I have been wanting to make the hike down Rocky Creek to its confluence with the Current since I read about the idea in Louis C. White’s Ozark Hideways. This past Saturday, Steve and I were both aching to get on the trails, to be with nature on a beautiful late winter’s day. This hike was high on the ever-growing list of potential day-hikes, so we decided that this was the day for this one. As was the plan, we started at the Rocky Falls N.A. parking lot. We found that the water level in Rocky Creek was a bit higher than we expected. While this is fantastic if your goal is to get some nice flowing water shots, it can make for some wetter than desired hiking and stream crossing. Although this stream is not officially in the St. Francois Mountains, the exposed red rhyolite reminds me of the scenery there to the north-east. We would see three of the best shut-in areas to be found in the Missouri Ozarks, with Rocky Creek Falls being first. This image was taken on a previous visit.
“Rocky Creek Falls″
Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 23mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/4 sec
The first half mile or so of the hike is spent walking alongside the creek, past an impressive beaver-pond until this little side-spur hooks into the Ozark Trail. A right turn leads to Stegall Mountain, one of the “higher” peaks in Missouri and Peck Ranch C.A. We turned left to keep along with Rocky Creek and head ultimately to the Current River. The OZT comes and goes from within sight of the stream. When possible, Steve and I strayed from the trail and kept close to the stream. About a half mile from the Hwy NN crossing, we came across the next series of major shut-ins, those at the base of Buzzard Mountain. The photo below was made on a previous visit.
“Buzzard Mountain Shut-Ins″
Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 22mm, ISO 250, f/14, 1/20 sec
Continuing past these beautiful formations of rock vs. water we followed the stream. It was difficult to make progress, as around every bend there were shelves of exposed, upraised porphyry. These ~ 3.5 billion year old “benches” were perfect traps for lounging and loafing, snacking and passing the time philosophizing, all the while listening to the ever present sounds of the crystal-clear water fighting its endless battle downstream. This image was made in between our breaks.
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG, ISO 100, f/14, manual blend of two exposures
A mile or two past Buzzard Mountain we came across the third and last of the major shut-ins along Rocky Creek. These shut-ins are at the base of Mill Mountain, and the Klepzig Mill can still be found here. Somehow, after several visits I have still not photographed the mill structure. Oh well, another excuse to return. Below is a photo of the shut-ins made on a prior visit to the area.
“Mill Mountain Shut-Ins″
Technical details: Canon EOS 50D camera, EF17-40mm f/4L USM @ 24mm, ISO 250, f/16, 1/25 sec
About here we left the OZT to continue east with the stream towards its rendezvous with the Current. The vast majority of the course of the stream has a very shallow base; in most places it can be forded without wetting your knees. Once in awhile, pools deep enough to swim in would come about. These pools held some decent sized fish and looked quite inviting for a swim. Near one of these we stopped for a bite, including some tuna sandwiches that Steve brought along. At one point Steve missed his mouth and a chunk of tuna landed in the water along a shallow shelf. We watched to see if a fish would come along for a free bite. No fish found this piece, but in a few minutes this guy, smelling the oils leaching from the fish presumably, came out of the depths to scavenge our waste.
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 400, f/4, 1/60 sec
Did you know…? The Missouri Ozarks are home to 25 species of Crayfish, seven of which are found nowhere else. The ancient geology of the Ozark region has created spatially isolated streams, supporting varied aquatic habitats based on bedrock and erosional composition. This has enabled high speciation rates of crayfish and other aquatic and riparian animals.
The Spothanded Crayfish is known to have specific color and other morphological differences between populations in Missouri. In the western populations, such as this one found in the Current River watershed, the species is greenish in color and contains the dark spots on the base of the pincers, while populations in the eastern drainages of the Meramec and Black Rivers usually do not show the spots and have red or orange tinted pincers.
Read more about the Spothanded Crayfish or any other of Missouri’s Crayfish by checking out this wonderful guide: The Crayfishes of Missouri, by William Pflieger.
Another two or three miles of stream-side bushwhacking, trail and forest road hiking and we found ourselves at the confluence, the now flat and tranquil Rocky Creek dumping its waters into the Current River. The hike back was quicker and partially under the cover of darkness. A highlight of our return was very close looks of an American Woodcock that we heard wobbling among the dry leaves near the trail. A favorite of mine.
We finished the day by grabbing a couple of pies at Saso’s in nearby Ellington. The pies were fine, but no homemade baklava was on hand… 😦
I’ll end with the late-afternoon view we had from the point of the confluence. Rocky Creek is moving in from the right. The sun was pushing its last of the day onto the hills and was partially obscured by rapidly-moving clouds. This resulted in the dynamic light across the landscape on the opposite bank of the Current. I decided to go with a bit of a pictorialist treatment, but I am not completely convinced it was the best direction to go. I used the clarity slider in ACR RAW to give the image a softer, less defined appearance, hopefully bringing attention to the changing tones as well as to the calmness of the water, which is juxtaposed by the images made upstream that were placed earlier in this post.
Well, I hope this wasn’t boring, and perhaps makes you wish to witness some of these locations for yourself. Until next time, make like a camper and go take a hike.
“A Place in My Heart″