Hiking with Mark Twain

Hiking with Mark Twain

I’ve always enjoyed taking photos of fall colors, especially when I lived in New York, with its colorful sugar maples. Although Missouri has fewer maples, in the eight years I’ve lived here I’ve taken the opportunity to hike in a few of the state parks and conservation areas in the fall. This year I decided to try something different.  (Click any image for a larger view in a new tab.)

The Mark Twain National Forest covers 3 million acres (1.5 million acres of that is public land), with nine tracts of forests in the southern half of Missouri. On Thursday, I hiked one of the loop trails in the 16,500 acre Cedar Creek Ranger District, which is the one district north of the Missouri River and has 34 miles of trails. Before 1940, private landowners intensively cultivated the land, resulting in depleted and eroded soils. In the 1940s, the Soil Conservation Service began purchasing and rebuilding it, stabilizing gullies and planting trees and grasses. It’s been managed by the U.S. Forest Service since 1953. The Smith Creek Loop covers 5 miles, but I hiked 5.7 miles to cover a couple of side trails for photo opportunities.

It was a sunny day, and the temperature reached 87ºF by late afternoon (a near record). While I could have chosen a cooler day for hiking (Friday’s high was 49º), Thursday was a dry day in the middle of a rainy spell. I started at the southeast corner of the loop, traveling “counterclockwise,” which worked out well as I appreciated the mostly-level stretch of the final mile. This image, with the trail map layered over a Google terrain map, shows how much the elevation changes on the trail.

As I hiked the trail, it was obvious that some of it follows former roads. Any trace of gravel or dirt roadway is long gone, and if it wasn’t overgrown it would look like a lane winding through the forest. The width of the loop trail varies from 15-20 feet down to a mere footpath crowded by trees. This area is known for hills and bluffs, so much of the trail includes slopes that climb and descend the numerous ridges leading to the bluffs. We can get some pretty heavy rain here, and those old paths offer the perfect course for runoff, so the trail often winds around or parallels those sections. In fact, we had a heavy rain the day before, so there were a few spots that had slick areas that were hidden beneath fallen leaves. Even on some of the narrow, steep sections, hoof prints were evident, as the trail is open to horseback.

The trail crosses Smith Creek, which is about 25 feet wide, but there was no water running in the creek. One side trail took me to Cedar Creek, which is 30 feet wide with a very mild current. The trail led to an old iron bridge that served the road that once ran through there.

I never had to actually cross Cedar Creek, but the trail loop approaches it at two other points. The overlooks there gave some nice views looking down and across the water. The first was about 100 feet above the creek. The second, at roughly 150 feet above the creek, had some impressive formations, with cedars clinging to the edge of the bluff.

Cedar Creek, 100 feet below a limestone bluff

This tract of land is primarily oak, hickory and cedar, but I saw a dead tree that could have been an ash, and I did get some maple photos.

I had the trail pretty much to myself, encountering one pair of hikers, and these two that crossed my path.

Western Black Snake – 4 ft. long

Its been about a year since I’ve taken a hike of three or more miles. This one was was a reminder that I’ve had a couple of health issues since then. My back and legs were feeling it before I was done, but I recovered with no problems. Early this year I learned of a heart condition I’ve had all my life, one that now leaves me briefly winded when I climb a flight of stairs. The downhill slopes were a breeze, but let me tell you, my heart knew when I was climbing, even on gentle and moderate inclines.

Occasional stops on the frequent uphill climbs were the order of the day. I’m only 67 and have a few years ahead of me, but I’m learning that I need to modify my activity, something I’ll have to keep in mind on future hikes. My favorite part of this hike was the overlooks, so the next time I walk this trail I’ll start at the bridge near the northwest corner of the loop and hike up to the overlooks. There and back.

Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters

I do not tire of the bluffs,
with their grand faces.
I pass from one to the next,
straining to see into the depths
between them shrouded
in a canopy that was bare branches
just weeks before. I came here
knowing the differences
would show. The same is true
for the similarities. Would
the summers be longer?
The winters colder? It’s not
the weather so much
as the familiarity. I’m getting
there, but I still miss the blue water
and the maples. I miss the maples.

Today is Day 12 of National/Global Poetry Writing Month.
This may be off-prompt, but I’m sharing it at napowrimo.net.

Image:  of course, any time I see a maple while hiking in Missouri…

Waiting, Impatiently

Waiting, Impatiently

Will a wet summer mean a burst of color
for Ozark hills familiar with drab autumns?

Clouds more frequent, but blue skies,
still, in these shorter days of lower sun.

The sycamores seem to measure
the light, their yellow the first to show.

Without a frost to say otherwise, green
clings to maple, oak, and hickory.

No monarchs in sight as the milkweed
goes to seed, but the season will not be rushed.

Back in Buffalo, I’d be taking photos of peak fall foliage around Columbus Day. A week later could be too late, with colors fading. There’s nothing here yet, in Missouri, but our first frost of the season is in this weekend’s forecast. Fingers crossed.

Images (top to bottom)
Sycamore starting to change on Moreau River (04 Oct 2019)
Milkweed, bank-side of pond in Runge Conservation Center (09 Oct 2019)
Common buckeye feeding on aster at Runge (09 Oct 2019)
(click each for larger view in new tab)

where she will ~ magnetic poetry

where she will

rain falls
water rises
a river flows where she will
with no regard for man
or his needs
a course never by choice
ever by circumstance


If you want to try magnetic poetry, you can do it online, here.

Background image: Missouri River at Jefferson City, Missouri – 06 June 2019
(click image for larger view in new tab)

Unfortunate Turn of Events

Unfortunate Turn of Events

No one saw it coming.
Hills. Valleys. Bluffs.
They’re not conducive to tornadoes.

Technology changes everything,
showed this one developing.
And so it came.

Middle of the night.
Sirens wailing.
Cars and houses sailing.

Walls in pieces.
Roofs gone.
Ours still over our head.

Close enough to go down
to the corner and see
the damage. Feel lucky.

It’s said they turn
counterclockwise.
This one twisted right past us.

A tornado passed within a mile of our home last night, causing extensive damage in Jefferson City, Missouri. Several homes and businesses were destroyed. There were injuries, but no fatalities.

Image source: fox2now.com – aerial photos of damage
& screenshot of local news

Contemplating Ice on a River That Doesn’t Freeze ~ prose poem

Contemplating Ice on a River that Doesn’t Freeze

The winter water here is cold, but I’ve seen colder. Felt colder. I’ve seen ice float down the Niagara River, filling it shore-to-shore. But that was a fluke. No, there are no whales there, but normally the ice boom keeps the Lake Erie ice from flowing downriver and damaging docks along the shore. Actually, ice is more common on the Missouri River. Winter temperatures always are in flux, and hundreds of tributaries send their broken ice downstream. I’ll think about that today, when I’m kayaking in a t-shirt. Make that a kayak. I’ll be wearing the t-shirt – in 60-degree weather – thinking about last week’s river ice. And I’ll be on the water, not in it. It’s still cold, and I’ll be thinking about that tomorrow morning, when the temperature will be back down to 20 and the ice will form again on the creeks and streams. I think I’ll head back to the river next week and take some pictures of the ice flow – from shore.

Image: Osage River, Missouri – ice free (noon, 14 Feb 2019)
~~ click image for larger view in new tab ~~

Snow Reason to Stay in the House

Snow Reason to Stay in the House
(clicking any photo will open a larger image in a new tab)

I’ve been told that winters here in mid-Missouri are nothing like in the past. Twenty years ago snowfall was more common, often leaving snow on the ground between snowfalls. My experience in seven winters here in mid-Missouri is to see a couple of inches once or twice a month, with at least a week with temps in the mid-40s for a week, each month. Four inches of snow will be gone within a couple of days, and six to ten inches will be gone in a week. I was expecting something similar to happen with the snowfall we just had, but another system is developing, and the mid-West has the potential for another storm this weekend.

We had about a foot of snowfall from Friday afternoon into Saturday evening, with a light powder/mist on and off for the next twenty-four hours. Temperatures have been in the low 30s (F), so it was a wet, heavy snow, weighing down tree branches and providing a good workout for shoveling. That took a couple of hours over Saturday and Sunday, including clearing the street and digging out the mailbox. Our house is on a cul de sac, and by the time the plow gets to my driveway, ¾ of the way around the circle, it has to back up before hitting my neighbor’s mailbox. As it straightens out, it leaves a ten foot gap of snow across my driveway. If I want to get out of the driveway – or receive my mail – I need to clear that.

We still have gray skies today, but I decided to head to the local conservation area for photos this afternoon. A dozen or so people had been in ahead of me, which made the hike easier than it could have been, but there still was a bit of leg lifting in each step. Sunny and 46º is forecast for tomorrow. If that materializes, I may head back for photos in better lighting. Here’s what I have, for now.

The heavy snow has the cedars looking more like pine trees, and some of them didn’t survive that added weight.

There’s not much use for it in this weather, but there’s a fire tower in the park.

Meanwhile back home, our large lilac bush has lost two of its limbs.

And maybe we’ll get our TV reception back, if tomorrow’s warmer weather allows the snow to slide off our dish antenna.

Ken G

Falling for Winter

Falling for Winter
(clicking any photo will open a larger image in a new tab)

The inch of snow we had last night never accumulated on our “warm” pavement and was mostly gone by this morning, with an overnight low of 30ºF. The weather forecast for the next week is for daytime highs bouncing between mid-30s and high-40s and nighttime lows back and forth between high teens and mid-30s. If nothing else, the weather fluctuations here can be entertaining. Here are a couple of views from my house.

From my back deck…

Falling for Winter_1Falling for Winter_2

From my front porch…

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And the same view three days ago…

Falling for Winter_5

Ken G

Fall Color, Finally

Fall Color, Finally
(clicking any photo will open a larger image in a new tab)

In late October or early November, I make a point of going to Ha Ha Tonka State Park, sixty miles south of my home in mid-Missouri. I’m seldom disappointed by the fall colors the landscape has to offer. I made the trip on Monday, with temperatures in the sixties and partially cloudy (wispy) skies.

Fall Color, Finally_1

The patches of red that are visible are dogwood.

Fall Color, Finally_2Fall Color, Finally_3

There may be few maples in our area, but they draw my camera like a magnet.

Fall Color, Finally_4

This view is one that I never fail to photograph. It’s the outflow from a natural spring found at the base of one of the bluffs. The water (56,000,000 gallons, daily) can have an amazing blue hue on a cloudless day.

Fall Color, Finally_5

I spent several hours walking 4.5 miles of trails within the park, with an elevation change of a couple hundred feet, from the Castle down to the water, and then up again along the bluffs.

Fall Color, Finally_6Fall Color, Finally_7

This tree, now bare, sits on the ledge visible in the photo above it.

Fall Color, Finally_8

The area has numerous karst formations, including this natural bridge.

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Designed to be a home, later a hotel, The Castle at Ha Ha Tonka is bare stone walls, the result of a devastating fire in 1942.

Fall Color, Finally_10Fall Color, Finally_11

A great photo of The Castle in its prime can be seen here.
Meanwhile, within five miles of my home, this bluff always offers a spectacular autumn view.

Fall Color, Finally_12

And in my back yard, this hickory.

Fall Color, Finally_13

Sadly, the colors don’t stay forever. This is the same tree, three days later, after rain and a couple of cool nights. I’m sure the other trees are soon to follow. Oh well, there’s always next year.

Fall Color, Finally_14

Ha Ha Tonka fall photos from the last two years can be found here and here.

Ken G