May 18, 2012
Another Friday off for an unused snow day = another day hike. The coolest place within a day’s round trip was the childhood source of my love for day hikes: Roaring River State Park in Missouri. So by 11 a.m. I was in the lobby of the Emory Melton Inn perched above the park and enjoying the view along with a French Dip in the restaurant. I then parked at the store and began my 7.6 mile hike with a stroll to the hatchery, passing the fisherfolk on the riverside along the way. I admired some vetch and the closed section of the mossy spring pool falls. The open pools at the hatchery were teeming with trout, and the usual bigger trout were to be found in the spring pool. The camera’s GPS had finally locked in, so it was time to hit the trails.
Deer Leap Trail
I climbed up the hillside on Deer Leap Trail along carved bluffs and huge stone steps laid by the CCC boys. The trail’s many steps were quite a challenge when I was a tot, but after hiking 300 miles a year as of late, they are a breeze. At the top I posed at the hatchery overlook, with a bird flying overhead in one shot. Youngsters below were busy feeding the fish in the big pool, having already enjoyed the thrashing feeding frenzies at the strip pools.
I backtracked past the upper spring to the Firetower trailhead and ascended to follow the bluffside trail to the fork, where instead of heading across the knob to the old tower, as I’ve done on the last few visits, I instead headed along the narrow high ridge toward the former CCC kitchen, now the nature center. There was some trailside color as I walked along the fairly level ridge before the long and sometimes steep descent, with a Mourning Cloak butterfly alighting on the trail ahead of me. I passed the bluff, where a tree had fallen, and continued the descent toward the nature center.
I crossed what was once Bass Lake over to the river, clambering out on some rocks for a shot downstream. I followed the riverside trail downstream, a peaceful walk with only a few fly fisherfolk. I passed the remains of the old Bass Lake dam and headed east along the newer connector trail linking the campground to the far trailhead of the Firetower Trail.
Throughout this walk along the north bank of the river, I herded three huge blue herons ahead of me down the river, with them always careful to stay out of camera range. I passed a big tree which had snapped and at the end of my walk, where a short gravel road runs out from Highway F to the river, a butterfly collection awaited me. I managed to catch one in flight with the camera. A sulphur butterfly tried to pose as a leaf, but I was not fooled. I rested by the river a bit and then retraced my steps past the bluff.
Eagle’s Nest Trail
I then took the low bridge across the river to the sewage irrigation area. The pretty field here is well fertilized! You can’t smell anything, but you definitely don’t want to hike through here, especially when the big sprayers start up. The eastern trailhead for the Eagle’s Nest trail is at the edge of the irrigation zone and leads west up the mountain. Soon it splits into an upper branch which leads up to the ridge and across to the Mountain Maid’s homestead and dead ends at Highway 112. I took the lower branch, which descends to parallel the river below alongside the campground. Where the river turns away and the trail leads past a hillside creek, they’ve put up a sign to divert you into the campground. But I ignored that and continued on the hillside trail paralleling the separate little campground over to Highway F.
I then crossed on the river bridge to the old CCC river trail with its riverside bluffs. I passed white rock walls and enjoyed the triple treat of bluff, trail, and river. A Spangled Fritillary posed on a leaf for me and a Tiger Swallowtail followed suit. Following their lead, I posed too, but seated on the bluff instead of hanging from a leaf. The bluff here is notched due to the erosion of a middle layer of stone, making a scenic spot. In one spot you can shelter under the overhang.
Devil’s Kitchen Trail
The trail led to the CCC lodge and I crossed over to the Devil’s Kitchen Trail. I crossed the short walkway at the south trailhead and began to ascend the knob. I reached the small cave at the north end and then headed back south past the knob on the knob. The trail made another steeper rise as it crested the top, where a fallen tree was hosting some fungi. On the far side were tall pine trees with pretty bark. I tumbled down the logs which hold back the trail erosion on this side of the hill as trucks roared past, climbing the big north hill on Highway 112 out of the park.
The trail descended to the big bluff which has the partially collapsed stone room which is its namesake. The old entrance was sealed by a collapse during my lifetime, so I made my way around to the side where you can climb up to the roof and drop in through the top or peer in from the side. I didn’t feel like jumping down into the kitchen, so I peered in through the end and was startled to see a big buzzard inside. I’m sure glad I didn’t pop in on him! He helpfully flapped out onto the roof to pose for me. I bid the bluff adieu and made my way down to the river, where two boys were playing in the same pool where I lost a treasured fake jewel in my distant childhood. Maybe they found it for me. From there it was a short walk to the park store to conclude my 7.6 mile hike.
Along with the oodles of photos, I shot some video while at the park.
Neosho’s Big Spring Park
I drove over to the campground where I washed up and changed clothes in one of the showers. Refreshed, I drove through Cassville, disappointed to find that The Rib restaurant is closed again. So I drove on to Neosho, where TripAdvisor recommended Sam’s Cellar. It was located on courthouse square and when I opened the door the smell of beer washed over me along with uninhibited voices from below. Neither appeals to me, so I retreated three blocks to Big Spring Park, where I found an attractive waterfall.
Neosho means clear or abundant water, fitting since Big Spring’s flow is almost 900,000 gallons per day and is only one of nine springs in the city. The park is pleasant, although a neglected odd amphitheater on one wall of the former quarry is a bit strange with steps leading up to an abandoned area. You can walk down to where Big Spring flows out of the rock on the west side of the hollow. I liked the styling of the big wading pool, which reminded me of the Neptune pool at San Simeon, featured in the climax of the film version of The Great Gatsby.
The east side of the old quarry has a bluff and small cave. There is supposed to be a large cave in one end of the park, sealed up by the townsfolk in the late nineteenth century after some children were briefly lost in it. The first chamber has been found and is 125 feet wide and 5 feet deep. Some believe a much larger cavern lies beyond. What fun for local kids to have a mystery cave in their park!
I found a marker remembering the local Rocketdyne plant, which built rockets used in space missions through 1968. Located on 2,000 acres of the former Fort Crowder, the plant is now Premier Turbines, which repairs and overhauls airplane engines. Just across the street from the park is a ceramic tile mural on the side of the former Safeway store. It was commissioned and designed by local artist Lawrence J. “Larry” Sanchez, who had studied at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts and won a mural-design contest sponsored by Safeway Stores.
Spring River Overlook
I had a quiet and relaxing dinner at El Charro in Neosho and then drove west, stopping at Twin Bridges State Park for the overlook of the Spring River. The sun was setting as I drove into Bartlesville after a nice relaxing day in the Ozarks.