Where can you see Bald Knob Cross, Academic Hall dome, and the towers of the Emerson Bridge all from the same spot?
This isn't a trick question. It's possible to see all three, and more, from a vantage point at Cape LaCroix Bluffs Conservation Area in Scott County.
Sitting at the top of a bluff overlooking the lowlands south of Cape Girardeau, this conservation area offers the chance to see the town from a different angle.
The distinctive dome of Academic Hall rises above the trees in the distance.
Hirsch Tower (KFVS building) is visible behind the cable stays of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge.
To the northwest, the cement plant is another obvious landmark on the horizon.
The bend in the Mississippi River just south of town, including the much-discussed wastewater treatment plant, can also be glimpsed through the trees.
All of this pales in comparison, however, to the view of Bald Knob Cross.
According to Google Maps, the crow-flies distance to the cross is a whopping 23 miles. If you were a crow flying between the two places, it would require crossing the Mississippi River three times.
While the view by itself is worth the hike, the conservation area offers another attraction: It's the home to a pair of natural arches. Yes, that's right, Scott County has natural arches.
The limestone bluffs have eroded, leaving two large slots in the rock. It's possible to walk through the lower arch.
The broken line of bluffs continue in both directions, separating a high, forested ridge to the south from the flat lowlands.
Cape LaCroix Creek, part of the boundary between Cape Girardeau and Scott counties, originally flowed through these lowlands. The creek now empties into the Mississippi River almost 2.5 miles to the northwest, although the county boundary remains the same.
Springs at the base of the bluffs are home to the endangered Spring Cavefish. This is the only place where the fish species has been found in Missouri -- or west of the Mississippi River, for that matter.
Cape LaCroix Bluffs Conservation Area, including 63 acres, was acquired by the Missouri Department of Conservation in 2006 to protect the habitat of the Spring Cavefish.
The river view and natural arches are just a bonus.
From Cape Girardeau, take I-55 south to the Airport/Route AB exit (#91). Turn left and follow Route AB (Nash Road) east for 3.5 miles. Look for the big SEMO Port Authority sign and turn left on the first gravel road. Park at the small parking area.
Follow the trail signs, first crossing the railroad tracks and then turning left. The trail leads up a steep hill to the top of the ridge. The conservation area is located on the other side of the ridge, to the right (the land on the left is privately owned).
Continue past the high point on the trail and look for a spot where the trail turns left and begins a descent. To see the good stuff, turn right here and enter into the woods. If you go straight through the woods a short distance, you will come to the top of the bluffs and the scenic view.
From here, go left to circle around the rim of a small canyon that leads to the lowlands below. Make your way into the canyon and look for the natural arches on the right. The area offers plenty more nooks and crannies to explore, but this is the most interesting spot.