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.
Quite often a child will lead you where you need to be. That was the case in 2013 when our youngest asked to visit St. Louis and the Gateway Arch for her eleventh birthday. She got to see the Arch, visit the Saint Louis Zoo and the Saint Louis Science Center, look at some great architecture and art, and get Mom and Dad out of town for a few days.
We didn’t get to experience all we had hoped to but we did enjoy our brief visit and made plans to return again. The only drawback was the hotel we booked was in the process of refilling its indoor pool and swimming was far from enjoyable — except for a girl celebrating her eleventh birthday with her thirteen-year-old sister.
Windchill. Whiteout. Wintry.
Anytime a meteorologist uses one of the “W” words it’s time to think of places where weather forecasts include “sunny,” “bright,” and “pleasant.”
And when you hear one of the “W” words too often it’s time to go beyond thinking and actually doing. For us it was an all too short trip to Gulf Shores to spend time at a beach house my wife’s parents rent every winter. Our two teens, my wife, and I joined her brother, his wife, and their two boys for nearly a week with Grandpa and Grandma on the beach. The youngsters got to play in the sand and the adults got to take a break from winter in Missouri.
We tried to avoid the tourist traps all too common along the coast and instead visit places like Fort Pickens State Park on the Gulf Islands National Seashore and the National Naval Aviation Museum. There are plenty of other sites of interest beyond the t-shirt and seashell shops lining the highways. Try Big Lagoon State Park, Naval Live Oaks Reserve, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, or ride the ferry to Dauphin Island and spend some time at the Sea Lab there.
February is snowbird season on the Gulf Coast. It’s too cool to swim and warm days on the beach aren’t guaranteed. If it rains, visit someplace like Joe Patti’s Seafood Market or the National Naval Aviation Museum instead of the overabundant souvenir shops. Make seafood, walks on the beach, and sand castles and kites with kids priorities. Then, when you return home, those last few weeks of winter will be a bit more tolerable.
What better way to begin a new year than with a hike? A relatively warm day was the perfect time to explore Elam Bend Conservation Area south of where we live. Identify animal tracks in the snow, look for whitetail sheds, walk across a pond or two if the ice is thick enough and, if you’re lucky, startle a turkey or deer.
Elam Bend covers more than 1,400 acres along the Grand River. There are no designated hiking trails but there are plenty of Missouri Department of Conservation roads to explore. There’s fishing along the river, deer and turkey are plentiful, and I’ve seen quail and pheasant a time or two. There’s also a shooting range and primitive camping. Old Havana Trail runs through the east side of Elam Bend where you can find the Newby Cemetery from the late 1800s and a boat ramp that provides a great place to end a Grand River float trip after putting in at Gentryville.