In Missouri, United States
Size:  (not chosen)
How Geocaching Works
Tower Rock is located near Altenburg, Missouri, and you can drive to within a tenth of a mile of this geological formation. You will not be able to reach the rock without the use of a geovessel or unless river depth at Chester, IL , is nearly zero.
You will be able to make your observations from the parking area that the coordinates will take you to. To reach Tower Rock parking, take Route A east from Uniontown to County Road 460 and follow this road south to the area.
Tower Rock, located in the middle of the Mississippi River near Altenburg, MO, is a small limestone island carved by the mighty river. Although no written history of Tower Rock exists to tell us exactly how it was formed, theories include: erosion due to tides and currents; earthquakes which are common along the New Madrid Fault and have resulted in the Mississippi flowing backwards; and a combination thereof. Its ¼ acre is covered by upland forest with stands of oak-pine and oak-hickory-beech. The mainland offers an amazing view of Tower Rock, although the island itself is inaccessible except by boat. Tower Rock has been designated as a National Historic Site and is owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation. It is located 100 miles south of St. Louis.
The stately Grand Tower Rock, which gave its name to the tiny river town across the river in Illinois, has stood for eons in the Mississippi River, instilling fear in pilots, Indians, and explorers. The 80-foot-tall block of galleon-shaped limestone, capped by scrub oak and cedar, was accessible by land for the first time in recorded history when the Mississippi reached an all-time low in 1988 when a drought that humbled the once mighty Mississippi sucked dry the strip of water that separates the island from the Missouri side of the river.
The channel that exists between Tower Rock and the Missouri side of the river creates dangerous whirlpools that have been the ruin of ships and barges over the centuries. The explorers Marquette and Joliet were warned by Indians of the “monster of the Mississippi” and they erected a cross on top of Tower Rock to protect them from the demons hiding at its base.
Missionary Father Marquette and fur trader/explorer Joliet explored the Mississippi River in 1673 by canoe for the French governor of Canada. A St. Louis newspaper says Marquette was writing of Tower Rock when his journal mentions a place that is dreaded by the savages, because they believe that a demon is there that devours travelers. “This is the demon: there is a small cove, surrounded by rocks 20 feet high, into which the whole current of the river rushes, and, being pushed back against the waters following it, and checked by an island near by, the current is compelled to pass through a narrow channel. This is not done without a violent struggle between all these waters, which force one another back, or without a great din, which inspires terror in the savages, who fear everything.”
LeSalle passed by in 1682, followed more than a decade later by three missionaries on their way to Quebec. In the writings of the missionaries, this is one of the most outstanding things they mention in the traveling up and down the river. Pirates did a lot of ravaging, looting and killing at the base of Tower Rock because keelboat passengers had to get out and walk because of the rapids there and they would get attacked and robbed.
In Merriwether Lewis’s journal entries for November 26 and 26, 1803, he details his observations about Tower Rock. He observed that the large isolated mass of rock stood in tehr iver close to the western shore, and when the Mississippi was at a low stage, it was possible to pass near to Tower Rock as the party did that evening when it rounded the rock close on the east side on their way to make camp immediately above. The party pulled ashore on the western side just upstream from the famous Mississippi River landmark. Lewis reported that the watermen of the Mississippi regarded Grand Tower in much the same way that sailors did the tropic or “equanoxial” line. The tradition was that rivermen who had never passed Grand Tower before were compelled to either furnish spirits to drink or be dunked. Lewis rowed to the base of the rock, where he got out and climbed to the top.
In 1839, John Davis and Penelope Pike were married on the rock. The wedding party of 10 was departing when their boat was caught in a whirlpool. Only a slave who clung to the boat survived.
Tower Rock originally included several pinnacles and rock formations sticking up around it, and because the formations presented formidable obstacles to river traffic, many of them were blasted away in a quarrying operation in the mid-1800’s. According to several written histories, President Ulysses S. Grant himself stepped in to save the rock in 1871. Grant had gone up and down the river here during the civil War, and he was familiar with the rock. When they called his attention to the fact that they intended to blast it away, he issued a presidential decree to save it for public use.
Even today, riverboat pilots fear Tower Rock. A towboat pilot is quoted as saying that it’s really too dangerous to “mess with” when the river’s up because of the whirlpool caused by the force of the water hitting the rock and shooting behind it.
The general rule of thumb for access to the rock by foot is 0.0’ on the Chester, IL, river gage or 7.0’ on the Cape Girardeau, MO, river gage. However, upstream water releases by the Corps of Engineers to maintain navigation depth can change the river level at the rock by several feet within a few hours.
To claim credit for this earth cache, email the answers to the following questions through our Geocaching.com profile:
1. What is the elevation of the parking area nearest the posted coordinates?
2. Describe the geological features of the area between the parking and Tower Rock.
3. Would you be willing to approach Tower Rock by water? By land at low water level?
4. Theorize as to whether you believe Tower Rock was formed by erosion or by an earthquake and explain what you see that makes you believe so. 5. If possible, please include a photo of your GPSr with Tower Rock in the background.
[Note the driving directions above.]
Last Updated: on 3/30/2013 7:54:18 PM Pacific Daylight Time (2:54 AM GMT)
Coordinates are in the WGS84 datum