Vilander Bluff Natural Area
Points of Interest:
- See 400+ year old red cedars hanging tenaciously to life on rock bluffs.
- Look down or up at cliffs 200 feet tall along the Meramec River.
- Enjoy a float and take in some fishing and birding along a scenic stretch of the Meramec.
Natural Features Description:
The tall cliffs forming Vilander Bluff are carved from Ordovician period dolomite of the Gasconade formation primarily. Eons of stream down cutting by the Meramec and uplift of the Salem Plateau created the cliffs we see here today. On the bluff top growing from fissures in the rock and shallow soils is a stand of ancient red cedars. Prior to Euro-American settlement eastern red cedars were primarily confined to habitats such as found here – along cliffs. Red cedar is very fire intolerant as a seedling and sapling. The widespread wildfires ignited by Native Americans and occasional lightning strikes that occurred prior to Missouri statehood kept red cedars confined to fire-protected landscape positions that were still dry enough for red cedars to maintain a competitive edge over hardwood species.
This are supports an exceptionally rich lichen flora with 70 lichen species documented. Lichens, a symbiotic organism part fungus and part algae, grow slowly under the conditions on Vilander Bluff. One species of lichen, Flavoparmelia rutidota, grows on the old-growth junipers along the bluff. This lichen species is at the northeastern most point of its range and is more typically found in Texas and Mexico.
In the bottomland forests along the Meramec River the rare cerulean warbler has been documented. Other birds to keep on the lookout for along the Meramec include the kingfisher, great blue heron, wood duck, red-shouldered hawk, northern rough-winged swallow, and yellow-throated warbler. Underwater, this stretch of the Meramec supports mussel species, including the spectaclecase, a species of conservation concern. The spectaclecase occurs in large rivers and is more of a habitat-specialist often occurring on outside river bends below bluff lines, like here at Vilander Bluff. Freshwater mussels have a fascinating lifecycle, relying on specific host fish for their larvae to use during development into adults. To date the fish host species for the spectaclecase is unknown. Unfortunately, freshwater mussels are disappearing from Missouri and North America at an alarming rate due to water quality and stream habitat degradation.
This natural area is within Onondaga Cave State Park. From Bourbon, travel southeast on Highway N for about 9 miles. Then turn left (north) and head north on Thickety Ford Road for 1.75 miles. Here the gravel road makes a sharp left (northwest) turn. Make this turn and once you get to the woods line on your left (west), pull off the road. From here the natural area lies west. Alternatively you could put a canoe in at the Campbell Bridge Access on Highway N and float downstream past Vilander Bluff. The closest take out is the access at Blue Springs Creek Conservation Area on Thickety Ford Road. This would be a 5 mile float. Fishing is permitted. A map and compass are recommended for exploration.
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