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.