By Tegan Vaughn
Are you still deciding whether or not to take a trip before the summer is over? There is no need to spend a lot or travel far to have a fabulous weekend getaway. I highly recommend exploring the Ozarks.
I grew up in the heart of the Ozarks, on a tributary to the Jacks Fork River. To some folks, when I say I grew up in the Ozarks, their minds automatically go to party boats and Branson. Well, the places my mind wanders to when I think of home are the lush, green hills; the cool, clear streams; and the shade of towering Oaks. To me, an adventure in the Ozarks is worth 10 visits to any amusement park. Let me tell you about a few gems.
Speaking of adventure parks, the Ozarks has one carved by nature. Johnson’s Shut-ins State Park is located in Reynolds County on the East Fork of the Black River. Water rushes over igneous rock that’s been smoothed by tumbling pebbles over the eons. The Missouri State Park websites tempts potential travelers to come “shoot through Mother Nature’s hydraulics.” But not to worry, I can tell you from experience that it’s relatively safe.
Next on the list, and nearby to Johnson’s Shut-ins, is Elephant Rocks State Park. Here you’ll find large, reddish-pink granite boulders that resemble Dumbo. This park has a main trail that includes Braille for the visually impaired and many other places to explore if you want to get off the beaten path.
Grand Gulf State Park–Sometimes referred to as a “little Grand Canyon,” Grand Gulf is a mile long collapsed dolomite cave near Thayer, Missouri. The “walls” are more than 130 feet tall. Visitors at the top have quite the dramatic view. When it rains, water drains into a cave at one end of Grand Gulf and ends up in Mammoth Springs, headwaters of Arkansas’ Spring River. http://www.mostateparks.com/park/grand-gulf-state-park
Alley Spring – This charming three story mill was built in 1894 to utilize the free water power of Alley spring to turn wheat to flour. The water is an incredible blue green and emerges from deep in the earth with an average daily flow of 81 million gallons. Water from the spring flows to the Jacks Fork River.
Round Spring – This beautiful spring reminds me of a cenote. It is a brilliant turquoise blue. Every day, about 26 million gallons of water comes up from the earth (55 feet down from the surface of the pool), then flows under a natural bridge and out to the current river. Near the spring is Round Spring cave. This cave is home to a bat maternity colony and beautiful cave formations. The cave is gated, but in the past, cave tours have been available in the summer months.
Rocky Falls – This dramatic destination is located near Eminence and Winona, Missouri. The 40 ft. falls are made up of rhyolite, a reddish-purple igneous rock. Rocky Creek cuts its way through the rock and creates a rippling, merry cascade that falls down to a great swimming hole.
There is nothing like visiting the breathtaking places right in our back yard. Their beauty reminds me of why we at the EPA and our Federal, State, and local partners work hard to protect and preserve these treasures. I live in Kansas City now, but my heart will always live in the Ozark hills.
Tegan Vaughn has worked at EPA Region 7 for three years in the Policy and Management Division. She graduated from UMKC with a BA in Environmental Studies and Minors in Geography and Sustainability. She currently resides in Olathe, KS.