Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Devil's Backbone, Boone County, Missouri

Just southeast of Columbia, Missouri, is a remarkable place called the Devil's Backbone. Bring your camera, and put on your History Specs.

I'd never been to the area before (to my knowledge), so I made a point of seeing it.

First, it's small. The track is not even half a mile of old gravel road. We're not talking about miles of hiking trails here, not at all.

But the views!

The road straightforwardly descends a long, rocky-spined ridge that divides two sides of a big oxbow bend in Cedar Creek. The undulation of the rocky ridge is what inspired the place-name. There are some outcrops for vantage points. You get broad views of the landscape east and west (though mostly east, as the roadbed lies on the west side of the sharp ridge of rocks, which you can't always see over).

This time of year, "broad views of the landscape," especially in early mornings or late afternoons, are what afford you the best circumstances for enjoying the colors of autumn.

At the bottom of the road, you are about two hundred feet lower than the top of the ridge where you started. Toward the east is an old iron bridge, with all the wooden planks gone, still standing above Cedar Creek (you shouldn't try to cross it--but I'm not sure what's preventing you from wading some in the creek itself).

It is at this location, I've read, that a Duley's Mill used to be. Area farmers would travel here to get their grain processed, and the bridge provided Callawegians from the Kingdom of Callaway access to the mill from across the creek.

What a pleasant walk. Think about bringing some cheese and raisins, an apple, in the pockets of your jacket--having a snack will give you an excuse to linger and enjoy the place, the views, the dappled forest light, the placid creek.

But read this next bit, please.

Because it's small, and because it's flanked on all sides by private property (as in, Keep Out), I implore you to respect That Which Is Not Yours, and take care of the place as if your right to tread there depends on the condition in which you leave it.

Now. How do you get there? South of Columbia, or north of Jefferson City, take Route H east (that's the exit for Columbia Regional Airport). Follow Route H to the little community of Englewood. I think Route H technically ends there, but past Englewood the pavement continues as Englewood Road for about a mile before becoming gravel. Another half-mile or so of gravel, then take Backbone Road on the right. It's a smaller gravel road and leads south for about a mile. At that point, you can pull off the road (there's space for about two vehicles) and walk the rest of the way.

You'll know when you reach the place where you have to start walking, because the road suddenly plunges and looks like something fit for a four-wheel drive. This is it; this is where you start walking down to the creek.

The hike down that old gravel road is worth the drive to get out there. As you admire the views and the pretty wildflowers, and watch turkey vultures soaring above and below you, you can imagine horse-drawn wagons and Model A trucks slogging up and down this road bearing grain--I'll bet that's why it got named not just the Backbone, but the Devil's Backbone--because it must have been a devil of a haul.


Cedar said...

Did you know there's a hiking trail beginning at Pine Ridge campground which leads you on a long (overnight) hiking opportunity, and walks you along the ridges of Devil's Backbone. I didn't know you could drive to that road! :)

Julianna Schroeder said...

Yes, I know about the trail--it's the Cedar Creek Trail, right? Well let's do it, for heck's sake!!! Time's a-wastin'.

handysandy said...

As a kid I grew up on the Callaway side of Devils Backbone. We could drive up the Backbone over to my Dad's cousins the Clatterbucks. That is very familiar territory to me.

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thank you, HandySandy, for sharing your memory. It's an incredibly distinctive part of mid-Missouri! I'll bet that was quite a drive!

Best regards,

Chuck Hamm said...

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thanks, Chuck, for your link to the following Columbia Daily Tribune article, dated Jan. 6, 2016. It just figures it would be roped off. Too bad!

Quotes from the article are below. Please visit the Tribune's site for the full article:

"Road Along Devil's Backbone Will Soon Be Off-Limits to Public"
by Jodie Jackson Jr.

The Boone County Commission has received a request from property owner Eugene Windmiller to close the southernmost roughly 800-foot portion of Backbone Road, about 1½ miles south of Englewood Road and 4 miles southeast of Columbia Regional Airport. The county has not maintained the steep, rocky, section of Backbone Road for several years. . . .

Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller received a request to close the road a few months ago. The Windmillers own the only home on the southernmost stretch of the road. Resource Management Director Stan Shawver said closing the road and allowing the Windmillers to put up a gate at the spot where the county road maintenance ends would "keep out folks who don’t need to be there."

Shawver and Miller both said the road closure would help minimize the county’s liability in the event someone was injured at the old bridge or along the road. The bridge is less than a quarter-mile from where a 53-year-old Columbia man, Randal Fennewald, died from a fall in October 2014 on the Callaway County side of the creek. . . .

The Windmiller family owns some 600 acres in the Backbone area. [Neighboring property owner Bill] Herron said the U.S. Forest Service, which is the only other property owner along Backbone Road, apparently is interested in purchasing much of the property.

County officials said the best chance for the public to have access to the property again would be for the Forest Service to make that purchase and possibly maintain and improve the crumbling road.

Anonymous said...

So is it possible to still get to the trail or has it been gated now?

Julianna Schroeder said...

I have to assume it's been gated by now.

And even if it has NOT been gated, it's clear that the adjacent landowners would prefer people not go there anymore.

So if you want to experience some interesting topography near Columbia, The Pinnacles are your best bet.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a land grab to me. Hopefully, the U.S. Forest Service can step in and preserve this spot for for all people to enjoy. Can anyone confirm a gate has been installed to prevent access???

Mariah Cornelison said...

I live on Englewood Rd and just walked the backbone today. As of today, there is no gate.

Turner Plackmeyer said...

No gate as of March 2017. Just don't try to drive down there. Park at the top and walk down.

Unknown said...

No gate as of July 2017. Once parked walk to the opposite side of the road into the trees 50 feet and look towards the left. One of the most picturesque spots in missouri

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thanks, friends, for keeping this updated! It really is a natural treasure, and it makes for a pleasant Central Missouri outing.

Anonymous said...

Drove down the old road today! The only gate is at the bridge on the road back to the old homestead. I would recommend walking as I thought my wife was going to tear the "oh crap" handle out of my truck. But it is possible in a small 4x4 truck or jeep. Worth the trip for sure!

Julianna Schroeder said...

Oh my! You *drove* that road?? I hesitate to call it a road . . . Yes, I definitely recommend walking. Plus, it's more fun that way--you see more things. Thank you for the update!