Every year, the Cave Research Foundation’s annual meeting is held in an area where the organization has an ongoing project. The board has a closed meeting, which is followed over the next few days by open-to-the-public meetings and field trips and caving. This year’s annual meeting was held in Van Buren, MO, so we drove up to say hello.
We pulled into the Big Spring campground late on Friday night, right next to a familiar-looking red Cherokee. What better neighbors than Ed and Elizabeth? Mandy enjoyed riding the campground loop on her 20″ uni. It’s quicker to get to the bathroom if you have a wheel.
Saturday morning, instead of attending the poster session (with coffee and doughnuts) we decided to drive up to Taum Sauk Mountain, the highest point in Missouri. It was another hour of driving, but it was a pleasant road. Mandy thought it would be cool to unicycle on the platform atop the fire tower nearby, but she was disappointed to find that the trapdoor to the very top was locked shut.
A few minutes more in the car brought us to the parking area near the highpoint. There’s a kiosk and some pit toilets and a handicapped-accessible trail to a monument marking the highpoint.
Mandy felt that just being there wasn’t enough, so she jumped up and down on it for awhile.
This trail connects with another park nearby, Johnson Shut-ins. We walked and rode down it for a bit, and it was fun to watch Mandy ride around and through the roots and rocks in the trail. We didn’t have much time to explore – we needed to head back to Van Buren for the afternoon program.
The meetings were held at the National Scenic Riverways headquarters. There were presentations from cavers about projects in the area – survey/cartography stuff as well as gating projects and dye-tracing studies and restoration work. Some CRF awards were presented, too. When it was over, we got to talk to Jon, the caver who took Mandy to her first wild cave, when she was four. Joyce gave her a much-needed, almost-new cave suit. Then, after the break, we all met back at a local barbecue place for a very loud, very cheerful supper. The next morning we met up again for a tour of some of the karst features of the area. Springs are a big part of the Ozark Scenic Riverways, and Scott gave a really informative and enjoyable tour of a couple of the biggest. That’s a panorama of Big Springs in the photo above (click to see any of the photos larger).Big Spring, near Van Buren, MO, is the highest-volume spring in the Ozark Plateau and the second-biggest tributary to the Current River. It’s one of the largest single-outlet springs in the world, in fact.
Despite its enormous volume, Big Spring doesn’t have a long history of use for mills or power. The area around it was swampy and brushy for so long, the people who lived in the area really weren’t aware of the existence of such a large spring.
It was an interesting way to take a tour – the guide was someone who really knew the subject and the area, and all the other ‘tourists’ were cavers and friends.
The next stop was Alley Spring. We walked along a short trail to get to the spring, and enjoyed poking our heads into the ‘pocket caves’ along the way. The spring itself is not as high-volume as Big Spring, but it was beautiful. The water in the pool was an impossible teal green color, with little bubbles rising to the surface near the edges.
The area around Alley Spring has changed a lot in the last few years. Camping’s not allowed up near the stream anymore, for example. It’s a change not everyone approves of, but the result is that the grounds around the spring and mill are really beautiful. It was a perfect weekend for a tour, with pretty weather and beautiful fall colors.
The mill at Alley Spring is usually closed to visitors this late in the year, but Scott had made arrangements for there to be someone there to open the mill for us and to answer our questions about it. The first floor was primarily the milling machinery, and the belts and conveyors used to move the grain and meal and flour around.
Stairs led to the second floor, with some more milling equipment and some museum-style displays discussing the people who lived in the area around the time Alley Roller Mill was in use.
When our tour was over, we ate lunch at a cafe with Joyce and some other friends, and then headed home.
On the way home, we followed Scott’s advice to take a detour to see Grand Gulf State Park. It’s the ‘Grand Canyon of the Ozarks’ but it’s not a canyon at all. It’s an enormous cave trunk passage that’s collapsed in a couple of places. The ‘natural bridge’ visitors cross on the trail, far above, isn’t a bridge. It’s just part of the ceiling that hasn’t collapsed yet. It’s a set of enormous holes in the ground, and we were really fascinated by the fact that we were staring down through a sort of window into what used to be a cave.
Water that falls at Grand Gulf doesn’t come up again until Mammoth Spring State Park, across the Arkansas line.
So we stopped there, too. After seeing the huge springs near Van Buren, this one wasn’t as impressive. In fact, it felt sort of silly and touristy. But we wandered along the walking path with all the old people and their little dogs, and we dutifully discussed the ducks on the pond fed by the spring, and we looked at the logo items in the gift shop. We enjoyed poking around the old railroad caboose near the train station museum. And then it was time to head home.