Back in October, Steve and I had the pleasure of spending a couple days doing our favorite things in the Missouri Ozarks. We made our base at our usual, the cabins at Big Spring SP, our last stay here for at least three years as the cabins will be closed for construction. For our first day, we decided to take care of something that had been on my list for a number of years, to hike the largest official Wilderness Area in the state – the Irish. Named after the Irish immigrants who settled in this area in the mid nineteenth century, the Irish was visited and pushed for protection by Aldo Leopold himself. The Irish was finally designated by law as an official wilderness area in 1984 after close to two decades of work by a number of caring people. This area was virtually cleared of its timber by the early years of the 1900s, but was replanted with its current deciduous hardwood mix by the CCC in the 1930s.
Officially listed as 18.4 miles, the Irish Wilderness loop trail is typically tackled with a night or two of backpacking. Being the athletic super-freaks that we are, Steve and I put down an estimated 22 miles, with some back tracking and assisting a lost backpacker (a GPS unit with topographic map display is quite the asset here), in about 16 hours. It would have been more enjoyable with a night or two sleeping in the woods and spending more time, but we had other plans in store as well. The image below is from an overlook of the Eleven Point River at close to the halfway point of the hike. I will never forget standing here in the late afternoon light with hundreds of ladybird beetles covered the rocks and filled the air.
Covering 20 miles in a single day does not leave much time for taking photos. After getting some much appreciated sleep back at the cabin, we arose early to arrive at Richard’s Canoes to be in the water by ~07:30. We put in at Greer Spring Access (mile 16.6) and had the day to move the ~12 miles to our take out at Whiten Access (mile 27.6). The Eleven Point offers a perfect mix of slower moving stretches and deep pools mixed with just enough class 2 rapids to keep things interesting. Make sure to bring along some wet bags if carrying delicate camera or other electronic equipment. We were offered autumn views like this around nearly every bend.
As if the landscape and feelings of being on the river were not enough, the wildlife opportunity are surely the highlights for a float trip like this, assuming you are quite and keep your eyes open. This White-tailed buck was moving upstream when Steve spotted him.
Of course the birds will be abundant along any Missouri Ozark stream at any time of year. We were thrilled to see this Osprey come in to perch nearby as we floated.
Within a couple of miles from our take-out point, we were presented with our pièce de résistance for the float, two groups of River Otters! The images below are the first group, a mom and four pups. These animals were venturing out of their den to play in the day’s last light.
The pups seemed not too concerned, but mom kept a close eye on the floating log with ugly heads.
These guys will turn anything into a toy… 😉
I leave you with a sunset from the nearby Big Spring State Park and eternal thanks to those who worked so hard against heavy opposite forces so that, at a minimum, we have what we have today.
The day is almost upon us when canoe travel will consist in paddling up the noisy wake of a motor launch and portaging through the back yard of a summer cottage. When that day comes canoe travel will be dead, and dead too will be a part of our Americanism…