Most Saturdays, we host a few dozen “gentle riders” on the Esotouric tour bus, revealing the lost lore of Los Angeles through visits to landmarks both notable and obscure. Because most of our passengers are Southland locals, we don’t offer tours during the busy Christmas season, which gives us the opportunity to play tourist ourselves. Mid-December found us on a breakneck architecture-rich road trip along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Join us, do, for a virtual journey (map) from St. Louis to Louisville ahead of the brutal December storms.

On a freezing December afternoon with the sun low over southeast Missouri, we trekked with our friend Greg through a stark oak and maple forest, on a roundabout route to a weird natural phenomenon called Ball Mill Resurgence.

The ground in this part of the country contains karst formations and sinkholes, and when the circumstances are just right, things get interesting. Beneath the resurgence flows an underground stream. During the wet season, the stream rises up into the sunken bowl of the resurgence and churns the stones inside like a giant rock polisher. But on a dry day like today, we could step gingerly onto the bed of smooth stones and hear the spooky drip and flow of water flowing somewhere underneath. Above us, mossy rocks and a crown of naked tree limbs scratching the darkening sky. It was beautiful and eerie and like no place we’d ever been.

This whole section of forest was conserved by Leo Drey, a visionary lumberman who relentlessly collected “worthless” clear cut Missouri timberland, then restored and dedicated vast swaths to the public good. We tipped our hats to this bright soul, recently departed at 98, as the sun dipped to the horizon line and hovered there like a jewel.

Sunset, Ball Mill Resurgence