Conor Watkins' Ozark Mountain Experience

Field Trip Guide to the
Geology, Scenery, And History of The Salem Plateau of the Ozarks
–In The Buckhorn, Dixon, and Rolla Areas
For The Fall 2003 MVOR hosted by MSM Spelunkers at Shriners Club, Buckhorn, MO - Oct 3-5, 2003
By Conor Watkins, University of Missouri - Rolla

A scenic view of the "Devil's Elbow" of the Big Piney as seen from the
bluffs overlooking the river.  (See stop 3)

Road Log - Sites Visited:

Clifty Creek Natural Arch
Portuguese Point
Boiling Spring On The Gasconade

Devil's Elbow Area
Conical and Slaughter Sinkholes
Vichy Road Filled Sinks
Mill Creek And Kaintuck Hollow
Lane Spring and Blossom Rock

We will start out at the Shriner’s Club.  I have not yet set a time for departure but would like to leave by 8:30 or 9:00 a.m., as there is a lot to see around the Ozarks and this is just one small sampling of the area.  There will be several opportunities to stop for gas and food on the way but it might be best to gas up at the very beginning as this trip involves a lot of driving.  We can pick up something quick at a gas station or fast food place on our way through Waynesville and St. Robert.  For lunch, we can also stop in Rolla if we are that far by then.  We can be flexible and stop to eat, go to the restroom, buy gas, etc. if needed.  The trip will last as long as we want it to and need visit all the places on the road log.  We can always decide to skip one or more stops if time runs low and alternate directions will be given between stops if changes are made.  A basic map of our trip is included below.  This trip will cover just a tiny sampling of the sights composing the Ozarks so remember that scenery equally or more beautiful is present throughout the entire region.  I hope you will enjoy your short stay in the Ozarks as much as I have enjoyed going to school and living in the area for the past 5+ years.

A Map of the field trip area.  (Click on map for larger image)

Introduction – A Basic Introduction To Ozark Geology

Are the Ozarks really mountains?  This question is asked repeatedly by many, especially those who have seen the much larger mountains in the western and eastern United States.  The Ozarks are not mountains in the typical sense.  The mountains in the west are either folded upward or uplifted along faults.  Since Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, and Oklahoma are relatively flat, especially in the portions adjacent to Missouri, the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas represent a localized area of higher topographic relief. The Ozarks are really a plateau that has been uplifted and then dissected by streams eroding and down cutting through the uplifted area.  There are plenty of folds and faults in the Ozarks but they are small when compared to the same features elsewhere in the country.

The rolling hills of the Ozarks are erosional features created by the headward
erosion of streams in an uplifted plateau.  (Picture take along Skyline Drive in
the Mark Twain National Forest between Van Buren, MO and Big Spring.)

The Ozarks have been uplifted and eroded in several episodes in the past several hundred million years.  Many of the caves presently exposed in the Ozarks are relict from these erosional episodes.  It is theorized by some that the clays seen in caves today were deposited during periods when the terrain was low and worn down to near sea level.  During these times, water moved much slower through the subsurface, allowing fine clays to settle out in the caves.  Several other theories compete with this idea and all have portions that could easily apply to the formation and filling of Ozarkian Caves.

The rock formations of the Ozarks are dominated by dolomites, a type of magnesium carbonate.  The dolomites of the Ozarks or notorious for containing inclusions of chert, a hard flint like rock, which complicate quarrying and construction projects using rock from the area.  Other formations consisting of sandstone, shales, and limestones are present throughout the plateau.

The exact extent of the Ozarks has been defined by many individuals and remains a contentious issue, as many disagree as to where the Ozarks begin and end.  Some claim that the Ozarks extend from Missouri and Arkansas into parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Illinois.  Tom Beveridge, a past Missouri State Geologist and Department Head in Geological Engineering at UM-Rolla always believed the Ozarks to more limited in extent.  He believed that the Ozarks were confined to the Salem Plateau and did not extend into the southwest portion of the state known as the Springfield Plateau.  The Springfield Plateau is higher in many places than the Salem Plateau but is not nearly as dissected and lacks the characteristic steep ridges and valleys.  He defines this flatter area he as the Western Plains of Missouri.  This area contains Springfield, Joplin, Carthage, and Osceola.  As one drives south from Springfield towards Branson, they leave the flatter Springfield Plateau and enter the more rugged Salem Plateau.  Beveridge’s Ozark boundaries extend through parts of Missouri, Arkansas, and a very small portion of southern Illinois.

No matter how the Ozarks are defined, our field trip will take place completely within the Ozarks.  The formations seen on the field trip will include the Ordovician Gasconade dolomite, Roubidoux sandstone/dolomite, and the Jefferson City-Cotter dolomite.  Some more exotic Pennsylvanian formations will be seen as sink fillings.  The Gasconade formation weathers to a grey color and tends to form the large cliffs seen near the larger streams of the Ozarks.  This formation is capped by the Roubidoux formation, a reddish sandstone and dolomite mixture that serves to protect the underlying Gasconade dolomite.  The Jefferson City-Cotter formation is present on top of the Roubidoux formation.  This formation consists of dolomite with shale and chert impurities.  The majority of the features seen will be in the Gasconade dolomite, a rock formation that is home to many caves and springs.

Starting Point: Shriners Club, Buckhorn, MO

This homorus sign was present by the MVOR registration booth at the
entrance to the Shriners Club in Buckhorn, MO.

Let us begin the trip as we head to Clifty Creek, Stop 1

Or, click on a selection in the main index below.

Main Index

Stop 1: Clifty Creek

Stop 2: Boiling Spring On
The Gasconade

Stop 3: The Devil's Elbow Area

Stop 4: Conical And Slaughter Sinks

Stop 5: The Vichy Road Filled Sinks

Stop 6: Mill Creek And Kaintuck Hollow

Stop 7: Lane Spring And Blossom Rock


Beveridge, Thomas R. and Vineyard, Jerry D., 1990, “Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri,” 2nd Edition, p. 183, 164, 196, 249, 342, 345, 346, 347

Bretz, J Harlen, 1956, "Caves of Missouri", published by the Missouri Geological Survey

Bretz, J Harlen, 1965, “Geomorphic History of The Ozarks of Missouri”, published by the Missouri Geological Survey

Bretz, J Harlen, 1950, “Origin of The Filled Sink-structures And Circle Deposits of Missouri: Geological Society of America - Bulletin v. 61” p. 789-834

Devil’s Elbow Online, Feb 22, 2004, <>

Dillon, Robert, 1999,  “Stability of Paleosinks And Karstic Carbonates In The Southern Fire Clay Mining District of Missouri”

Doll, Warwick Lewis, 1938, "Hydrography of the Larger Springs of the Ozark Region of Missouri"

Missouri Department of Conservation, "Clifty Creek Natural Area", Feb 22, 2004, <>

Missouri Miner Newspaper, March 29, 1984, "TJ Sinkhole Could Cause Geo-puckering"

Missouri Resources Magazine, Fall 1996 - Vol 13, No 3, "Still a Kick" (Retracing old Route 66 through Missouri)

Montanez, Isabel P., Gregg, Jay M., Shelton, Kevin L., and He, Zhenhao, 1997, “Basin-Wide Diagenetic Patterns: Integrated Petrologic, Geochemical, And Hydrologic Considerations – Society for Sedimentary Geology Special Publication No. 57”, article: “Sedimentary Facies Control of Fluid Flow And Mineralization in Cambro-Ordovician Strata, Southern Missouri”, p. 81-99

Pioneer Forest, "Our Natural Areas And Forest Reserves", Feb 22, 2004, <>

Point Steakhouse, The, "The Pointe - A Steakhouse", Feb 22, 2004, <>

Pulaski County, Missouri Tourism Bureau, "Historic Auto Tours in Missouri's Pulaski County: Route 66", Feb 22, 2004 <>

Rock Eddy Bluff Farm, "Local Restaurants Near Rock Eddy Bluff Farm, an Ozark Getaway", Feb 22, 2004, <>

Rolla Herald, The, "Railroad to Fort Leonard Wood is Completed", 5-15-1941, p. 6

Route 66: Area 51 USA TOURS, 1997-2001, MISSOURI, Feb 22, 2004, <>

Spreng, Alfred C. & Proctor, Paul Dean, 1993, 2nd Ed, “Guidebook To The Geology of The Waynesville, Rolla, And St. James Areas, Missouri”

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1932, "Gasconade river, Mo.; letter from the Secretary of War transmitting report from the chief of engineers on the Gasconade river, Mo., covering navigation, flood control, power development, and irrigation"

U.S. Geological Survey, 2000, "Geohydrology and Water Quality at Shanghai Spring and Solid-Waste Management Units at the Fort Leonard Wood Military Reservation, Missouri, 1995-98, Water Resources Investigations Report 00-4178"

Woodalls Camping And RVing, "Missouri", Feb 22, 2004, <>

WPA Guide To Missouri, The, "Route 66: Across 1930's Missouri", Feb 22, 2004, <>

Personal Converstions & E-mails:

Cotita, Casey and others at UMR Physical Facilities: They provided pictures and information on the design of TJ Hall and the Vichy Rd. Filled Sink.

Lloyd, Melody of the UMR Archives ( She provided excellent pictures of the construction of Thomas Jefferson Hall.

Murphy, Jim (Director of UMR Residential Life and Student Services): A converstion with him on the construction of Thomas Jefferson Hall provided information about the Vichy Rd. Filled Sinks

Rupert, Gerald (UMR Professor Emeritus): He had some information on the filled sinks of the Missouri Ozarks.

Siemens, Mike (Geologist, Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources: GSRAD): He provided much information on filled sinks including some pictures.

Spreng, Alfred C. (UMR Professor Emeritus): He had much to share on filled sinks and other geologic features in the Ozarks.

MOCAVES Listserve: Users of this list have been valuable in collecting information on geology in Missouri throughout the years.

Vineyard, Jerry D. - Retired Deputy State Geologist of Missouri: Jerry is an invaluble resource on almost anything related to Missouri Geology.

(C) 2004 by Conor Watkins