Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Autumn in the Ozarks
and the trees are stripped bare
of all they wear,
but what do I care."
Sunday's dawn found the Monkey and I barrelling down US 63 looking to make a hard right out of Licking, MO. A three-hour drive spent talking about life and recent horror stories from friends about hitting deer (it is that time of year) brought us to the Paddy Creek Campground of the Mark Twain National Forest. Chilly and in high spirits, we set out to wander the trails along the Big Piney Creek. The trek was pleasantly arduous, winding up and down the hills of southern Missouri, through stands of alternating oak and pine. There were few beautiful vistas, since the trees were still relatively leaf-covered, but the poison ivy was in full fall color, and some of the trees were fall-lovely as well. It's been unseasonably warm here for a while, so the trees are not very vibrant for the most part, but I don't really appreciate the autumnal color shift, anyway.
We did come across several really interesting looking mushrooms and some intriguing rock formations, but the first part of the hike was pleasant, yet non-descript.
By 11:00, we had reached the 6.2 mile mark, and had to decide whether to hike the 2.2-mile round trip to Roby Lake and back. We had planned to lunch there (you guessed it--PB & J!), but we still had 9 miles to hoof after that, in addition to a three-hour drive back home. Sadly, we decided to skip the lake and find a place by the creek to have lunch.
As we made our way down a hillside approaching the creek bed and a spring, we saw four saddled horses picketed on the rocks on the opposite bank of the creek. This would have been a great place for lunch, but the riders were splashing about in the spring, and Monkey felt that we would be cramping their style if we layed our lunch out in plain sight of them. We couldn't see them , since the spring was around a bend behind some rocks, but I agreed with Monkey. After all, I suspected that the riders were splashing about in various states of undress, and this was something I didn't really care to see. We took the rise out of the creek bed and found a nice little overlook to lunch on where we couldn't see the riders. As we finished our lunch, the horse party trotted by. Luckily for us, they were fully clothed...and I was certain we had made the right decision. I surely didn't want to see any of them in ANY state of undress!
While the horse party was well ahead of us and moving faster than we, their presence on the trail was never far from our consciousness. Mainly due to the fact that the horse's manure was never far from our shoes. The rockiness of the trail was further complicated by the treacherous placement of the horse evidence. We danced the last 9 miles of that trail like Astaire or Baryshnikov, for sure. At the 12 mile mark (about 2pm), we were ready to have a long sit, but we still had three miles to go. We found an old homestead a little way down the trail. The only evidence was four cornerstones (maybe it used to be the spot for a trailer) and a huge grove of yucca plants. In a pine forest. It was a bit surreal.
At 2:30, we came to a nice overlook, but the view was blocked by some trees. We were about 1200 feet up, and we could see pretty far to the west between the pine branches. However, it had gotten a bit warmer (it only hit 75, but we felt hotter than that), and our dogs were barking. We didn't stay up on the ridge for long. Another hour, a treacherous descent and a stroll through some riparian woodlands and we were back at the trail head.
We had covered over fifteen miles in a little less than six hours. That's a pretty brisk pace. We were happy to be done and glad that we had come down to the Paddy Creek area, but, all in all, the trail was pretty mundane. We drank some water and ate a banana, kicked off the hiking shoes and hopped in the Ozark Traveller, and made our way back north as the sun set pinkly in the west.
By the way, Monkey saw her first armadillo. Unfortunately, it was roadkill.