Tent Camping in the Ozarks!!!

Silver Mines Summit Campsite

The idea of camping has always attracted me.  Sitting around the fire roasting marshmallows, hiking in new beautiful locales, learning how to “rough it”.  The actual execution of camping is always somewhat less than ideal when you come right down to it and this past weekend was no exception to that rule for me. 

This time it was Cole, Darby and I heading out to the Eastern part of the Ozarks to Elephant Rocks and Johnson Shut-Ins for the weekend.  If you are a regular here at How to do the Ozarks, you’ll remember my article on Primitive Camping https://howtodotheozarks.com/2020/06/25/ozark-mountain-primitive-camping/ where I was so tired after attempting to sleep in a hammock that I was unable to enjoy neither scrambling around big rocks in Elephant Rocks State Park, nor cutting my bare feet on the rocks at Johnson Shut Ins.  I promised Cole I would make another attempt, and this past weekend was the result.

Johnson Shut-In’s has a campground but all spots were taken for the weekend we were interested in going so we ended up in the quiet camp ground of Silver Mines https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/232392 near Ironton, Missouri.  For a mere $38 we reserved a nice size tent campsite with metal picnic table, fire pit and lantern pole for two nights.  Unbelievably, the Summit Campground where we were located had only 4 or 5 other reserved sites for the weekend and one couple ditched their site Saturday afternoon due to the storm that blew up and did its best to ruin the trip.  More on that later.

Wanting to take a more scenic route to the area, we started from Springfield Mo, traveling along Hwy 60 to Cabool and heading in a more northeasterly direction down Hwy 63 and then picking up Hwy 32 in Licking, Mo.  The drive down Hwy 32 was beautiful but curvy and I would not recommend it if you have passengers prone to car sickness.  At one point, Darby rolled down the window and stuck her head out to relieve some of the nausea the twists and endless hills brought on.  Picking up Hwy 21 by the stunning Buford Mountain Conservation Area and continuing through Pilot Knob, Ironton and Arcadia was picturesque and filled with interesting stops including the Battlefield of Pilot Knob and The Wheelhouse in Ironton which is a new mountain biking experience I will be checking out soon. 

We turned on Hwy 72 and traveled 11 miles to Hwy D (there is another Hwy D just a few short yards  from Hwy 72-don’t turn there) where our campground along the St. Francis River awaited.  The St. Francis River is the only white water river in Missouri and has an annual kayak race every spring when the waters are running fast and high.  The area was beautiful and even better, not crowded.  Temps were expected to be in the low 100’s on Saturday with a cooling off on Sunday, but we never had a temp higher than 85 all day Saturday.  The campground also has electrical sites at the Riverside Campground and the hosts had information available outside their RV as they were unavailable when we showed up to check out the terrain.  There are shut-ins on the St. Francis as well, but we were unable to reach them this trip as a thunderstorm blew up as we were exploring.

St. Francis River through Silver Mines

As we were setting up our tent, we could hear thunder in the distance prompting us to secure the rain fly more securely and use all the tent stakes on the 9 person tent as well.  Pop up thunderstorms in the summer are common in any part of the Ozarks and they usually blow over fairly quickly.  After securing our belongings in the tent and saying hello to our neighbors camping further down, we headed out in the rain to Elephant Rocks. 

Part of the Braille Trail at Elephant Rocks State Park

Elephant Rocks State Park https://www.mostateparks.com/park/elephant-rocks-state-park is located on Hwy 21 south of Buford Mountain Conservation Area and North of Taum Sauk Mountain State Park.  It is a geological wonder and was part of quarrying efforts for the popular red stone demanded by builders in the early 1900’s.  The hike can be as easy as sticking to the asphalt Braille Trail, and as difficult as climbing large boulders can be without equipment.  As always make sure young children are carefully watched by adults.  Not paying attention can result in a fall and serious injury in this area.  The sheer size of the rocks and how they are scattered around as though giants were bowling with them is amazing and keeps people coming back in all seasons to view this cool area.  Picnic tables, a playground, and information kiosk on how the boulders were formed round out this excellent park.

Did my ears just pop??? Made it to the top of Missouri!!

After leaving Elephant Rocks, we took Darby to the highest point in Missouri at Taum Sauk, which Cole and I hiked last July.  At 1772 ft. above sea level, it’s not much higher in elevation than where we live in Springfield, but it has a great lookout and now Darby can say she’s been to the highest point in Missouri!  One of the great things about this area is all the fun things to do.  The Black River is close and has outfitters who will set you up to float.  There are plenty of conservation areas managed by the Missouri Dept. of Conservation dotting the area with plenty of hiking, birding, camping and hunting opportunities (in season).  It is definitely worth a week or more of exploring for the outdoor enthusiast.

After returning to camp, we were planning on making dinner, but the thunderstorm that had loudly been heralding its arrival finally decided to rain on our parade, literally.  Howling winds, enough to make us slightly nervous, thunder, lightning, hard rain pounding on the roof of the tent which, of course, leaked.  We rested, and waited…and waited.  Finally, after an hour and a half, we decided to head to Fredericktown in Madison County and search for a place to eat as the idea of dinner over the campfire was definitely out.  We found the small town quaint, with a variety of restaurant options.  Cole wanted a beer so we decided on Lalo’s Mexican Grill on Lincoln Drive off Bus 67.  Darby and I shared the Nachos Supreme and Cole had fajitas.  The chorizo queso dip was delicious and we barely ate all the food.  Cole’s medium Dos Equis was huge and the total bill was reasonable considering he had two drinks.  What was most fun was watching the townspeople out on a Saturday night having a good time.  The staff was attentive but not overbearing as it was busy when we arrived and we had a good time.

LaLo’s Mexican Grill Fredericktown Mo

During the night, another storm blew through, but barely woke us.  What did wake me was having my Coleman airbed collapse under me and feeling the cold press of the earth on my spine.  At 50 I have to have a good night sleep or I am going to tear someones head off tomorrow.  So twice in the night I ended up using the air pump to refill the Coleman so I could fall right back to sleep.  I also remembered to take an over the counter sleep aide with me this time, so getting back to sleep was easier than last year.  Again, temps were supposed to be in the high 90’s and we planned accordingly.  With the storm, the overnight average was probably 65 which was a little chilly.  Darby was grateful she had bought a cheap blanket at Dollar General, and I had cotton sheets to lay over the air mattress.  Next time I will throw a blanket in the car as well just in case. 

A few camping tips:  Earplugs are helpful.  Noise travels in the night like it does over water.  A camper or animal can be 50 feet away and will sound like it is right on top of you in the middle of the night.  Please do not play obnoxious music at 6:30 a.m. in your camp site.  I was awake, but Eminem at that time of morning did not please me from our neighbors who had arrived noisily sometime in the night.  Put your firewood in your vehicle or tent where it won’t get wet, it’s much easier to start a fire that way.  Do not bring firewood from your county to other counties in the Ozarks.  The Missouri Dept. of Conservation is trying to mitigate damage from pests by asking people to buy or scout for local firewood when camping.  There were plenty of people making a few extra bucks in the area we were in by selling camping firewood.

Rocks and water, what a combination!

On to Johnson Shut-Ins! https://mostateparks.com/park/johnsons-shut-ins-state-park What a fun place.  You can float, sit in the water, hike the trails and boulder over the shut-ins as well as slide down the natural slide formations made by the rocks.  Shut-Ins are rock formations that create pools, waterfalls, rapids and crevices on a river that are a lot of fun to navigate if you have water shoes on!  Last year, Cole and I went barefoot and it definitely shortened the trip and our level of enjoyment dropped drastically.  This time I couldn’t help but think that video of me reaching for each rock as I placed my foot on algae covered rocks would have made good fodder for Americas Funniest Home Videos.  I work with people who have broken their hips or had back surgery; I knew I did not want to fall at on the rocks at Johnson Shut-Ins.  Be aware there have been deaths that have occurred at this park as people do not always stay away from areas with No Trespassing signs.  The last person to die was an 18 year old girl this year that attempted to jump off a ledge, changed her mind and slipped and fell causing her untimely death.  I want to take my granddaughter when she reaches the age of 8 or so.  There is an area that has less rock and more gravel beach at the first staircase and my advice is if you have any orthopedic issues with hips and knees, take that first stairway.  You can check out a short video on my YouTube Channel How to do the Ozarks to see more of the trip.

Shut-Ins can be fun!

This was a great trip and again I learned more about how to camp, what to bring, and how to be flexible with the schedule depending on circumstances.  I will be going out to Ironton, Missouri to check out the new mountain biking trails which are world class and have been included in the national circuit this year.  I’m not going to try anything crazy, but I will try a lower level trail and let you know how it went.  So get out there friends and enjoy the Eastern Ozarks.

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

Peck Ranch Conservation Area

Disclaimer:  The elk in Peck Ranch are wild animals, do not leave your car, truck or SUV to go pet them or take selfies with them.  Help keep wild animals wild


The entry for Peck Ranch off Hwy H northeast of Winona

There is nothing like a drive through the Ozarks countryside in October.  The leaves are on fire and the hillsides blaze with a thousand shades of orange, yellow, green and red.  Winding roads, both asphalt and dirt lead you on toward even more breathtaking scenery around each curve.  Though the weather was cooperating on the day we visited Peck Ranch just northeast of Winona, the elk were not.

Fall in the Ozarks

In May of 2011, six bulls alongside 28 cows and calves were released into what was to become a successful conservation effort specifically geared toward reintroducing elk into Missouri after a 146 year absence.  More elk were introduced to expand the herd in 2012 and 2013 and now Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties host an ever expanding elk population and tourist destination.  So much so, that this year, a limited hunt was allowed through a lottery for a shot at 5 antlered elk. 

This heavily forested part of Missouri has little industry beyond tourism, healthcare, schools and logging.  Peck Ranch, along with other conservation areas; including the federally protected Current and Jacks Fork rivers, is helping bring more tourism to the area to the tune of 1.3 million.  Taking a socially distanced, friendly drive also helps hundreds if not thousands of Ozarks residents thrive in these less populated counties. We had originally planned to overnight nearby in Van Buren which would have helped us get an earlier start into the park, but the best laid plans are occasionally foiled.  If you are planning a trip to Peck Ranch I recommend trying one of the accommodations including Air BnB’s nearby to get a jump on the day.

October is mating season for elk and we were looking forward to the driving elk tour during the second week of the month.  Alas, a small window of opportunity for a hunter to bag an elk from October 12th through the 16th foiled our plans and we had to wait for the weekend instead.  Still, as I said, the weather was great and the drive beautiful.  Experts recommend that early morning (the park officially opens at 4 a.m.) and sunset are the best times for observation of these huge animals.  Of course, being late sleepers on the weekend, we got to Peck Ranch at noon.  Combine hunters previously in the woods stalking game to fill the freezer and the noon high sun and you guessed it, not a single elk sighting.

Official Peck Ranch sign

Other tourists were traversing the gravel back trails of Peck Ranch as well, hoping to catch a glimpse of these relative newcomers to the Ozarks.  We did see a few armadillos, deer and lots of turtles.  I had no idea armadillos were active during the day and thought the one we did see was a fast moving turtle!  Visit https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places/peck-ranch-conservation-area before you start your drive especially to check and see if the park is open to driving tours due to this seasons hunting schedule. Checking out Google Maps for area restaurants would be my recommendation as we used this feature once we were back in civilization (or at least getting a small signal) to find Cattlemen’s Restaurant in Willow Springs.  Great food and service, but that is another post!

All in all a great day trip and one I would happily recommend, though next time we will get an earlier start!

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

Bennett Spring State Park

Bennett Spring State Park fly fishing in September
Fly fishing is a cold but fun sport.

Forty minutes from where I live near Buffalo Missouri sits a trout hatchery park well worth a visit any time of year.  Bennett Spring https://mostateparks.com/park/bennett-spring-state-park is more than just a great spot for fishing enthusiasts.  Camping, hiking, swimming-all can be on the agenda for a day, weekend or longer.  Cabins dot the area as well as sites made for any size RV or small tag along.  During summer, a swimming pool sits overlooking the river and would be a great place for those uninterested in fishing.  With Covid 19 ruling our lives this year, getting outside more than 6 feet apart and engaging in any activity is a welcome relief.

I set out on a Monday in early September, thinking I’d be one of the few in the park.  Au contraire, the place was packed with anglers and campers hoping to snag a trout or two for dinner or for the shear exhilaration of winning the game known as fly fishing.  As I hiked, I noted how unusually quiet it was.  I knew there were at least 500 people in the general vicinity, but that didn’t matter.  They were completely focused on their own pursuits and silently at that. 

Whistle Trailhead off Hwy 64

Hiking down Whistle trail, rated moderate, I met up with Bluff Trail without ever seeing the blaze changes (red blazes for Whistle-which can fade and orange for Bluff).  This area was more rugged with the spring rains causing areas of concern where the trail had eroded away.  I noted the trout in deeper waters and just out of reach of most anglers’ ability to cast.  Smart fish.  They numbered in the hundreds, all lazily swaying in the current and remaining in the same general area.  Though not a very long hike, the terrain was steep and I decided to take the main road back to my vehicle instead of backtracking the way I had come.  Passing the general store, now with less merchandise at the end of tourist season, though still well stocked as well as the dining lodge which was open for guests. Upon arriving I grabbed a few maps of the area from the store, one specifically for trails and one with general information.  The staff was helpful and friendly, something state parks have in common here. 

There are 5 trails here with Natural Tunnel Trail being the longest at 7 ½ miles.  This is the trail I’d like to take next.  The Alltrails app https://www.alltrails.com/ has some nice features and can give up to date information on the conditions of the trail from feedback given from other avid hikers.  I’ve used this app before when hiking Hercules Glade.  I may be able to convince my husband to take a short weekend trip there next year and hike while he scares fish away (he’s skunked every seasoned fisherman he’s ever fished with).

Beautiful rugged hike in Bennett Spring State Park

For me, this was a great half day trip and I was able to get in a quick though rugged hike in preparation for my goal of a longer and even more rugged hike next spring in Arkansas.  I could have spent more time and of course, Lebanon is close by for shopping and other pursuits for those less likely to don hip waders and stand in cold streams waiting for a hit.  But Lebanon is another adventure.  So get out there, fall is calling.

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

Ozark Mountain Primitive Camping

Hiking is one of my favorite ways to exercise and my goal has always been to do more.  Facing a 10 day vacation I decided, in a moment of complete insanity, to ask my son to take me on one of his primitive overnight hiking/camping trips.  Let me tell you, I have not worked out that hard in quite a while.

Taum Sauk Lookout point

Close to the highest point in Missouri 1700+ miles above sea level.

Our first stop was the Mina Sauk Falls Trail at Missouri’s highest point, Taum Sauk which is 1700+ feet above sea level.  Located in Madison County, northeast of Mountain Grove and off Hwy 21 and CC, this picturesque spot was Cole’s first choice for overnight camping.  One thing about hiking in Missouri is that some trails are smooth and easy to navigate and some trails take so much concentration to keep from rolling your ankles, you never have a chance to look up.  Mina Sauk Falls Trail was in the latter category, though the scenery and falls (only running in wet conditions) were worth it.  I had to remind myself to deliberately stop occasionally to take a look around due to the minefield of rocks on the trail.  Big rocks, little rocks, mossy rocks, wet rocks-you get the idea.  Depending on your goal and the state of your ankles, you may want to limit your time on this particular trail.  It is partially paved for wheelchair access to the spot proclaiming Missouri’s highest point.  It took 3 hours to trek 3 miles with occasional stops for photo ops.  Check out the Scarlet Tanager Cole captured:

Scarlet Tanager

This cute little guy was worth stopping and looking for! Scarlet Tanager

Due to the restrictions and cost for primitive camping at this particular site, Cole decided to camp a few miles up the road at Johnson’s Shut In’s State Park in Reynolds County.  We parked at the Scour Trail trail head, strapped on our gear (mine must have weighed 35 lbs., at least) and headed in.  The time: 5:00 p.m.  That’s right, not very much time to hike in 2 miles over fairly rugged terrain and set up camp before darkness fell.  In the woods, dark comes early.  Of course, the trail gradually elevated, challenging my jiggly thigh muscles especially with the weight of gear, food and water on my back.  We had walked up a ridge and were about a quarter of a mile from our destination when I told Cole, “I can’t make it up another ridge like that one!”  He gamely took my pack from me, slid his arms into the straps and carried one backpack on his chest and one on his back while leading the way up an even more difficult ridge than the one I’d complained about!  Talk about service!

Once in the clearing of one of his favorite primitive campsites, Cole started looking for firewood while I caught my breath and chugged water.  Dry wood was plentiful on the ground so we didn’t have to look far to find enough to get a good campfire going, big enough to cook dinner and small enough to control with the water we had carried in if necessary.  Using dirt instead of our precious water supply is always preferable. Keeping the primitive in primitive camping, Cole used his flint and steel knife (pictured below) to start our campfire.  It took quite a bit of work and I did offer my lighter which would have taken less energy and been faster as well.  Note to self:  The drier the grass you start with, the better.

Flint and Steel

Flint and steel for primitive camp fires. I did offer my lighter which is much faster!

We had decided on hammock camping as they are light, easy to carry, set up in a trice and leave no trace.  We set up my 2 person hammock and Cole’s one person hammock close enough to each other to assist one another if needed-and it was needed.  On our hike through the deeper woods we had seen evidence of recent feral hog activity, putting the hammocks up fairly high seemed prudent, though we had brought a sidearm and 33 rounds along for the trip.  This area of Missouri is known for bears and feral hogs, so we were prepared for anything.

A few things about primitive camping that were challenging to me:

  1. I was cold, especially my back and butt, swinging in the breeze on a 64 degree night. I had not brought a sleeping bag.
  2. I do not like sleeping with my face open to nature. The two person hammock allowed me to cover my face and torso, but not my lower legs.  I had not expected this to be an issue, but the thought of any spider or insect being able to land on my nose kept me awake.
  3. Hiking 5 rugged miles did a number on those jiggly thighs and I was unable to get comfortable in the hammock without serious cramps-luckily Cole was close by to yank me out of the hammock when both thighs got Charlie horse cramps at the same time. I did manage to get into my hammock on the first try without flipping over and breaking something.

This is not my preferred way to camp, but, I got to try something I had never done, spend quality time with my youngest son, and learn how not to go about doing something like this again.  I will definitely try to keep down the actual mileage I attempt to hike with a pack next time, maybe just the 3 miles.  I will also be more prepared if I ever have to rough it and have a better idea of what to expect.  We were very prepared as far as food, water, and bug spray were concerned.  We were not prepared for the cooler temperatures even in the middle of June.

Proof of Life

Proof of Life photo taken for hubby after coming down from the overnighter

All that being said, it was absolutely worth it.  The silence of the night deep in the forest with only occasional faint road noise, the three whippoorwills’ calling back and forth throughout the night, the coyotes howling in the distance, the sure knowledge that I had done it.  I was still alive the next morning no worse for wear except for being tired.  I’ll take that any time.

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

Roaring River State Park

Black Vulture Roaring River State Park Cassville MO

One of 2 vultures found in North America, this black vulture was spotted in Roaring River State Park in SW Missouri

I have always been fascinated with fishing.  As an only child with a great imagination, I would find the biggest stick I could, tie yarn to it and place a huge metal closet hook on the end.  I would march down the stairs into the wilds of the backyard of my apartment in San Francisco, toss my line into the cats water bowl and sit for what seemed like hours (probably 10 minutes, I was 4) waiting for something to happen.  As I grew I learned other ways of fishing for the real thing and enjoyed taking my oldest son out and letting him learn about this great hobby.  Yesterday I had the chance once again to be involved in passing down a passion for fishing as my family gathered at Roaring River State Park and introduced this fun hobby to the grandkids.

Roaring River is located outside Cassville in Barry County, Missouri.  A scenic drive off of Hwy 60 down Hwy 39 to Hwy 248 and a hard left onto Hwy 112 which takes you to the park.  The park has 3 levels with different bait use available for each level.  When the park officially opens this year (2020) on May 17th you must have both a Missouri state fishing license and a daily trout tag to fish.  Children under 16 and seniors 65+ are exempt from fishing license rules in Missouri, but must obtain a daily trout tag.  There are plenty of spots to tent camp, RV camp or rent a cabin on the property.  There are quite a few resorts that we passed that look well-kept and that are starting to open back up after the Covid 19 shutdown.

Roaring River State Park Trout Hatchery

A birds eye view from the Fire Tower Trail overlooking the main hatchery pond.

I was more interested in hiking this trip than fishing, so I left the spouse to see if he could catch dinner (he didn’t) and took off for the Fire Tower Trail with two of my children.  The park has 7 trails and information and maps area available here:  https://apps5.mo.gov/trails/fullMap.action  and here: https://mostateparks.com/sites/mostateparks/files/Roaring%20River.pdf   Due to the difficulty level of the trail, my abysmal cardio endurance, and fear of heights, we were only able to hike for about an hour.  Lesson learned.  At the hatchery, Roaring River is located between two very high bluffs, so if you want to hike there, it’s pretty much straight up.  I will be checking out the other trails at some point to see if any are less heart attack inducing.

The weather was perfect on May 9, though anyone from this area can tell you the weather can change quickly and without warning in these parts.  Back in 2017 rains poured down and swept away quite a few of Missouri’s water based businesses and campers in Roaring Rivers valley had to be evacuated.  Many are rebuilding including Roaring River State Park.  Once a hatchery with many tanks for young trout, most now stand empty with only a few holding tanks used to get brown and rainbow trout ready for delivery into the river.  On opening day, March 1, trout fishermen and women stand shoulder to shoulder casting lines and showing off their skills at 10 and 2 o’clock.  Having never mastered the art of fly fishing, watching people who are skilled is a favorite past time while I’m on the rivers.  Trout can also be caught using spinner bait with a rod and reel; my oldest has had luck with power bait as well.

Roaring River State Park Cassville Missouri

Whether you want to fish, camp, hike or swim-Roaring River State Park has all your outdoor getaway needs!

Roaring River is a great spot for the day or the weekend.  Close to the Arkansas border and the Chain of Lakes, there are quite a few outdoor pursuits to enjoy.  The park is well equipped for picnics, BBQ’s and also has a restaurant and store which will open after May 17th 2020. There is also a nature center which explores the history of the park, and will also open around May 17th.   On August 15, 2020 Roaring River will host a Kids Free Fishing day which are generally staffed with experienced men and women who love to share their fishing knowledge with the next generation.  Keep an eye on the Department of Conservation website at: https://mdc.mo.gov/events/details/kids-fishing-day

All things considered the day was wonderful.  My granddaughter’s began learning a great new hobby that will hopefully engage them in the outdoors for years to come.  Be warned, the water is very cold and extra socks are a must for children.  There is no wading in the fishing areas, but there is a swimming hole and swimming pool available in other parts of the park.  Several other well learned lessons were:  Don’t throw rocks when people are fishing and Don’t touch random plants (poison ivy grows close to the trails here).  Roaring River State Park has a lot to offer, so get out there!

For those of us not interested in sleeping on the ground!

Well-kept cabins with a view of the hatchery and close to the store and restaurant.

Intense thigh workout ahead!

There are seven hiking trails throughout Roaring River State Park. Part of Fire Tower Trail is a steep incline up the bluff.

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

Lead Mine Conservation Area

Millers Country Store

Bulk Food Store and Greenhouse

I recently took a drive further into Dallas County to check out Lead Mine, an area specifically set up for equestrians with specialty primitive camp grounds for horse enthusiasts.  There are plenty of marked trails for horses, hikers, bicyclists, and access to the Niangua River for floating.  It is also part of the Missouri Birding Trail.  I took Hwy 73 just north of Buffalo off Hwy 65 and followed the signs into the area.

Lead Mine is directly east of Tunas, Missouri and is home to a Mennonite community so watch for horse drawn buggies, wagons and children on bicycles.  I stopped at a few stores including Miller’s Country Store and The Lead Mine Country Store and Restaurant.  The restaurant is only open limited hours so I was not able to sample any food, but the store did not disappoint.

The Lead Mine Country Store is chock full of all types of books on farming, cooking, hunting and what to do with your harvest-whether it’s meat or vegetable.  I could have easily spent a lot of money on books while there.  They also have a good selection of bulk spices, enamelware, and supplies for canning as well as bolts of cloth, hats, gloves, and a wide variety of suspenders.  If you have ever dreamed of homesteading, this is your store.

The Lead Mine Country Store and Restaurant

Lots to look at in this quaint stop on Hwy YY.

Miller’s Country Store off Hwy 73 also run by Mennonites has a greenhouse, outdoor furniture collection, large bulk food selection, frozen section, spices and a deli counter.  I bought some herbs and admired the container flower gardens.  Miller’s is larger and boasts more light inside, Lead Mine Country Store is quaint and old fashioned.  While at Lead Mine I paid a quarter for an area map of businesses to check out later including Niangua Furniture and Wenger’s Greenhouse.

Miller's Country Store

Bulk food store and much more. Hwy 73 North of Buffalo

Some things of note as I did not have much time, this was an exploratory trip:

  1. Conservation areas in Missouri can sometimes be deceptive.  Most that I have been to have very innocuous entrances leading you to believe you have arrived at your destination and there really isn’t much to brag about.  Lead Hill is one of these places, so keep driving.
  2. Wifi doesn’t work real well out here. I actually pulled out my Missouri map from the glove box to relocate myself several times between spotty internet access for Google Maps.  A map specific to the Lead Mine CA area would have been helpful and is available here https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places/lead-mine-ca:
  3. During this particular trip, I realized I needed to take my personal security a little more seriously as I am occasionally alone when hiking or taking photographs. I realized after a truck and trailer (not a horse trailer) had passed me slowly several times that I was in a vulnerable position and really couldn’t defend myself should I meet someone who meant me harm.  Most of the time, personal crimes are committed by people the victim knows, but sometimes they are crimes of opportunity.  This trip solidified in my mind that I needed mace and possibly other protective gear to demonstrate, if needed, that I was serious in protecting myself.
  4. This would be an excellent area for attempting mountain biking, which is something I have been considering doing more of this spring and summer to increase my fitness level. I’ll let you know how it goes.
  5. Ticks were out in the high grass and I completed a tick check as soon as I got home from my little exploratory hike. Should have sprayed down first.

This drive would be an excellent Saturday trip, as the above stores are NOT open on Sundays.  Whether you want to hike, float, fish or ride your horse, this is an area to put on your list.  Don’t forget to bring your binoculars, bug repellent , water and get out there!

Check out the Facebook page How to do the Ozarks and Instagram htdto2020 for more pictures and places to visit!

Springfield Conservation Nature Center

If you’re looking for a quick hike or some free fun for the kids, few things in Springfield MO can top the Springfield Conservation Nature Center.  Located at 4601 Nature Center Way on Springfield’s southeast side just off Glenstone and Republic road, the Nature Center boasts interactive displays, a glassed in bird watching station, plenty of programs and both paved and non-paved hiking trails.

My son, Cole and I spent an hour hiking the long trail.  It’s a mix of paved asphalt, chet rock, wooden decking and rocky outcrop trail.  Parts of the hike are a little more challenging for small children and if it’s raining or has been, the trail will most likely be flooded over as it comes into close proximity with tributaries of Springfield Lake.  There are other trails that keep away from the water and are handicap accessible as well.  There are also plenty of sitting areas on every trail if you become tired or need a short break.

On our trip, we did not see very much wildlife, but the trails were busy with children, runners and other hikers like ourselves.  I have seen wild turkey, deer, snakes, toads, frogs, salamanders and numerous types of birds.  If you have time, I recommend sitting in the photo blind for a little while to see what unsuspecting animal may come for a drink in the lake.

The Nature Center offers numerous programs for all ages including Babes in the Woods for ages 0-2, Little Acorns for ages 3-6 and Storytime with Ms. Ladybug for ages 2-6.  Teens also have special programs, sometimes for a nominal cost, every month.  The center also offers hikes in different areas of Springfield and the surrounding parks like Fellows Lake and Bois D’Arc with carpooling available as well.  The Primitive Skills Series is a must for any Bear Grylls fan as they cover different skills every season such as edible plants, outdoor safety, flint knapping and more.

https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places/springfield-cnc will bring you to their website for the Springfield location.  You can download the bimonthly newsletter, get maps and directions and a host of other information about the Nature Center from this site.

I believe the best part about the Springfield CNC is that it is so close to our busy city.  We are fortunate to be able to very quickly get away and find peace and quiet (unless they are working on James River Expy) and reconnect with nature.  Children never get tired of watching for animals, seeing birds feed at a feeder, or discovering what is behind the next bend in the trail and adults shouldn’t either.

Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center-Joplin Mo.

Just off of I-44 in Joplin sits 27 acres of bird watcher paradise.  163 types of birds have been recorded by birders visiting the center including the American Kestrel, Barred Owl, and Red Shouldered Hawk.  The website at wildcatglades.audubon.org offers an excellent, all inclusive list of the birds you may see when you visit the park.  The website is bright, interactive and easy to navigate.  The building is an L.E.E.D certified green building, and frankly, looked a bit overgrown and unused.  The Nature Center building is closed on Monday’s adding to the general air of disuse.  Upon further reflection, with the wildflowers blooming so close to the building, and the rock structure blending so well into its setting, you get a sense that the architect wanted the glade to take center stage and the building to run a close second.

I arrived from Springfield after an hour and 15 minute drive using instructions from Google Maps on my phone.  Lucky for me they were spot on.  I met up with my friend Cameron and he wanted to take me on the Bluff hike, a rocky, fairly challenging chert covered 2+ miles if you start from the Audubon center.  The trail takes you beside Shoal Creek, which has plenty of spots to stop and cool off for those who love water or have dogs that do.  The Bluff trail climbs up to a 50 ft. chert bluff overlooking the creek.  There were some sketchy spots, especially for someone who’s not a fan of heights and young children are not recommended to take this trail.  There is a warning sign at the beginning of this trail-read it.  There is really no way to receive medical help once you commit to this adventure.

On this particular day, it was 97 degrees.  I kept my water bottle out, my hat on and smeared on the SPF 50 at every opportunity.  Cameron, who had just completed a triathlon the weekend before, gamely kept to my slow pace as we talked about our mutual occupation as occupational therapy assistants and caught up on each other’s lives.  I will admit, parts of the trail really challenged me but I didn’t take more than one short rest break.  After all, I’m not that old!  Wildcat also has two other trails which also connect to Joplin’s Metro trails.  There is a downloadable color map on their website under the trails tab.

Coming up is the Shoal Creek Water Festival on Saturday, August 12 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be lots of activities for the kids-cardboard shoebox race, duck race, dunk tanks, super soakers and a fishing derby.  For the adults there will be an inner tube race that has a small cost associated with it.  If you are interested in any of these activities, get to the website quick so you can check out the registration details and costs associated.  Looks like it’s free to have fun and get wet!

All in all, I’m glad I went and I will be back in the fall to walk again and watch a little more closely for those 163 birds!