The first Saturday in November, temperatures near 70 degrees and a wearisome presidential election nearing its end meant it was time to enjoy autumn before the weather and Election Day turned worse. With that in mind we stopped at the courthouse, cast our ballots early and headed out of town to Crowder State Park about 50 miles east of here.
Even with the constant crunch of leaves underfoot there was still plenty of fall colors. With more than 15 miles of hiking trails to choose from, we parked at Crowder Lake, walked across the dam and headed off on Tall Oaks Trail. The three-mile trail takes hikers along the lake through the old woods up a ridge through an old field and back down to the trailhead along river bottoms.
We had hiked another trail, River Forks, a few years earlier. Our plan — as soon as we get a few days free — is to set up the tent at the campsite and explore the eight-and-a-half mile Thompson River Trail, get in some fishing and relax in between. The 1,912-acre park includes basic, family and electric camping, an equestrian trail, canoe rentals, Red Bud Trail for those wishing a shorter hike and a quiet setting near Trenton, Mo.
A bit of cooler August weather had us revisiting Emmett and Leah Seat Memorial Conservation Area today. Pollinators, mainly butterflies, were as busy as, well, bees on the wildflowers. They were common along our walk along a wooded access road but we discovered hundreds of them flittering around a south facing mudbank when we crossed a small stream.
One small butterfly even hitched a ride on my leg for several yards before getting its fill of sweat. After our little hike, we drove a few miles west to Denver, Mo., to visit Sowards Ford Access, a primitive camping area on the East Fork of the Grand River. Denver itself is worth a trip if you enjoy visiting old small towns. The name F.C. Grace remains prominent in Denver even though his sale of furniture there have long been gone but the old Denver Schoolhouse has undergone a restoration.
We picked up a few things along the Grand River at Sowards Ford. Part of an old Coca Cola bottle and a few more modern pieces of trash that had either been left there or had washed down the river. While we did a small part in cleaning up the river, we also brought a few other things home we wish we hadn’t. Seed ticks, dozens of them, discovered during our hike at Seat so here’s a tip for anyone planning a summer hike in Missouri: Don’t forget the DEET as we did.
I have few photos from our recent four-night camping trip to Thousand Hills State Park just west of Kirksville, Mo. You see, our youngest wanted to do an overnight backpacking trip so we loaded up our small tent, sleeping bags, a bit of food and the new Mini Sawyer water filter I bought just for the trip and hit the Thousand Hills Trail early one Friday morning before the day’s heat overtook us.
We backpacked about five miles to our campsite to discover a fire ring, picnic table and a place to hang a lantern, far more than we expected. Of course we also found way more ticks than we cared for, the typical poison ivy and the expected hot and humid days late June brings. One bonus, though, was a cove to cool off in just about a quarter mile from camp.
The trail, along with others, was nice to explore with a cave nearby our campsite. A public swimming beach not far from the campground came in handy on those hot afternoons while we were car camping but we soon discovered past inconsiderate visitors have ruined some of the attractions, mainly some Native American petroglyphs that have been defaced. On an early visit the structure protecting the petroglyphs was open to visitors but its doors are now locked. While the early rock carvings were still visible the awe we experienced when viewing them a few years earlier wasn’t quite the same when peering through glass and seeing the names of contemporary vandals along side the petroglyphs.
Always remember to double check your camera battery before you begin a hike. About halfway through our day hike on Deer Creek Loop at Wallace State Park my battery died while trying to get photos of some jack-in-the-pulpit. Fortunately, I had a spare battery but it was back at our campsite. That meant I missed out on other photos along the trail.
It wasn’t a great loss, though. Wallace State Park has five different trails for more than six miles to hike. Of course if you’re camping, like we were, you can add another quarter mile or more to each hike when you walk to the trailhead. And spring is a pleasant time to hit one of the trails. The mornings are still cool, the wildflowers are out, gooseberries and blackberries are beginning to ripen, and songbirds are plentiful to make a hike that much more enjoyable.
You should probably keep in mind snakes, ticks, and poison ivy are also easily found. We came a cross a copperhead and fortunately our dog didn’t stop to investigate. We also found a garter snake, more ticks than we cared for, and a healthy poison ivy population. Other pests such as mosquitoes and flies were few, though.
Wallace State Park is near Cameron, Mo., and about 60 miles north of Kansas City just off of Intestate 35. The park includes a small lake, a pavilion, and four drive-in camping area as well as four walk-in campsites. Wallace is one of our go-to camping areas, a site we have returned to with our two daughters for nearly the last ten years.
I began watching a couple of cardinals from my front porch soon after they laid three mottled brown eggs in a nest in a spirea bush on the east side of my porch. I didn’t realize the nest was there at first but heard Mom and Dad’s chirping each time I was near the nest. Here, the couple bring food to one of their young who has left the nest too soon and is alone on the ground. For the past few days I’ve been helping the cardinals by making sure the neighborhood cats stay out of the yard. Tomorrow I must be out of town so I wish the family well.
The squirrels are my regular distractions and the robin is making a nest beneath the eves on the east side of the porch. I’ve got a couple of doves with a nest in a crabapple tree nearby but they’re pretty shy. There are also a couple of cottontails around the house that excite my dog (I will try to get photos of the rabbits, too). The dog, Daisy, smells the rabbits but doesn’t always see them immediately. This morning, for example, I saw cottontail when we went outside but led Daisy away from it but that didn’t stop her from giving a thorough search of the spirea bushes where the rabbits like to hang. The robin is making a nest on the west side of my front porch, beneath the eaves. A couple of doves also have a nest in a crabapple in my yard but they have been too shy for photos.
This morning I picked green onions from my garden to make coleslaw. This afternoon my narcissus is covered in snow. Snow in March, you ask? Yes, this is Missouri.
It’s been snowing off and on all afternoon but now it’s sticking. Of course it will all be gone by tomorrow and by Monday the temperatures will be back in the 70s. That’s just the way it is and the way it’s likely to be at least until late April or early May.
I can remember one April several years ago when nearly three feet of snow kept me from town when we lived not too far north of here near Russell, Iowa. I don’t think that’s going to happen here this year but who knows. Although I’ll be wearing shorts again next week tomorrow’s just the first day of spring.
It wasn’t the most colorful time of year to visit but I felt the need Sunday to get outside for a while so with a backpack, a water bottle, and a camera, I hiked a few miles around the Missouri Department of Conservations’s Pawnee Prairie not far from where I live.
What I found was little more than the wind, the sound of a few killdeer, the leftovers of coyote meals, and a single startled whitetail. Not far from the Nature Conservancy’s Dunn Ranch Preserve, the 400 or so acres of tallgrass prairie is best visited in the summer or fall when you can better appreciate the bluestem, Indian grass, side-oats grama grasses, pale purple coneflower, and finger coreopsis wildflowers. Better yet visit the Pawnee Prairie, call the Dunn Ranch to find out when to view greater prairie chickens and bison, and experience grassland similar to what Lewis and Clark discovered.