Twenty Years of Missouri Natural Areas: Protecting the Genuine Article

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

Nehai Property Owners 1 90 Other Private Owners 4 52
  • Agency totals are greater than the total number of natural areas due to several natural areas with multiple ownerships.

Tunnel Bluff Woods Natural Area

by Jerry D. Vineyard

Walking into Tunnel Bluff Woods Natural Area is like walking back in time - way back! The ridge trail is dim but clear enough to follow from the nearest road to the bluff, where you can see the Current River far below. I came along in the late fall; the beauty of the forest reminded me of Luella Owen, a geologist who visited the Ozark woods a hundred years ago. "Those who ever have an opportunity to enjoy a moonlight ride [by carriage] through the Ozark forests should not let it pass unimproved," she said.

At the brow of the bluff I found the three "guide trees" marking the way to the tunnel. The namesake Tunnel is more arch than tunnel, but the real attraction is the nearby cave, which yawns on the bluff face, high above the river. The roof of the cave is the bottom of a one-time marine reef, now a fossil. The impression is that of looking up at what was once the bottom of a shallow sea, incredibly old, yet sharp and detailed.

Sitting alone in the cave, looking down on giant sycamores in the bottomland forest along Current River, I felt at one with the flow of history from an unimaginably distant past when ocean waters covered the area, to today's landscape, little changed for hundreds of years.

East Drywood Creek Natural Area

Prairie State Park

by Paul Nelson, Missouri Department of Natural Resources

From a sandstone ledge at East Drywood Creek Natural Area in western Missouri I gazed across a striking scene before me. Lightning streaked across the treeless eastern horizon in a turquoise sky as low-racing clouds signaled the end to the evening deluge. Below me, swollen yet nearly clear waters rushed over sandstone boulders hidden somewhere among the buttonbushes.

Tall grasses swayed in the wind everywhere around me as the sun hung below a stormy veil to the west. Meadowlarks sung evening melodies. I found it difficult to break away and pitch my tent.

Coyotes howled nearby in the crisp starry night. Memories flowed like distant babbling waters. I remembered when my daughter Heather carefully picked up a large bullsnake she found sunning on a rock slab nearby. Being only 12 she placed enormous trust in a father's guidance.

I took comfort in the fact that the stream's 1,000-acre watershed retains nearly all its ancient prairie soil. Filtered through a living golden carpet, rainwaters gradually will find meandering streamlets. Eventually these streamlets join into one series of pools separated by shallow boulder strewn riffles.

A backpack camp awaits those who wish to experience this prairie wilderness stream. Don't be surprised if you see me there.

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