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Where can you find sand dunes and cactus in Missouri?

Posted Wednesday, October 5, 2011, at 5:48 PM

It's not a trick question. Scott County is home to Sand Prairie Conservation Area, a tract of land filled with sand, sand, and more sand.

This part of the state might be nicknamed Swampeast Missouri, but Sand Prairie is anything but swampy.

The parking lot immediately opens into an alien landscape of sand dunes and depressions. Trudging from one sandy area to the next, I pictured myself standing in a golf course laid out by a demented designer who insisted on making everything into a sand trap.

On a windy day, the grasses and plants are jostled around, producing intricate patterns in the sand.

To the east, the sand dunes give way to a flat prairie covered in wild grasses and flowers.

The sand creates an environment where rainwater drains quickly, leaving everything high and dry. It's a quality habitat for prickly-pear cactus.

I've seen cactus at isolated locations in Missouri and Illinois, but Sand Prairie is covered by an impressive number of colonies in a variety of shapes and sizes. Look for them in the grassy area north of the parking lot, but watch your step!

The east side of the conservation area is fronted by County Road 335, a road that has no pavement or gravel -- just sand. Flanked by a long line of trees, this road gives the impression that it hasn't changed much since the days of the Model T.

Almost everything else has changed, though. It's hard to imagine, but this kind of dry landscape once covered a significant portion of the Missouri Bootheel. Just consider some of the historic placenames found in Swampeast Missouri: East Prairie (still exists), Little Prairie (now Caruthersville), Charles Prairie (now Charleston), and West Prairie (near Malden).

Sand Prairie Conservation Area might first appear as some kind of transplant from Arizona, but it's actually the vestige of a native Missouri landscape.

Driving directions

[Google map]

From Cape Girardeau, take Interstate 55 south to the Benton exit (#80). Turn left on Highway 77 and drive just over 2 miles to the intersection with County Road 333. Make a sharp left on CR 333 (paved) and go north for 2 miles. Look for the small parking area on the right.

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Ancient residuals, sandbars deposited by the Mississippi River drainage patterns over geologic time, since and with the retreat of the last glaciation of the continent. Well noted are the locales of these prairies in proximity to the river and the pre-drainage contours of our beloved Bootheel. Great blog, James, always good to see a place re-remembered and noted for another visit, regards, kkr

-- Posted by kkcaver47 on Wed, Oct 5, 2011, at 6:15 PM

As always, an interesting and informative blog! Hope to have an opportunity to visit the site next Spring.

-- Posted by electron312 on Wed, Oct 5, 2011, at 6:54 PM

The top two shots look like my back yard in S FL, except my sand is white.

Like kkcaver47 says, another place to visit on my list.

-- Posted by ksteinhoff on Thu, Oct 6, 2011, at 11:23 AM

Parts of the Birds Point New Madrid floodway still have a LOT of sand on them! If you want to go see them, I can tell you who to call. :)

-- Posted by MelissaMiller on Sat, Oct 8, 2011, at 2:49 PM

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The webmaster of seMissourian.com and its sister newspapers, James Baughn has lost track of the number of websites he manages. On the side, he maintains even more sites, including Bridgehunter.com, LandmarkHunter.com, TheCapeRock.com, and Humorix.
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