Friday, April 17, 2015


The Devils Backbone Wilderness is one of eight wilderness areas protected and preserved in  Missouri. It’s part of the Mark Twain National Forest. The Devil's Backbone is a long, narrow ridge which sits above two valleys and provides a fabulous view in either direction. There are 13-miles of maintained trails to explore and many options that can extend your hike or exploration of this wilderness area. I’ve only spent a day hiking but others have spent the weekend or longer exploring the various trails and springs. Primitive camping, meaning using tents, not campers, is allowed.

There are various spur trails. 


These trails lead to different parts of the wilderness including the one I traveled to the Ozark Trail. The walk along here was leisurely, as the trail is wide and relatively level. The climbs were moderate, although there is a fair amount of ridge walking. As you walk you will see caves of various sizes in the hillsides. There are some very rugged trails along the Devils Backbone and with elevations ranging from 1.020 feet to 680 feet, some trails are steep. There is also three designated trailheads that give access to the Devils Backbone Wilderness (Raccoon Hollow, McGarrr Ridge, Collins Ridge, as well as Blue Springs in the North Fork Recreation area. 

Blue Springs is amazing and yes, it is this blue in color. 

Redbud and Dogwood in bloom
Ozark Trail as well as Devils Backbone has year round hiking accessibility but the fall and the spring offer more temperate climates and lots of color. During the spring there are blooming dogwood, redbud, wild azaleas and the bright soft green of spring leafing. In the fall the oaks, sweet gum, and sugar maples offer bright colors of yellow, orange, and reds.

Fall trails
There are a lot of limestone glades and if you’re lucky, you'll spot white-tailed deer, gray and red squirrels, raccoons, coyote, red and gray foxes, and bobcats. Usually an armadillo or two and snakes. We do have two poisonous snakes, copperheads and eastern timber rattler, these tend to get out of your way rather quickly, and are easily avoided. 

It’s not unusual to spot red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, and bald eagles floating on the tail winds. Of course we have lots of wild turkeys. The forest is filled with songbirds and the walk is accompanied by the music of the birds, chatter of the squirrels, and various singing insects. Speaking of insects, we have the biting type like mosquitoes and ticks so using a good repellant (like deep woods OFF) is smart.

You’ll see many springs, creeks, rivers, and waterfalls.

The Ozark Trial and Devils Backbone is a gorgeous area to hike and visit.

Photos Missouri Dept of Conservation and personal

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


"A two-fold wildlife goal of Mark Twain National Forest is to maintain viable populations of all species while also affording a medley of activities that will allow humans to enjoy them—everything from hunting and fishing to wildlife viewing and photography." USDA Forest Service

I couldn’t talk about Missouri without mentioning one of our most famous citizens, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka, Mark Twain. His writing had quite an impact in the world of his time and on Missouri.

The name Mark Twain was the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, American author and humorist. The pen name itself was taken from riverboat pilot terminology for marking the fathoms of safe water for a riverboat to travel. They used a marked line dropped into to the water. Two fathoms was safe and they would call out, mark twain, meaning marked, two fathoms.  The author also claimed the pen name wasn’t entirely his invention, but had been used by Captain Isaiah Sellers who wrote about valuable news about the condition of the Mississippi River.

Riverboats in St. Louis, Missouri
Clemens explained, “Mark Twain was the nom de plume of one Captain Isaiah Sellers, who used to write river news over it for the New Orleans Picayune. He died in 1869 and as he could no longer need that signature, I laid violent hands upon it without asking permission of the proprietor's remains.”

The interesting thing is Samuel Clemens never came back to live in Missouri once he left the state, at age 26, during the Civil War. At the start of the war he was working the river as a riverboat pilot. Even before training and becoming a river pilot, Clemens wrote articles and humorous sketches for the Hannibal Journal, which was owned by his brother, Orion. After the war began, he followed his brother Orion to Nevada and pulled on that early training to work as a journalist.  Clemens traveled not only the country, but all over the world supporting himself largely as a journalist. After he married, he settled in Connecticut.

Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri, and when he was 4, his family moved to Hannibal. The town is a port city on the Mississippi and the setting of two of his most famous books, Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He was 40 when he penned Tom Sawyer and almost 50 when The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published. It was those stories that had the greatest impact for Missouri and tourism fueling his readers to see the Mississippi and the caves of Missouri. That interest, especially in the caves, contributed to opening our show caves.
Mark Twain Forest
Missouri Ozarks has the Mark Twain National Forest, established in 1939, located in 29 counties across southern and central Missouri and encompasses 1.5 million acres. It has an abundance of natural springs. There are 14 floatable streams and 16 lakes (ranging in size from 3 to 440 acres). There are places to camp and numerous trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. It’s popular with hunters and trappers, as well as anglers.
Many come to the Mark Twain National Forest to study and photograph wildflowers and wildlife. We have 320 species of birds, 75 species of mammals and 125 species of reptiles and amphibians. Additionally, there are various caves to explore as well being a unique environment to study geology, fossils, and cave inhabitants. 

 Mark Twain may have been born here. His various writings about the area brought in visitors from around the world. But, the enduring showcase is the wild and beautiful land I call home— Missouri. 

Class IV rafting Missouri
Photos: Dept Conservation, wiki commons, and personal

Monday, April 13, 2015


Missouri’s topography is karst.

Long ago, what we know as Missouri was covered by seawater. That sea deposited some of Missouri’s oldest cavernous rocks and limestone. Limestone accumulates on calm, shallow sea floors. Limestone is made up of sedimentary rock composed of calcium carbonate. It is this limestone that created a karst landscape in Missouri.

A karst landscape is characterized by the presence of caves, natural bridges, springs, sinkholes and losing streams—that’s where the surface stream loses a significant amount of its water flow below ground through bedrock openings. There can be, more or less, as much water below ground as there is above.

Section of Meremac Show caverns
Missouri is known as The Cave State because of its large number of caves. There are 6,900 known caves and more than 6,000 caves recorded in the Missouri Speleological Survey's files in Rolla, with more being discovered every year. In the nation, only Tennessee has more caves.

Our caves are among the largest and most impressive in the nation. There are caves in 78 of our 114 counties, mostly in the Ozarks. We have 20 show caves through out the state. Our show caves are open for public tour and governed by strict safety codes and are inspected at least once or twice a year. Show caves are great for those who don’t feel comfortable in exploring a cave on their own so they are in a tour group. Many of these caves are well lit with created paths, stairs, and railings—while maintaining and preserving the ecology of the cave.

The largest continuous karst terrain is in south-central Missouri. I live in the Missouri highlands on the Salem Plateau.  One of the largest cave systems is within the Salem Plateau. It’s like the cave factory with some of the oldest caves with Paleocene components in the Gasconade and Eminence dolomites. It dates back millions of years.

Our largest is Crevice Cave and is the longest in the state with over 30 plus miles of it having been surveyed and more to go. This surveying and exploration is made by trained cavers and further explored and cataloged by the members of the scientific community
An entrance to Crevice cave system
as well. We also have many visiting scientist from all over the world because the caves have some very unique features and some rare cave dwellers not to mention fossils. Because our caves have some very fragile resources they are protected (both those on private and public land) by some tough rules and regulations and some caves are only open to the scientific community.

A section of Berome-Moore cave stalactites
“Next door” to Crevice is Berome-Moore Cave. It's actually a series of caves. It was discovered in 1961 as a result of cavers finding breathing hole. Once they got that hole (only about 12 by 6 inches) expanded enough to crawl in they eventually came upon a cavern so vast their lights could not penetrate the darkness. Berome-Moore is an extensive system in which ancient cat tracks, an extinct Pleistocene Jaguar, have been found. There are so many tracks in one section they’ve named it Cat Track Passage.

Pleistocene Jaguar tracks
Missouri’s caves have been in use since ancient times. The Native American cultures have used hundreds of our caves for shelter, burial and other religious ceremonies, as well as for a source of water, clay, flint, and minerals. Human burials, artifacts and rock art still bear silent witness to the way the Indians used Missouri caves over a period of some 10,000 years.

Missourians have used caves more than 200 years. People have used Missouri caves as taverns, barns, spring houses, beer and wine cellars and sites for social gatherings, political events and religious services. This was because the caves were available and conveniently warm in winter and cool in the summer (temperatures range from 58-60 degrees year round). Settlers harnessed spring-fed cave streams to provide power for paper mills, woolen mills, sawmills and gristmills.

Our rich karst landscape has created some fabulous attractions and given rise to a substantial tourism trade, both above and below ground. Visitors come for our fishing and hunting, to explore our vast waterways, to hike and camp, and of course, for our extensive cave systems. 

Missouri truly is a beautiful state with much to explore and do. 

Photographs: Missouri Department of Conservation, MSS Cavers Reports