The Caney Mountain Conservation Area (phone 417-256-7161 or www.mdc.mo.gov ) is in Missouri's Ozark County, five miles north of Gainesville, Missouri. It comprises 7,919 acres of a diverse landscape, that is characterized by unusual geology. This geology includes the roughest parts of a steep range of hills. These hills are the remains of an old elevated plateau that has been dissected by several feeder streams. At various locations in the Caney Mountain Conservation area, one has vistas of numerous prominent peaks, some of which are pictured in this photograph. In addition to the hills and limestone bluffs, there are unique plant communities---a result of the glades, savannas, forest openings, and old growth forests that cover the rugged terrain along the small creek bottoms. One can see the state record black gum tree, that is 106 feet tall, and has a girth of 10 feet, 3 inches! The occasion for my visit there was that it was the location for the weekly Wednesday hike of WHO---Women Hiking the Ozarks (for additional information on WHO, see the blog I wrote about the group in the 2010 archive on March 25).
Our group first explored the picturesque "Leopold Cabin", which is the subject of the photos in this collage. Folks familiar with the outdoors may also be familiar with the name "Leopold", as Aldo Leopold is considered a pioneer of modern wildlife conservation. It was actually the son of Aldo Leopold (A. Starker Leopold) who prepared the first wildlife management plan for the Caney Mountain Conservation Area, and hence, the name for the cabin. Because the state population of wild turkeys had dropped to less than 40 birds in the first half of the twentieth century, the Caney Mountain area was acquired as a turkey refuge in 1940, since it had been a stronghold of that species in Missouri. In addition, 30 deer were relocated here in the fall of that year, with the goal of building up the deer population. Before that time, the land had been repeatedly burned and subjected to open range grazing, with no real attention given to making the area sustainable for continuing wildlife populations. Although hikers cannot go inside the Leopold Cabin, the glass windows enable folks to see its interior. Also, there is a picnic table on the moss-covered limestone between the cabin and the edge of the bluff. It would make for an ideal outdoor meal retreat from "regular civilization". And conveniently, there is a privy on top of the bluff, as well, complete with the identifying crescent moon shape carved into the door!
The photo on the upper left shows members of the WHO carefully ascending the mossy stone steps that have been built into the side of the bluff to provide access to the Leopold Cabin. It should be noted, however, that there is also another trail (although it is longer) to access the cabin, that goes around the bluff, and winds it way up to the top. The main part of the Caney Mountain hike that the WHO did this past week was the Spout Spring Trail, and the other three photos of this collage show the ladies traversing that area. Considering the enormous numbers of downed trees and limbs from the 2009 ice storm that devastated this area, conservation personnel are to be commended for the clean up that has taken place to make the trail accessible. There was only one big tree that had fallen (probably recently) that the hiking trail went under, and which required some stooping to navigate. (lower left photo).
At the headquarters building near the entrance of the Caney Mountain Conservation area, one can pick up a brochure that tells about what is offered and regulations for use of the facilities. There are also handicap-accessible restrooms adjacent to the headquarters building. Throughout the almost 8,000 acres the area comprises, there are helpful signs that explain the proper way to go, and help explain what your eyes are seeing. I found that reading these signs greatly enhanced the experience--made the experience more abundant---that I was having at Caney Mountain. Later in the day when I had returned to "civilization" and I was reflecting on my enjoyable outdoor outing, I could see it as a metaphor for an even more significant outing---life itself. You see, the Caney Mountain Conservation Area is just about twenty miles from where I live, so it very close at hand. I was familiar with the name, had heard people talk about it, had driven past the entrance, but had never had a personal experience exploring its contents. The metaphor I speak of refers to the Bible: I had one in my home, I passed by it regularly, I heard a few people talk about it----yet I had never had a personal experience exploring its contents. However, once I started exploring its contents, I was amazed at what I had been missing out on! There were all sorts of signposts throughout the Bible (similar to the signs at Caney Mountain), that help direct me on the right path, explain what I am seeing, and make life more abundant. I have found great truth in the words of Jesus that say "I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly" (recorded in John 10:10 of the Bible). The verse is a reminder to me to take the time to explore all the wonders God offers through His Word as well as the natural wonders of the earth he created. So I would like to wish you "Miles and miles of abundant smiles"! Tricia