Windy Walks in the Ozarks

Indian Point (click image for slideshow)

The forecast called for unseasonably mild weather for the final two days of 2011, so I decided to try again for day hikes at Lake of the Ozarks. I tried to do so last May but rain changed my plans. The sprawling lake is over 4.5 hours from my home, so I needed to stay in a local hotel overnight. This time I opted to first try for some trails at Pomme de Terre Lake about 45 miles southwest of the larger lake and stay overnight at Osage Beach, hiking at the Lake of the Ozarks the following day.

The sun ascended as I drove along narrow old US 60 to Nowata. Road work forced me on a long detour south to Chelsea, where I had to wait on a long freight train. Chelsea is where Oklahoma’s first oil well was drilled, although the first commercial oil well was drilled in Bartlesville. I finally reached Vinita and I-44, which took me up to Springfield where I bought gas and a Lunchable and headed north to Pomme de Terre.

The fancy French name translates to “apple of the earth” and refers to potatoes, although the French trappers who named the river the lake is formed from probably were referring to the potato bean, which the Osage Indians in the area ate. I drove through Bolivar, seat of Polk County, Missouri as shown by its old-fashioned courthouse.

I parked at the Indian Point trailhead on the lake, which promised to head out to a point on the lake with multiple Indian burial mounds and cairns from the Mississippian culture. The trail led through what is called an Ozark savanna, with scattered oak trees growing on very thin soils. The wind was really whipping, forcing me to don my Ear Pops and use the strap on my hat.

I passed the first burial mound as the trail headed down the ridge toward Indian Point. Before the lake was built this ridge lofted above Pomme de Terre River and Lindley Creek. The trail led straight down to the point and the wind only increased as I walked. The water was very choppy but that didn’t stop one boat from churning and bouncing through it.

The point was a highly eroded low rock promontory. The wind was unbearable up top, but there was a side channel allowing me to duck behind the rock for a warm and sunny shelter out of the wind. The rock sloped off into the water, making me feel like a flood survivor grateful for a scrap of high ground. A speedboat zoomed by as I broke open my Lunchable and enjoyed a snack.

The rock around me was so eroded it was almost frightening. I peered around the rocky bluff and spotted two fishermen standing out in their boat down the shore, also enjoying the shelter of the point. I’d make a comment about the craziness of fishing on a windy day like this, but I was out hiking, so I’ll stay mum.

I then ascended the trail and followed it through another savanna over to a cove where I could get a better view of the fishermen and their boat. Looping back to my car, I passed more cairns, all heavily disturbed by both looters and archaeologists.

I then drove over to the Hermitage area on the north shore of the lake, but it was closed from December through February and thus my second planned hike was nixed. I set course for the Lake of the Ozarks, hoping to hike at Coakley Hollow as Plan B. But that entire area of the park was gated off with a sign that it was closed due to flooding. Okay, Plan C. I do wish these state parks would post trail closings on their websites!

Just down the road was the trailhead for the Honey Run trail, which my Hiking Missouri book described as a 2.5 mile loop. But the trail has been reconfigured into a 12.75 mile long trail with an initial 3.1 mile linear segment leading to north and south loops of 4.4 and 2.6 miles respectively. That’s great, but I only had two hours to hike so I couldn’t even make it to the first loop. It was too far to drive around to yet another trailhead, so I set out to do what I could.

The trail led off through another Ozark savanna on a ridge above Honey Run, which would never come into sight on this short hike. The trail turned to follow a downward ridge. I could easily imagine I was back at Indian Point, but before they built the dam and flooded the valleys to either side.

Eventually I wound around to a waterway and either needed to reverse and trace back my course or bushwhack. I opted to bushwhack up the watercourse to intercept the trail higher up and cut off a long loop. I rested on large felled tree, then posed with the setting sun behind me before shooting close-ups of the fungi growing on the trunk.

I crossed more fallen trees, recalling I’d seen a lot of wind damage at Pomme de Terre, which had wiped out some of the twisted oaks mentioned in my hiking book. The thin soils here provide little grip for the roots.

I passed long low mounds of rock which clearly were not burial mounds but instead had once formed the trailbed with a thin line of rocks marking its other edge. But the reconfigured trail passed higher along the slope, occasionally using the old rock lines but then deviating. Frequent tree blazes, yellow here while those at Pomme de Terre were blue, made the revamped trail easy to follow. Much better than the mostly unmarked trails in the Wichitas, although there were quite a few rock blazes in the Granite Hills.

I wrapped up the hike, adding 2.25 miles to the 3.25 miles I’d hiked earlier. It was time for an early supper, which I found at a Mexican restaurant in Osage Beach. I was diverted along a brand new bypass around the strip tourist town and it was strange to exit onto a broad wide highway lined with businesses but almost devoid of cars. Being here out of season with big empty stores, condos, and hotels and with the new bypass redirecting most traffic, the town felt very odd.

Trixie the GPS didn’t know about parts of the bypass and complained bitterly. The rapid development here explains why Google Maps was also very confused about the location of my new hotel. I finally located it miles from where Google said it would be and turned in early, ready to hike some nearby trails tomorrow and then head back home before New Years Eve.

Click here for a slideshow from these day hikes

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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