I like to spend at least one day hiking every weekend. I find that this does two things: It keeps me in shape, and it keeps me sane. No matter what kind of day I’m having, if I spend a couple hours hiking through the woods, I feel better. Being in nature puts everything in perspective.
Which brings me to Hawn State Park. A scientist at my work told me about Hawn because he likes to go fishing there. I don’t fish (even though I’d like to), but I was intrigued by his description of the park. I looked it up and saw pictures of waterfalls. “Sold,” I thought.
Hawn is about 60 miles south of St. Louis by car. It’s pretty easy to get to unless you trust your GPS more than your sign reading abilities. Google Maps told me to turn down a gravel road, even though I saw a sign pointing to Hawn in the other direction. I followed Google and ended up backroading into a shallow creek. But I got out okay, so all’s well that ends well.
Hawn has a few trails. I hiked a portion of “Whispering Pines,” one that looks out over bluffs, and then I hiked all of “Pickle Creek,” one that’s close to the waterfalls. Both were beautiful.
My favorite trail was Pickle Creek. It’s more crowded than Whispering Pines because it’s flatter and closer to the waterfalls, but you can still find isolated stretches. At one point, I stopped and took off my shoes and put my feet in the water. It was ice cold but it felt good after hours of hiking.
After Hawn, I was starving so I decided to make a detour to Ste. Geneviève. It’s about 30 minutes east of Hawn next to the Mississippi River. I wasn’t sure how much would be open because it was Sunday, but I decided to risk it.
I was pleasantly surprised. Not only is (most) everything open in Ste. Geneviève on Sunday, it’s bustling–at least by small town standards. It was a beautiful day and shop owners had their doors wide open to let the spring air in. People are warm and friendly and the town oozes charm.
I asked one shop owner for a lunch recommendation and she told me to go to Stella and Me Café on Main Street. The café is in an old shack, so when you walk in you feel a little like you’re in someone’s dining room.
Stella and Me was so cute that it hurt. The young girl who took my order convinced me to order the salted caramel gooey butter cake. “The owner bakes me a whole one of these for my birthday,” she told me. I need to become better friends with the owner because that cake was AMAZING. “Holy shit,” I said to no one after I took my first bite. The salted caramel, sweet gooey butter cake, crunchy pretzels, and dark chocolate were heavenly and reminded me of the desserts I grew up eating.
After lunch, I walked around downtown. I went into an old fashioned ice cream parlor called Sara’s and it felt a little like stepping back in time. The whole town has that same vibe. There are old stately mansions next door to wooden shacks, white picket fences, and people sitting out on verandas. I could get used to the pace of life in Ste. Geneviève.
Right before I left to drive back to St. Louis, I stopped by the Mississippi River. Usually there’s a ferry that takes you across the river to Illinois, but it wasn’t running. “Be careful,” the woman at the tourism office told me. “It’s high tide.”
I parked my car next to the landing and walked down by the water. I want to come back sometime at sunset because I bet it’s beautiful. Being there made me think of Mark Twain. I imagined him floating down the river on a steamboat.
So anyway. I guess there are a couple morals to this story: One, never turn down an unmarked gravel road against your own instincts. Two, always take detours. I’m so glad that I decided to spend the afternoon in Ste. Geneviève. It was peaceful and quaint and reminded me that it’s important to slow down.
Here’s a song that I listened to on the drive back from Ste. Geneviève. It’s good for long rounds of car karaoke, impromptu road trips, or, you know, whenever.