Whenever I think of the state of Missouri, my first thought is lush green forests with natural bridges, charming streams, and European castles. I mean, where else would you go to find castle ruins and carriage houses…
Though I jest, it is indeed true that one can pay a visit to an old European castle, as well as caves and natural bridges that are typical of what is known as karst topography in the forests of central Missouri. Along the Niangua arm of Lake of the Ozarks lies Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Its name is said to translate to ‘laughing water’ in the Osage language; long before it was a state park, the area was home to several Native American tribes, including the Osage. Today, the state park covers just over 3000 acres and has 12 miles of hiking trails to explore. It also offers up some really pretty vista points from which to view the meandering Lake of the Ozarks. And yes, you may see the ruins of an old castle without needing a passport here at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.
The Ozarks are a scenic highland region spanning across five states, with the most acreage located within southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, marked by beautiful hardwood forests and pristine lakes. The landscape was formed by volcanic eruptions that deposited igneous rocks such as granite, and over time, sedimentary formations such as as limestone, shale, and dolomite were deposited. As such, the region is also dominated by karst topography, a type of landform that is created when limestone and dolomite are chemically worn away by water. This resulted in the over 300 caves found within the Ozarks as well as many water-filled springs. The Ha Ha Tonka spring is a result of this development, and is the twelfth largest natural spring in Missouri. The natural bridge was formed as a result of this erosion. Natural Bridge is 70 feet wide with a span of 60 feet. There is a path that goes underneath the bridge. On our visit to Ha Ha Tonka State Park following Jacob’s graduation from basic training, we walked the trail under the bridge, and admired the cool geology, being careful to avoid the muddier spots as we were in our dress shoes.
But perhaps the most fascinating part of the trip was the castle. The ruins of a European-style stone castle are protected by the state park. In the early 1900s, Robert Snyder, a businessman from Kansas City who had amassed a fortune from his investments in real estate, banking, and gas and oil, was struck by the land surrounding Ha Ha Tonka Spring. He purchased 2500 acres in 1904 and set about building a retreat for his family. He brought in stonemasons from Scotland to quarry and build the massive structure. Snyder sadly never did get to see his dream accomplished. He died in 1906 as a result of Missouri’s first automobile accident, and the castle project sat unfinished for over 15 years. In 1922, construction was finally completed by his sons, however, financial troubles and eventually a fire would set the castle to ruins. Today, it stands as a legacy of Mr. Snyder’s big dreams and an unexpected landmark in the middle of Missouri.
We did not get to explore everything that Ha Ha Tonka had to offer. As the day went on, it was time to head out to dinner before returning Jacob to the base. But it was a fun excursion in a place where beautiful geology and history that is the stuff of local lore meet, and a good place to share an adventure.
For more information, check out:
Missouri State Parks
Jennifer.sieg. “Natural History.” Missouri State Parks, 14 July 2017, https://mostateparks.com/page/69411/natural-history.