard of but I only discovered it last week. It’s called MapMyRide.com and since I like to hike, ride my bike, kayak and explore the outdoors, there are a lot of things I can do with this app. On my computer, I can plan out a route and then send it to my smartphone. I can use the smartphone app to record an excursion then look at the map later on my computer. Why would I want to do this? I can look at the map in satellite, road map or topo map view and see if there is anything interesting I missed that I might be able to find on a return visit. Some features are only going to be visible on one of these views so to be able to toggle back and forth is a great help. If I want to share my adventure with others I can take screen shots of the maps to make them into a graphic. Topo maps sometimes show old roads and old place names and can be a help when researching an area. For people who like to explore old roads such as Route 66, the satellite view is a great way to find things that are very difficult to see from ground level. For example, this old cut-off piece of Route 66 had to be shown to me by a guide and I didn’t remember how to get there again. Now I think I’ve found it with the satellite map and will be back to see if I’m right.

What if you are in an unfamiliar area and want to find a bike trail? Or you just want to find some new ones in your own area? You can set the app to show bike trails and zoom out to move along your route. When you see some green lines, zoom in to see details about a trail! It doesn’t seem to have a feature for finding walking trails only but most bike trails are also ok for walkers to use so it’s a good start. When you record your workouts, MapMyRide also tracks the calories burned for you and you can enter in your meals to use it as a calorie counter. And all of these features are in the FREE version.

The combination of MapMyRide and the weather had me so amped up last week that I walked 12 miles and rode 5.35 miles on my bike in six days. That’s not a lot for some people but it is for me. I’ve also started logging my miles on another web site also called 100 Missouri Miles, where the Governor and First Lady challenge you to match their active miles. It includes running, walking, hiking, geocaching, rolling, cycling, paddling, riding, swimming and skating. Missouri residents can use this site to motivate themselves to keep up with other active people. You also get badges when you reach certain goals. There are also features for finding interesting trails and events. A great way to enjoy the “Best Trails State” in America!

Fit and Healthy on Route 66 – Fort Bellefontaine County Park


Fort Bellefontaine County Park on the banks of the Missouri River in North St. Louis County is one of my all-time favorite places for a hike. It’s more than just beautiful – it’s exciting and mysterious. History buffs will get a thrill here because in 1805 it was established as the first United States military fort west of the Mississippi and is the spot where the Lewis and Clark expedition camped on their first night heading west and on their last night of the return trip. The fort also played a role in the war of 1812 and was a trading post where Spanish, French and American traders did business with Native American tribes. The military moved to Jefferson Barracks in what is now South St. Louis County in 1826 and the Fort Bellefontaine site was later taken over by the City of St. Louis who established Bellefontaine Farms, later the Missouri Hills Home for Boys, on this spot. In the 1930s, there was a public beach here and the WPA built a Grand Staircase down the river bluff along with other stone structures intended to draw visitors to the area. The remains are quite a sight. At the top of the Grand Staircase a cannon is displayed. This bugs me because it gives the impression to the uninformed that the Grand Staircase is actually the fort, but unfortunately there are no remains of the fort to be seen. There is one small building on the site believed to be built from old fort foundations, but as far as I know all the other stone work you see here is from the 1930s.

I grew up in North St. Louis County and did not know of the existence of this place until the time of my first visit in 1990. Although the park was acquired by St. Louis County in 1986, as far as I know the only way to visit it in 1990 was by canoe – this is what I was told by my friend Rich, a fellow member of the St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley Outdoor Club. He heard about it from the faculty mentor of our group, who was an avid canoeist and outdoorsman and knew about all kinds of interesting places to explore. Rich proposed that the two of us put a canoe in where Highway 367 meets the Missouri River, stop off to see the Grand Staircase, continue to the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and cross the Mississippi over to the Illinois side to visit the spot where Lewis and Clark began their trek to the Louisiana Territory and have a picnic lunch. Then we would continue down the Mississippi to pass under the Chain of Rocks Bridge and over the Chain of Rocks falls and take out at North Riverfront Park where we would leave a shuttle car. Canoeing or kayaking the Chain of Rocks falls is not something to be taken lightly even by very experienced paddlers. Fatal accidents are possible.



Well how could I say no to an action-packed itinerary like that? March 2, 1990 had fine weather for such an adventure and all went smoothly. I remember the date because it was one of the most exciting of my life! In the present day, the Missouri River shoreline has been cleared of brush immediately in front of the Grand Staircase but in 1990 that was not the case. After pulling the canoe up on the bank we had to bushwhack through the brush to get to the staircase – not that difficult to do in late winter when there were no leaves on the branches – it was fairly easy to see where to go. The first look at the Grand Staircase was not something to be forgotten and it was many more times as exciting as it might have been because we were not sure we were supposed to be there. We dared to climb the staircase to the top of the bluff and we saw some of the Missouri Hills Home for Boys Buildings. Most were in good repair but I remember one that was more of a moss-covered ruin and we watched snowmelt dripping from it in the bright sunshine with delight at the beauty of the architecture. A nearby stone gazebo still had some of the wood roof structure in place at that time.

I won’t go into detail about the rest of our awesome day except to mention that back in 1990, another thing that was very difficult to see except from a boat was the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Now there are two public areas – Edward “Ted” and Pat Jones-Confluence Point State Park and Columbia Bottom Conservation Area – that give you access but at the time this area was private farmland.

In the second half of the 1990s, word began to get around that this was a park you could actually go to officially and it became a regular hiking spot for my family and I.



To visit the park, take the Bypass 66 Route westward from the Chain of Rocks Bridge and make a right on Bellefontaine Road and continue until it dead ends. There is a guard gate. Stop there and an attendant will write down your license number, get your name and issue you a parking pass. They usually know why you are there but if they ask just explain that you want to hike. There are a couple of parking spots you can choose, I like the one near the top of the bluff at the Grand Staircase. You will discover that there is a lot more to see than the Grand Staircase. At the base of the bluff is a hiking trail. If you take it to the left, you will follow the Missouri River upstream for a bit until you reach the spot where Coldwater Creek terminates in the Missouri River. Along this segment of the trail are a number of interesting ruins and information signs.

To see the end of Coldwater Creek is especially interesting to me because the creek is a major personal landmark. Where I grew up in Florissant, the creek passed close to our house and some of the best times of my childhood were spent on a wooded trail that ran parallel to the creek and linked two parks and a cemetery. It was not an official trail – the local kids wore it through there! My neighborhood friends and I had what we called our “hideout” which we used to furnish with rugs, drapery and a makeup table (!!??) in a tangle of small trees (which is still there!) near the creek in back of St. Ferdinand Cemetery. Sadly the trail is overgrown now and it’s hard to even see where it might have been, testament to the fact that kids don’t play there any more. Perhaps that’s for the best though. Creeks that function as storm drains are not really safe places for kids and Coldwater Creek, which originates near Lambert Airport, besides being known a huge source of fun for many North County kids, is also notorious for possibly being contaminated with toxic waste and there is suspicion that those who spent time in it or near it might be prone to diseases in adulthood.

The creek is certainly not devoid of life. I don’t know if it contains fish, but there were crawdads in it when I was young (which I used to try to catch of course with little success) and there are still crawdads in it now. It also supports fresh water clams. On a recent Fort Bellefontaine hike we found clam shells of all sizes including some almost as big as my hand! Small frogs are present and we saw evidence of predatory birds feeding on critters – large heron footprints in the mud and collections of excreted crawdad parts!



The trail follows the creek upstream where eventually you can see a very interesting ruin of a lodge which is starting to fall into the creek due to bank erosion. Shortly after this ruin the trail turns uphill. This is the only part of the trail that is at all challenging. After the short climb, the trail forks off. To the right it skirts a pond in an open grassy area. This part of the trail is new. If you take the trail left, this is the route we used to take when we first started hiking here. It takes you past a police dog cemetery and a police dog training area. You don’t see that every day!

Whichever fork you take around the pond, you will be led back to a trailhead at one of the main roads that passes through the youth facility. Follow one of those roads back to the bluff top and you’ll be back at the parking spot. There is a shorter segment of trail on the right, which I’ve only actually been on one time. On the way out, stop at the guard shack and turn in your parking pass and leave with great memories of a really unique place!

For more information:

Fit and Healthy on Route 66: Carondelet Park

I belong to a Meetup group called Let’s Hike and recently we went for a group walk at Carondelet Park, the third largest park in the City of St. Louis. The Village of Carondelet was founded in 1767 and was incorporated into the city of St. Louis in 1870. Carondelet Park was dedicated on July 4, 1876. To get to the Park from Route 66 if you are traveling East to West, take Gravois through the South St. Louis area. Shortly after turning onto Chippewa, make a left turn on Morganford then another left on Holly Hills Blvd. On the way you’ll pass through the Bevo neighborhood with the famous and historic Bevo Mill and across the street from the park you’ll see some really unique and beautiful homes. This Route will take you a little bit off of Route 66 but you’ll get a look at some really authentic living neighborhoods that you won’t see anywhere else.

The most iconic feature in Carondelet Park is the Boathouse overlooking a popular fishing lake. There is another lake plus interesting walls and other stone constructions here and there. There are recreational amenities such as horseshoe pits, ball fields, a playground and nicely paved trail for pedestrians and cyclists circles all. It took our group one hour to circle the park twice on foot. Apparently this is also a great spot for birdwatching – check out these photos! If you walk toward the recreation center on the East side of the park and cross the railroad tracks, you will see a very attractive bridge to the north.

Carondelet Park is being linked to the Great Rivers Greenway system via the new River des Peres: Carondelet Connector. This should be complete very soon and when it’s done you’ll be able to get on your bike at Carondelet Park and take the the River Des Peres Greenway all the way to Route 66 at the intersection of Watson Road and River des Peres Blvd. – the round trip would be formidable but doable for experienced riders.

There are plans for improvements at Carondelet Park that sound very interesting, including something very intriguing to me personally, bird habitat development. Get news about what’s going on the park from the Friends of Carondelet Park Facebook page.

Fit and Healthy on Route 66 – Laumeier Sculpture Park

Laumeier Sculpture Park

Laumeier Sculpture Park is located just off the Watson Road alignment of Route 66 in South St. Louis County. If you’re heading west, make a right turn on Geyer Road just before you reach Interstate 270 and you’ll see the park entrance shortly. If you’re looking for a place to pull of the road for a little while for a walk or a picnic, this park is ideal.

You can stroll on nature trails and open grassy areas while viewing a variety of outdoor sculpture. Bring the kids, because there are many art works that are meant to be climbed on or interacted with in some way, some designed specifically for younger visitors. Also bring your dogs – there is a series of six sculptures that is designed partly to make you think about the relationship between dogs and humans, and partly to provide an interactive activity area for dogs. There are even special sights and sounds to appeal to canine senses!

On a recent visit I spent about an hour and a half exploring the park on foot at a fairly leisurely pace and saw many but not all of the sculptures. I think Route 66 fans, who are usually partial to ruins, will especially enjoy “Pool Complex: Orchard Valley” by Mary Miss. This site-specific work consists of wood add-ons surrounding the ruins of a large swimming pool which incorporates the type of regional native rock work that Missouri Route 66 aficionados are so familiar with. See a short video about the work here. There is also a historic spring house in the park which is an unaltered example of the same type of beautiful stone construction.

See more of my photos of the park in this album.