Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Hills of Southern MO

Above, you can see our eventual destination, the Current river in southern Missouri.

The banner to this blog proclaims, we like the roads less traveled and as we followed the roads mapped out by the GPS tracking program sitting forefront in the Jeep, we found roads that seemed almost penciled in on the screen. Green vegetation protruded through the cracks in the middle of our lane. I think this would definitely qualify as "a road less traveled"! I should have taken a picture but with only a slight chance someone might be sharing this same road with us and the lack of any type of shoulder, I thought I better not stop in the middle of the road for a shot. The vision of an overgrown 4X4 complete with hunting lights and gun rack, coming up over the hill over yonder made me think twice. I would rather face the bear from an earlier post!

So, just picture a narrow road with only about 18 inches of packed clay bordering the brownish asphalt ribbon. A multitude of cracks were dotted with green weeds often standing 12 inches high; complete with a flower or two. Road kill lay, silenced on the hardroad and the only signs of life were the Ozark red headed eagles, commonly known as turkey vultures. Now, as if by photoshop cut-and-paste, envision two obvious city folks in a relatively clean family SUV towing a dent-free camper down the road. Our camper with the air conditioner sitting on top, not protruding out of one of the side windows, hogged the road bouncing from pothole to pothole. It's a bit like a scene from Deliverance! Now, you tell me, how do I try to look inconspicuous. Standing the in middle of the road with a large lensed camera, would not be my first choice at fitting in.

That all being said, the anxiety was worth every heart palpitation because the same raw nature surroundings that make this land a bit scary, foremost make it beautiful. The spring fed rivers and streams sparkle in the afternoon sun. The strong contrast between the natural stone river base and the super saturated green river plants looks almost surreal. The warm summer afternoon is made even more enjoyable by natures air conditioning from the chilled natural springs. All this and it is less than 275 miles from home. I think we have rediscovered another addition to the "great camping destinations" list.

Our first choice for last weeks destination was Wisconsin but the parks all reflected that "no Vacancy" sign as I went from park to park on the Internet reservation website. What a bummer; we were looking forward to a nice 5 day long weekend vacation. Then I had a thought. Although this is not a common occurrence, I do have a good one ever now and then. I thought of a destination that Pat talked about often. It was a place from her cherished childhood remembrances. Her Mom took her and her brothers to camp on the Jack's Fork River at Alley Spring State Park near Eminence MO. This would have been back in the 50's. We had camped in the vicinity once and had taken a canoe float trip down the river back in the 70's but we had not revisited there since then. A quick check of the vacancies, indicated one electric site left. There was a bonus! The park was now a part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways system and was managed by the National Park Service. The "ding" of the cash register went off in my head. National Park equals senior discount with the old Golden eagle pass, now called the senior pass. For those of you who don't know about this senior perk, it entitles holders a 50% discount. We would be getting water and electric hookups for $10/night. That to me is a bargain. Non-electric sites would be only $7. Even I can afford a week there. This new fact is putting the area even higher on that great campsite list.

As we headed off the Interstate highway system and onto the state and county roads, it became apparent cell service would be severely limited. We imagined the "can you hear me now" commercial that they won't be making. It would start with the driver, make that passenger for safety reasons, trying to make connections as they drive down the roller-coaster highway. At each hilltop would come, "Can you hear me now?" but before any suitable communication, the car and cell phone operator would dip back down into the black hole reception area. I think they refer to it as the "Dead Zone". The skit would end with the cell phone caller on top of the hill, climbing a tall Tulip tree, dangling on a high branch by one hand and holding the phone in the other. "Can you hear me now? . . . Great, I needed to tell you want a great ti. . . . . the call is interrupted by the sound of cracking wood. AS the phone and caller fall in slow motion from the tall tree you can hear in a harried voice, "Gotta go; I think I am loosing you!" The scene ends with a thud. Nope don't think you will be seeing that one. While that might be just a slight exaggeration of my cell experience, you get the idea.

Our campground destination, Alley Spring Park is dominated by the old Alley Spring grain mill. The current building constructed in 1894, was powered by the spring which averages 81 million gallons of water flow every day. The mill was designed to produce wheat flower in an area dominated by corn production. This oversight along with recurring floods made the operation only marginally successful.

There is a short trail around the spring adjacent to the mill and a higher bluff trail which as the name implies ascends up to the ridge of the bluffs to overlook the mill.

Even the upper trail is easy to maneuver. AS some may recall from previous postings, I had armed myself with a new personal GPS unit to keep me on track and make sure the track was the right track and I was going the correct direction. As I started up the bluff trail early one morning, I turned on the GPS for the first time on this trip. I was surprised to find I had no maps for the area. I had thought I had them downloaded from my laptop topography program where I had mapped out our itinerary but I was wrong. When the unit turns on, it brings up the map relating to the new position as indicated by the GPS receiver. At home, it brings up this area. I had not become acclimated enough with the unit to know how to bring up the Alley Spring map without being there. Yes, the preloaded universal map showed major towns and major roads but not anything that was of any benefit to me. Think of a child with a felt marker as they try to draw a map on plain paper. It might just look like a zig-zag line all over the page. No matter how closely you look or how far away you hold the paper, it still makes no sense. That was my GPS screen. I put in map pins to tell me where I left the car and where the trail started and there were the trail markers between them showing my route but nothing else. It was like I was making the map myself. It was cool but not too helpful. I guess I could retrace my route to return to the car but I really expected more. It wasn't until I returned to the camper and my laptop that I could transfer the scribbles on the map base and see where I had gone. Obviously, I had not brought my original state by state base maps DVDs to upload to the GPS. I was supposed to be able to upload the same thing from the laptop but that too eluded me and after several hours trying to understand the two manuals that I gave up and just was happy to scribble maps. The software program would say "check the GPS manual for directions for downloading" but when I looked at the pertinent chapter in the software program it would say, "consult the GPS manual for downloading instructions. Yes, I admit the DeLorme GPS unit has a steep learning curve as reviewed on line. It wouldn't need to be so steep if intelligent writers would have written the manuals. Yes, another of my pet peeves!

A major attraction in the area was Rocky Falls, south and east of Eminence. We took a picnic lunch and after hiking up the Falls and higher up to the top of the mountain, Kira and I came back down and joined Pat who had lunch ready at one of the many tables available.
This is obviously a popular lunch spot. I'm sure we will see it again. Throughout our visit back and forth across the area, we saw people of all ages enjoying the water either as spectators or as swimmers or boaters. The cool, often cold waters were cooling on a hot summer day. Most of the water comes from the multitude of springs in the area. It is cold and crystal clear. Drinking the water is not recommended but it sure looks inviting. It was tempting to drink it but we decided to head the warnings.

During our 5 day stay, we saw several different springs. Round Spring was OK but no real Kodak moment here. The nearby cave was closed while they installed new bat gates. I wonder if Batman knows they moved the cave from Gotham City. I was hoping to get to the cave and perhaps pick up some new utensils for my Batman camera belt. I was particularly wanting the bat buckle but I guess I'll have to wait for that. For those of you who have not been following my many ramblings on this and other blogs and Facebook, I have decided the best way to carry my cameras and gear would be on a utility belt like Batman. I mentioned that I would like to get the Batman buckle. If you know where one can be obtained, let me know. I won't be getting one at the Round Spring Bat Cave any time soon.

Of all the springs, Blue Spring was my favorite. The super saturated blue is unreal. The clear water allows the viewer to see all the way to the bottom 310 feet down. The statue of Liberty could sit on the bottom and the torch would still be under water. It was difficult to pull away from this place and head back to the car 1/2 mile away.

The Current and Jacks Fork Rivers are known by most nature enthusiasts in Missouri and neighboring states. The attraction is the canoe-ability of the rivers. They are swift moving making float trips a great days event. The numerous easy "white water" passages give additional excitement to canoeurs and those in kayaks. In contrast to the basic mud bottom rivers of the Midwest, these spring fed Ozark riverways with their consistent flow and gravel base make for a great summer vacation.

As we pulled out of the campsite and headed home, I took with me many beautiful memories of sights and experiences. Some of these I was able to capture as pictures while others will be a part of my memory which is unfortunately fading fast. (good thing for the pictures)

I also returned with a bad case of chiggers which I carelessly picked up the last evening and 2.7 pounds which I carefully added enthusiastically at the local eateries. It's back to no breakfast and salad for lunch. It was worth every pound!

One thing is for sure; I was able to overload each of my senses in a positive way difficult to describe. There is no doubt in my mind; I will return. When I do, I'll take you along to hopefully enjoy as I do the natural wonders of this beautiful country.

For those of you who follow me on FaceBook, more of this weekend's pictures will be posted in a FaceBook album.

Until we meet again on those roads less traveled, enjoy the beauties of nature that are all around us.

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