State 5: Missouri - June 23, 2017
We are happy to report that we avoided Tropical Storm Cindy’s wrath unscathed. Due to her imposing presence, we had to cut our time in Kentucky short, and head off course 100 miles north into southern Indiana and Illinois. All of that is behind us now! Today was a momentous day! We went from Southern Illinois, across the mighty Mississippi River, and into our 5th state, Missouri. In case you were wondering their motto is Missouri: "The Show Me State". I don’t really get it, and I could not find a definitive origin of the motto. Maybe they are saying the Missouri people always want to see proof. I’m not sure if statewide cynicism is the first impression I would want highlighting my potential home state. Nevertheless, let’s see if Missouri can “show me” why it should be our new home.
Our first stop in Missouri was The Ozarks National Scenic Riverway in Van Buren, MO. In addition to being featured on the Missouri State quarter, in 1964 congress authorized 134 miles of the Ozarks as the first National Scenic Riverway Park in the US. Exploring this park posed a severe logistical challenge. The park was 134 miles of rivers, and Rosie said she does not know how to swim. With the help of 2 enthusiastic female rangers, we highlighted a few key aspects of the park in the time we had available. We settled on 3 locations: Big Spring, Round spring, and Devils Well.
Big Spring was our first stop and was 5 miles from the visitor’s station. As you may have already figured out, it is also the biggest spring in the park. However, the magnitude of this spring is what’s truly amazing. On an average day, over 288 million gallons of water flows from the spring, which is enough water to fill Madison Square Garden to the brim in 20 hours! Our next stop was Round Spring, which was 45-minute drive north from Big Spring. Round spring proved to be properly named. Although it was not as robust as Big Spring, it had a unique quality that made it a memorable experience. The spring emitted a deep blue green hue, which was unlike anything we had ever seen before. You will see what I mean in the pictures, which came out unbelievably. Our final stop was Devils well, and it was the crescendo to our exploration of the Ozarks.
It was another 45-minute drive north from Round Spring to get to Devil's Well. Devil's Well was once a large lake with a huge cave beneath. Over time, the weight of the water caused the floor of the lake to collapse into the underlying cave. This caused Devil's Well to become a dry sink hole, and ended up forming the largest lake in the State of Missouri, which is entirely underground! When we arrived, we learned that Devil's Well had a few obstacles in store for us before revealing her splendor. The first in our path was a 1.5 mile, one lane gravel road with no guard rails, that wildly winded through the forest, and of course there was no cell signal either. Rosie is a cargo van, and not designed for off road excursions. However, I have learned from experience, the most memorable and amazing places are often the most difficult to reach. The park had proven to be impeccably maintained, and it was a Friday morning so it was unlikely others were also traveling on the same gravel road. Lori reluctantly agreed to proceed, but said “God help you if you get Rosie stuck, and I have to spend the night out here”. After carefully considering all options including the possible wrath of my wife, I proceeded with extreme caution. The windy gravel road seemed to go on forever! What first started out as a level well packed gravel road, soon degraded into a narrow, loose gravel path with sharp turns, steep inclines and declines and rocks that jetted out of the earth into our approaching path. In addition, the tree branches hung precariously low constantly threatening the Solar Panels on Rosie’s roof. Twice, I was forced to make a split second decision whether to drive over a large jagged rock in the path, or take a tree branch to Rosie’s roof. Both times the tree branch won as the lesser of two evils, and Lori and I winced as the branch scraped the entire length of our roof. However, we forged onward determined to not let Devil's Well steal our very souls. After a torturous 20-minutes of dodging tree branches, Razor sharp rocks, and teetering precariously on the edge of a loosely graveled, mountainous road, we arrived safely at Devil's Well. The devil had one last obstacle for these two adventurous vagabonds. As we walked over to the edge of the crater of Devil's Well and stared directly into the black and lifeless abyss, the devil tempted us once again. For from the depths of satan's pit arose a staircase to edge of the crater, as to taunt us saying, “come closer if you dare”. Knowing we had come too far to turn back, we walked arm in arm, down the rickety wet wooden staircase beginning our descent into the depths of Devil's Well! With each step forward the roar of the water intensified. We held each other tighter, and with nothing other than faith and sheer determination, we descended another step, and then another, and another and another. Soon the depths of the pit were within our direct site. That black bottomless pit seemed void of light and life, and Lori decided she could go no further. Now alone, I continued on until the black abyss enveloped me, and the earth and I were one. I emerged from the black hole, and we began our journey back down the windy gravel road to rejoin humanity.
We could have spent over a week at this park and have not seen everything. This park has caves that go on for miles, amazing hiking, dozens of springs, ruins of a Welch tuberculosis hospital, and not to mention some of the best canoeing in the country. Sometimes during this trip we have found ourselves wishing we could have spent more time at a specific location, and this was definitely one of those times.
On this specific evening, we decided to spend the night a Walmart in the town of Salem, MO. We had the bed all set up and were about to go to sleep when all of a sudden we a heard single “Bahhh”. We both looked at each other very perplexed, and I asked Nate if he also just heard what I think I just heard. Just then a symphony of “BAHHHHH!” broke out! Although we are in rural Missouri, we are in a Walmart parking lot, and for the life of us could not figure out why we were hearing so many sheep. It literally sounded as if the a heard of sheep in heat had surrounded the van and began mating. It was soooooo loud! BAHHHHHHH!!! BAHHHHHHH!!! BAHHHHHHH!!! I told Nate to look out the window to see what the heck was going on outside. Nate came back a few moments later and said that a huge cattle trailer with dozens of sheep had parked right next to us for the night. This Walmart was very particular about where we could park, so we could not move to another spot. It is not like we could go tell the sheep to be quiet! We tossed and turned for about an hour, while the sheep continued to verbally harass us. Then I had an ingenious idea, I suggested to Nate that we start counting sheep. We both burst out laughing so hard we almost peed ourselves. We decided to give it a shot. The next time we heard “bahhh” I said “1 sheepy”, and then Nate did the same with 2 sheepy's. I think we made it to “22 sheepy's before we finally drifted off to sleep.