Coloring Our World: 88 Miles on Missouri’s Ozark Trail

IMG_1147rrWhile working on Five Star Trails: The Ozarks, I scouted several trails that followed portions of Missouri’s Ozark Trail. Those experiences left me wanting more.

IMG_1562Using the Ozark Trail Association website trip planner, I entered how many days were available for the outing and decided on a south-to-north trek following the Eleven Point, Between the Rivers, and Current River sections for a total of 87.6 miles. I rounded our total trip mileage up to 88 since we poked around in the woods a couple of times where the trail became difficult to follow, mostly around the Peck Ranch section.

On Friday, November 2, I drove up to Fayetteville and picked up Bob, then drove about 5 hours to Powder Mill, east of Eminence, Missouri. Jerry Richard (Richard’s Canoe Rental) met us promptly the next morning and shuttled us to the Western Terminus of the Eleven Point River section close to Thomasville. Our itinerary was simple from there. Just walk 88-miles back to my truck at Powder Mill (AKA Owls Bend on the Current River).

IMG_1138rrAs we set foot on the trail Saturday morning, we were immediately captured by the fall colors. The first day flew by, and we arrived at Bockman Spring early in the afternoon.

IMG_1160rr

Bockman Spring

The cave is closed, but a photo could be taken from the door frame to the bluff built by earlier inhabitants. I used my headlamp to “light-paint” the cave’s walls during a 15-second exposure. We filtered our water from the PVC pipe that carried water from the cave to a metal catch basin in front of the spring.

IMG_1178rr

Bockman Spring

While preparing our evening meals, several friendly locals on four-wheelers drove up, and we visited about our itinerary. They had many questions about the trail and the distance we would travel over the next few days. The first day for gun hunting would be November 10, but we had hunter orange for the final days of our trek.

IMG_1185rr

Coffee, eggs and bacon bits

After a rainy night, I woke to the silhouette of trees against a dull morning light. Drops of water falling from nearby trees sounded like hundreds of little animal steps. I prepared egg crystals and bacon bits with coffee while warming under my quilt.

Packing lightweight food that would satisfy and provide fuel for the miles took some planning, but I was pleased with the results.

IMG_1175rr

Chicken, rice, and veggies

Mountain House dehydrated chicken combined with Knorr meals or instant potatoes made excellent dinners! The addition of selected dehydrated veggies added flavor and balance. I’m looking forward to including examples (and samples) from my backpacking menu during my March 3rd, 2019 presentation for the Friends of Hobbs State Park.

IMG_1215rr

My small umbrella was put to good use as drizzling rain fell on and off the next day. I began to walk a familiar trail included in my guidebook as we passed the McCormack Lake spur. We stopped for a break at a view of the Eleven Point River I’d looked forward to seeing again.

IMG_1310rrAfter passing Greer Recreation Area, we followed the upland route. We toured the well maintained Bristol Cemetery that contained grave sites from the 1800s and early 1900s.

After thirteen hilly miles, we made camp four miles into the Between the Rivers Section. As the sun went down, coyote howls echoed through the surrounding woods with a stereo-like high fidelity purity.

IMG_1366rr

The tarp combined with bivy sack as a groundcloth, air mattress, and down quilt kept me dry and warm. I like the closeness I feel with surroundings when using a tarp. If strong thunderstorms had been in the forecast, I might have carried my tent instead.

Monday began cold! Rain started around 11 a.m. and continued throughout the day, slacking up around 6 p.m. My camera was safely stowed inside my waterproof stuffsack so no photos from that day.

IMG_1263rr

Cotham Pond

Tuesday treated us to more water than we’d expected on this typically dry section of trail. We found good water and sunshine at Cotham Pond. A starry night and strong coyote songs followed that evening.

The next few days sailed by as we covered miles and found water plentiful along the trail. Mint Spring was a special place with its soft green color.

 

We didn’t see any elk in the Pike Ranch Conservation Area, but saw more deer than we could count. The trail got sketchy at a burned out area, but we found our way. Trail markers were sometimes plentiful but more often spaced so that they reassured us we were on the right path. As part of our planning, we passed through Peck Ranch a couple of days before the route would close for hunting season.

The trail became easier to follow once we got north of Peck Ranch. Climbing up Stegall Mountain was exciting as distant views revealed themselves while we walked through stunted, windblown oaks. We spent a few minutes on the glade mountaintop taking in the beauty then continued toward the Rocky Creek section.

IMG_1420rr

Rocky Creek held wonderful water. I treated it lightly with some Aquamira drops. Our seventh and last night on the trail was our coldest yet. The next morning was a delightful chilly walk to Klepzig Mill followed by several cold creek crossings. Bob said, “The cleanest parts of our bodies are definitely our feet!”

IMG_1468rr

IMG_1473rr

The water of Rocky Creek and adjacent creeks was clear and cold! I enjoyed watching this small leaf dance on the surface of the water and follow its shadow on the rock below.

We walked across a field of frost flowers on this sunny morning. I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a bite from one of the large ice formations.

As we approached our final Current River crossing over the Hwy 60 Bridge, a pickup truck pulled up and one of our deer hunter friends from day one at Bockman Spring greeted us. We enjoyed a short visit before continuing to Powder Mill Trailhead and our trip’s end. The only backpacker we met in eight days was Joe B. going the opposite direction early in our hike.

IMG_1517rr

Current River from the Hwy 60 Bridge

We looked forward to a good meal but drove east for a while before stopping at Mountain Grove to have a delicious dinner at Grove Family Restaurant. Great service! Great food!

IMG_1525rr

Bob and Jim

We were thankful to conclude our colorful trek on the Ozark Trail still feeling healthy and strong. Maybe we’ll return and explore more miles of this beautiful trail in the future. Like my dayhikes from three years ago, this first longer walk on the Ozark Trail left me wanting more. Check out the links at the end of this post to read of our other long hikes.

A note of thanks: We passed hundreds of cuts, old and new, that cleared our way on the trail. We saw areas recently maintained and the white tree blazes were essential to following the trail. Bob and I have adopted sections of the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas, so we appreciate the work it takes to keep a trail open. Thank you to the Ozark Trail Association (OTA) and the many volunteers who give their time to Missouri’s Ozark Trail!

IMG_1201rr

Evidence of volunteers with the OTA

Walk…Eat…Sleep…Repeat – The Ozark Highlands Trail of Arkansas

A Few Steps in Paradise – The John Muir Trail in the High Sierras of California

Ouachita Trail’s First 51 Miles at the (Im)Perfect Time (Includes links to posts that complete the 223 mile trail)

Ouachita Trail: Just Add Ice (160 miles completed)

IMG_5160rr

You must rise early with temperatures in the 20s to see frost flowers. That’s what I’ve told friends who express disappointment that they’ve never spotted them. Our second of four days on this 37-mile trek (MM 51-88) provided an unusual opportunity to see frost flowers all day. Skies remained overcast, and temperatures stayed below 30. These little guys slowed my progress on the trail as they called for me to stop to capture images throughout the day.

IMG_5171rr

Frost flowers provide endless varieties of asymmetric shapes. Bob noticed the following frost flower which is only the second example of a symmetrical heart-shaped frost flower I’ve seen. I was thankful to capture this image since my wife enjoys finding heart shapes in nature.

IMG_5193rr

Another almost symmetrical shape was next to the trail. Bob and I were hiking apart at the time but later realized we’d both noticed this one and took photos.

IMG_5181rr

On several north-facing hillsides we saw displays of white that looked almost snow-like but were actually ice crystals that dropped from nearby trees.

IMG_5186rr

The week before Christmas, our wish for rain was granted (“Just Add Water”). This was a “just add ice” week on the trail. I felt anxious during our first day of hiking anticipating temperatures into the 20s with my 20-degree down quilt. Experienced backpackers will say bag ratings just mean you won’t die at that temperature, not that you’ll be comfortable. By wearing a base layer top and down pants, I slept comfortably under my quilt.

IMG_5148rr

Black Fork Shelter

We stayed at three shelters, Black Fork, Foran Gap, and Turner Creek. Scott, who completed Ozark Highlands Trail over the last couple of years, joined us for an overnighter at Black Fork Shelter. He commented that this was his first shelter camping experience and that it was enjoyable.

IMG_5207rr

With cold temperatures, we thought our water cache at Hwy 71 might be frozen. We’d placed our jugs under a large tree trunk surrounded by leaves and were surprised to find our water was ice-free. Small creeks in the area were flowing so the water jugs weren’t necessary but saved us lost time from filtering.

At Turner Creek, we met only the second backpacker we’ve seen on our first 160 miles of the Ouachita Trail. Kurt, from Oklahoma City, was thru-hiking east to west, so we shared scouting reports with each other. We were able to tell him about Tan-A-Hill Spring (pictured below) where Kurt would be collecting water the next day.

 

IMG_5153rr

Cold temperatures and lots of available firewood justified nightly fires for warmth and cooking

IMG_5273rr.jpg

The Ouachita Trail provided beauty and interest at every turn. Trees sometimes limited vistas but extended horizons reminded us of the expansive country that surrounded us.

IMG_5302rr

One of many rocky outcrops along the trail.

IMG_5280rr

Turner Gap Shelter from the approach spur trail

After shuttling and picking up water jugs, we ended our hike surrounded by an icy-cold cloud at Queen Wilhelmina State Park as we enjoyed a large burger.

Kurt, who we met earlier, had bragged about the Rich Mountain Country Store at the base of the mountain, so I stopped for a cup of coffee to go. I ended up enjoying a visit with the witty and entertaining store owner, Steve Watson.  This is a place I’ll come back to in the future!

Other Ouachita Trail Thru-Hike Posts: Ouachita Trail’s First 51 at the (Im)perfect Time / The Ouachita Trail: Just Add Water (Mile 88-160) Due to dryness (at the time) and available days, we did the first 51 miles, then skipped to mile 88-160 the week before Christmas. After Christmas, we did miles 51-88 included in this present post.

First Frost

img_4093rr

Ice crystals on Hare Mountain during my winter thru-hike in 2014

This morning as I began my 5:15 a.m. hike, I was greeted by sandy sparkles reflecting in the dim light of my headlamp. Gloves felt good, and I was comforted by the knowledge that my fingers would be toasty warm in about 30-minutes or so.

I’ve missed my frozen friends having just had one of the warmest Novembers I remember. First frost marks the beginning of a wonderful hiking season in the Ozarks. First hard freeze may not be far behind. Bring on the winter!

Maramec Spring: A Missouri Ozarks Surprise

IMG_9534rr

Cascade below the Maramec Spring in early morning light

While driving Missouri Highway 8 toward another hiking location, a quick stop for a few photos turned into several hours of exploration, rich with beauty and history. Maramec Spring was a delightful surprise!

I had read of no trails in the area, and hiking wasn’t listed as an available activity on the Maramec Spring website, so I was puzzled to see two ladies beginning their morning walk. They said they enjoyed the paths around the spring and walking down Maramec Creek with cameras in hand. I quickly scanned the area and started my GPS, hoping to record a pleasant route.

IMG_9516rr

Maramec Spring

My walk led directly to the Maramec Spring, a gentle and broad spring whose strength isn’t realized until a nearby cascade demonstrates the volume of water flowing from the ground. Park literature indicates this is Missouri’s fifth-largest spring with an average daily output of 100 million gallons. Another source listed the volume as 90 million gallons and the sixth or seventh largest spring in the state. Regardless of size, its beauty is top of the line.

IMG_3968rr

Cascade below Maramec Spring

Another demonstration of flow-rate is on display at a bridged spillway downstream. This water will travel about 165 river miles to where the Maramec River empties into the Mississippi.

IMG_3973rr

IMG_3986rr

Cypress knees border  Maramec Creek where fly fishing begins

The flow from Maramec Spring eventually widens into a creek channel where fly fishermen enjoy their pursuit of trout, visible just below the clear cold currents.

Where the paved paths end, dirt trails begin, bordering both sides of the creek and crossing a bridge several tenths of a mile downstream. Conditions were right for the formation of early morning frost flowers, a visual treat for early morning winter hikers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

IMG_4019rr

Maramec Spring’s natural beauty is complemented by a fascinating history. Portions of the paved paths take you through an outdoor museum of the Maramec Ironworks. Thomas James, an Ohio businessman, began construction in 1826 by. In 1843, Thomas sent his son, William James, to operate the ironworks.

The Civil War increased the demand for iron from the plant in spite of the transportation challenges of this remote location. At its peak, the plant town was reported to have close to 500 residents. The Maramec Ironworks ceased operation in 1876.

IMG_4016rr

Maramec Ironworks casting arch

 

IMG_3964rr

Powerhouse with Maramec Spring in the background

 

IMG_3958rr

Maramec Ironworks Museum

While hiking the Maramec Spring in winter is a pleasure, you’ll miss out on visiting the Ironworks Museum, closed at the end of October and reopening in the spring.

I felt a tinge of sadness as I drove away from Maramec Spring, but hope to visit again someday. I’m thankful that William James’ granddaughter, Lucy Wortham James, chose to protect this area for us to see today.

IMG_9535rr

“As this is considered to be the most beautiful spot in Missouri, it is my great hope that you will arrange that it may ever be in private, considerate control, and ever open to the enjoyment of the people.”

~Lucy Wortham James

 

Weeky Photo Challenge: Ephemeral – Momentary beauty of frost flowers

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Ephemeral.”

Frost flower next to the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas

Frost flower next to the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas.

This little heart-shaped frost flower was next to the Ozark Highlands Trail on a winter’s hike. It would be gone within a few minutes as sunshine peeked over the sharp edge of a nearby mountain to the east.

Though these small ephemeral gifts do not last, I have the privilege of carrying them in my memory and sharing them through my camera.

Frost flower

frost flower

Mary Oliver’s words come to mind often on the trail.

Quote Mary Oliver Snow Geese  copy

frost flower

I’m thankful for the “task” of carrying these small gifts with me as I continue down the trail. Thank you for allowing me to share.