Ozark National Scenic Riverways 3/10-3/11/2019

Last Saturday’s rains made for the perfect opportunity to get out and explore the Ozarks. The days following provided fast-flowing streams and endless amounts of waterfalls and cascades. The waterfalls in Missouri are based on wet weather and that makes it a bit more challenging. One can’t just expect to walk up to a waterfall like in other places where they are consistently flowing (other than when they are frozen)—the right conditions are needed. The trip worked out well for waterfalls and river photography. However, I got skunked again on night sky. To me that’s a fair trade though, I’ll take it.

 

I started at Mina Sauk Falls in Taum Sauk Mountain State Park. Mina Sauk Falls is Missouri’s tallest waterfall at 132′. That doesn’t include all the cascades and smaller falls above and below. The view looking out from the top toward Wildcat Mountain is always beyond impressive and the multiple glades during the trek into the falls really are a sight to behold. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, winter has some of the greatest views of the Ozarks (no foliage), Taum Sauk Mountain State Park is an easy way to see some of the greatest views in Missouri.

Moving on to the Current River in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, I setup camp on a gravel bar. My hope was to catch a bit of the Milky Way but the skies became socked with clouds. The scenery was still absolutely fantastic as I relaxed next to a classic spring-fed Ozark river. In 1964, the first 134 miles of the Current River were federally protected, becoming America’s first National Park to protect a system of rivers—known as the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

The Current River is a largely spring-fed river and begins in Montauk State Park. The river meanders its way through the Missouri Ozarks and into northeast Arkansas where it feeds into the Black River. Montauk Spring, Welch Spring, Big Spring and Round Spring are just a handful of the springs that feed millions of gallons of clear and cold water into the Current River everyday (i.e. Round Spring produces on average 26 million gallons of water per day). Dolomite bluffs tower over its banks and gravel bars provide places to relax for paddlers and campers. Surrounded by mostly hardwood forests, pine and cedar groves are scattered throughout. The Riverways area provides habitat for black bears, blue herons, whitetail deer, elk, bobcats, mountain lions, numerous species of fish (Montauk State Park plays host to a big trout opener), snakes (5 species of which are pit vipers), Shannon County’s wild horses and much much more.

I fell asleep to the howls and yelps of coyotes echoing off the bluff across the river from my camp. Naturally, I woke up to it raining, go figure.

With the cloudy sky as a natural filter, I packed up camp and headed for Klepzig Mill and Rocky Falls in pursuit of more water subjected photos. The mill was constructed in 1928 by Walter Klepzig, the son of a Prussian-German immigrant. Klepzig helped his poorer neighbors out when needed and even introduced barbed wire to the area. The mill sits in a beautiful setting tucked away in the hills in a small section of shut-ins on Rocky Creek. The shut-ins showed me more waterfalls than I have seen here before. Of course, a photography trip to this area would not be complete with a stop at Rocky Falls.

I wrapped up the trip with a drive around Peck Ranch in search of elk. Something I used to do when we lived up north is drive the forest roads in search of moose. It was very reminiscent of one of my favorite things to do back in my home state of Minnesota. Once again, the foliage-free views during the winter months provided many stunning vistas of the surrounding Ozark Mountains. All in all, a great outing that needed a bit of adapting. Nothing ever seems to go as planned and that’s okay, learning to live with that is essential. Go with the flow and see you in the woods!

—Jake

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