Yes, we’re going to have a white Christmas this year. So, with a bit of snow on the ground and shining sun, we decided to take a little Christmas Eve hike, let the dogs run, and get in a bit of exercise before hitting the eggnog. Surprisingly, we were the first and maybe even the only ones to visit Elam Bend Conservation Area.
Our youngest got to try her hand at driving on snow for the first time, we saw four young bald eagles feeding on a road-kill coyote, and the dogs spooked a deer ahead of us on the trail. Now the dogs are tired, the Christmas cookies are baking, and we’re patiently awaiting Santa’s arrival. Merry Christmas.
When November weather nears 70 degrees you have no excuse to stay inside, not even with a belly full of turkey, dressing, and cranberry relish. And if the weather is that nice the day before Thanksgiving, you definitely need to get outdoors for a hike to earn the next day’s dinner.
Thanksgiving took us to my in-laws in Bella Vista, Ark., so when the afternoon before Thanksgiving turned more than pleasant I told my two youngest daughters we’d better take advantage of it. We decided to hit a couple nearby trails for some easy hiking and a bit of geocaching, both of which are plentiful in Northwest Arkansas.
We found several geocaches. We also found waterfalls, caves, old homesites, and much more. We barely scratched the surface in the number of geocaches and trails to visit and will explore more next time we visit, just as we did when our daughters were toddlers when we lived in nearby Gravette, Ark., and Rogers, Ark., where the youngest was born.
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.
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.