Monday, March 16, 2009

Clifty Creek Conservation Area

Hi, folks, I’m taking you on a little hike with me. Along with restaurant reviews, and all the rest of the junk I want to comment on (you might recall), I intend to tell you about some of the good hikin’ areas around these parts. Here is one of our new discoveries.

Clifty Creek CA is run by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Its 256 acres are grouped in with the adjacent Clifty Creek Natural Area of 230 acres, so it’s a nice big chunk of land to explore, in Maries County, a little northeast of Dixon. Beautiful Ozark scenery. (The picture above is of a rocky glade along a high ridge.)

I was out there and thinking: Oh, man, I wish I could show this to “_____.” To every one of you who aren’t here and think that Missouri must be the most dreary place to be. Because the place is full of treasures. Even in early March.

There’s a sweet trail to hike. The literature we picked up at the trailhead says the trail was completed in 2008. No wonder it was in such great shape! It’s a fun trail, about 2.5 miles, with lots of elevation changes; it angles up and down the sides of valleys and dips down to the creek, rises again to the ridgetops, and passes through oak-hickory forest, mixed bottomland, sandstone glades, and limestone glades and cliffs.

The rocks are fantastic—lots of beautiful swirly zebra-striped chert, sparkly sandstone of various hues, limestone and dolomite riddled with holes, and more. Down at the creek, you could spend hours snooping around, oohing and ahhing over the purty rocks. The rocks tinkle like glass when you walk. Along the trail, especially this time of year, you appreciate the many different greens and textures of lichens and mosses that coat the rocks.

We first went out there February 8, when there was still ice on the creek and nothing green save for all the mosses, lichens, ferns, and cedars. But we had a blast even then and vowed to come back. So we went again on Saturday (March 14).

This time, the earliest wildflowers were starting to sprout up. I spied spring beauties, trillium, and Dutchman’s breeches—all just the foliage at this point. The award for “first bloomer” goes to the dogtooth violets (Erythronium albidum)—they were out in force, many sprouting up right in the middle of that new trail. Dogtooth violets, you might recall, are in the lily family and are not violets at all. “Second place” will most likely be awarded to toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) sometime this next week (they’re a type of mustard, and we saw them in bud; see the picture at the very end of this post). (And if there were any harbingers of spring, either we missed them already, or they are looking at third place.)

The trail is a loop, which is a big plus for me, since I appreciate not having to retrace my steps; I like to see new stuff all along the way. But here’s the biggest hoorah of Clifty Creek CA, the pièce de résistance: There’s a natural arch! How cool is that?

Its span is about 40 feet, and it’s right where the Little Clifty Creek (tributary) joins Clifty Creek. Depending on how you take the loop, you can visit the dolomite arch either three-fifths of the way along the trail, or two-fifths. (Looking at the map, it’s 1.4 miles to the arch if you go clockwise; counterclockwise, it’s 1 mile.)

Next time, I think I’ll bring us some tofu salad sandwiches with onion sprouts and some strawberries and feta cheese to enjoy at the base of the arch. (Then, on the way back to Jeff, we can stop at the Vienna Drive-In for a hot-fudge sundae if we’re still hungry!)

I’m also thinkin’ this will be great in summer, when we can put our feet down into that pool of water. Won’t it feel good! Meanwhile, this spring I’m satisfied to track the wildflowers’ progress.

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