A cool fall weekend was perfect for a day hike in Roaring River State Park in southwest Missouri. I’ve been exploring its trails for almost four decades and was surprised to find some new trails on this outing.
I headed east along Highway 60 from Bartlesville around 9 am so that I would arrive in Neosho, Missouri in time for lunch. I decided to revisit the El Charro restaurant at the big highway junction, and then followed good old Highway 86 to Cassville and then took 112 down into Roaring River.
I parked near the Sayman monument in front of the great old CCC Lodge. But I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the park store, which has occupied its second floor for decades, has relocated. They’ve built a big new store out at the junction of Highways F and 112, on the site of the old park hotel and restaurant (which was demolished some years ago when the grand new Emory Melton Inn was constructed). I’m sure this decision makes economic sense, but the new building has none of the character and history of the old lodge. However, I also miss the sound of the pinball machines that used to be out on the lodge balcony in the 1970s, so my judgment is questionable.
I trotted over to the spring and climbed Deer Leap Trail so I could hop onto the Firetower trail, the longest trail in the park. Deer Leap is a steep climb of rock stairs and the Firetower trail is quite steep at first as well. I discovered a passel of urban youths strewn along the way. Their adult leader, staying below, asked me if they would be coming back down the same way they went up. It was apparent to me that they had no plan to hike several miles to the other trailheads, so I assured him he could wait them out. Sure enough, I quickly zipped past the group on my ascent and they chose not to follow my lead.
Up top I followed the ridge to the pathetic old firetower. It is a puny structure that is now dwarfed by the trees that have grown up around it. I knew I could drive a few miles south to the impressive real firetower on the Sugar Camp Scenic Byway, but today my focus was to make a big day hike loop around Roaring River. So I followed the trail on towards its trailhead near the old stables on Highway F, a part of the trail I had not taken in years. Along the way I saw some flowers and two amorous walkingsticks, and then came upon a change.
I remember some years back when the park cleared off one hillside of invasive red cedars and other species so that other plants could thrive. They still maintain the area with selective cutting and controlled fires. The Firetower trail runs through the upper part of that glade and then terminates at the Highway F trailhead near the old stable. For decades you then had the choice of either reversing course back to the spring or hoofing it down narrow Highway F to campground 3, which was built in the 1970s at the former site of Bass Lake. Here the park has made a great improvement: a “Loop Trail” that neatly solves the problem. You now can cross to the south side of Highway F and take this new trail back to the campground. Strangely, this Loop Trail is not mentioned on their website and lacks good signage for folks headed east out of the campground.
The Loop Trail runs several feet south and below Highway F for a bit and then ducks down a bluff to run alongside the north bank of Roaring River. This is a quite pretty stretch of the trail system, especially where there is a side channel of the river which makes a nice turn alongside the trail. Further west there is a trailhead east of the Nature Center (former CCC kitchen), right at the sharp curve where Highway F used to turn to climb steeply northward before it was rerouted near Camp Smokey higher up. I was then out in the grassy area east of campground 3 and wondered if I would have to trudge through the campground itself.
But no – I found another stretch of trail (not named, so I’ll call it the Loop Trail Extension) which followed a new bridge across Roaring River to its south bank and then intersected the Eagle’s Nest Trail. Perfect! So I climbed the upper loop of Eagle’s Nest towards Highway 112. Near the old homestead site of the Mountain Maid I encountered a huge spider web across the trail (as opposed to the numerous tiny webs I had broken elsewhere). An enormous spider with a bright yellow body and orange striped legs stood still for a flash photo before scurrying away.
This time there was no new trail to help me descend Highway 112 (the Seligman Road hill), but at least it has big wide shoulders. Arriving at the Emory Melton Inn, I took the short loop of its new Spring House trail (and wandered up to the water tanks on the hill) and then descended to the new park store. I refused to enter, since I dislike their abandonment of the old lodge. Relying on the G2 bottles and trail mix in my small backpack to sustain me, I decided not to take the short roadway back to the lodge, since the fishermen lining the bridges over the river are known to sometimes hook unwary pedestrians.
So I strode back south through the pretty picnic shelter area on the west side of the river. All of the shelters were in use by big groups and one group was serving hot food at 4 pm that smelled mighty good. But I resolutely strode onward over the Highway F bridge, noticing several wading fishermen and a crew weedeating the guard rail struts on either side of the bridge. Wow! I’ve never seen that in Oklahoma. Then I took the good old CCC River Trail back north along the river’s east bank. I remember walking this 0.7 mile trail again and again as child, enjoying the view of the river and the bluff they blasted out for the trail back in the 1930s. Back then the trail seemed very long, and I used to rest on the bluff even though I was frightened of the daddy-long-legs that populated it. I didn’t spot any of them today, so my dignity is intact.
Arriving back at the CCC Lodge, I stripped off my damp shirt, cleaned up, and put on a fresh shirt for dinner. Planning to eat in Eureka Springs, Arkansas I drove down there and discovered that the motorcyclists who had the run of the place on my last trip had been replaced by Corvette owners. There were beautiful sleek cars prowling the crazy old town and one was kind enough to pull out and leave 55 minutes on its parking meter for my use. I dashed into the Two Dumb Dames Fudge Factory to stock up on essentials and then drove up “topside” onto Highway 62 to find the Yelp-recommended Cafe Soleil. But it had changed to Sparky’s Ultra Lounge and was already busy when I drove past.
So I decided to drive five miles west out of town along Highway 62 to Inspiration Point, which offers a great view of the White River valley. Years ago I toured “The Castle” there, and it is still the site of Opera in the Ozarks. There was no spectacular sunlight today, but the view was still quite beautiful. Spotting a traditional couple who were struggling to snap of photo of themselves at arm’s length, I intervened and took the shot for them. After I took my own snapshot of the view, two ladies in their twenties drove up. Eureka Springs is very gay friendly, so I wondered if they were just friends or a couple. I couldn’t tell. Then two young guys drove up – I thought they might be meeting the girls, but no, the guys were definitely a couple. I was going to offer to snap their picture as well, but the gals came to their rescue. Feeling very much like a fifth wheel and with my stomach rumbling, I pondered my options.
I didn’t relish driving five miles back to Eureka Springs to compete with the Corvettes for a table at a good restaurant. So I opted to just head on west and south to the good old AQ Chicken house in Springdale. Arkansas Quality Chicken has been pan fried there since 1947, although they long ago moved out of the old house I recall from my youth into a more spacious restaurant. Their food these days is a bit better than Kentucky Fried, but not nearly as good as the wonderful Stroud’s of Wichita and Kansas City. A rapid four-lane haul back to Bartlesville brought an end to a satisfying day trip.