Three Creeks by Horseback

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 1, 2010

During an early summer excursion into Three Creeks Conservation Area south of Columbia, I see an abundance of wildflowers, dragonflies and turtles. People, on foot and on bikes, pass on the trail. The trek is wonderful from any perspective, but I see the area differently than most visitors.

My view of the scenery is punctuated by two ears which document every change in the natural setting. My horse's ears twitch to faraway sounds, at uneasy footing, as the light shifts when we enter the woods, when dodging branches and when fording streams.

Many pairs of ears have guided my rides here during the past 15 years, but today's barometers are spotted and belong to a 13-year-old appaloosa named Chocolate Chip. I have never been in this area without being astride a horse, and I can't imagine experiencing it any other way.

I first shared the trip with a young walking horse named Wildfire on a 1983 guided tour by Bill Brynjulfson, who for 30 years had owned the 650 acres of Three Creeks, named for the Bonne Femme, Turkey and Gans creeks that form a maze of deep bluff-lined valleys through this wildly beautiful land. The land recently had been purchased by the Conservation Department and, as we rode through lush pastures and along trails carved from years of similar rides, Brynjulfson and I talked about the area and its history.

Immediately after the Civil War, the area became a settlement for about a dozen families-freed slaves-who formed a close farming community. During the 1930s, residents abandoned the small farms as they left to look for work in cities. As we crossed the hills, Brynjulfson pointed out remnants of the settlement: abandoned wells, an undercarriage of a buggy and a metal bed frame. Our ride that day was filled with stories.

My favorite had to do with Brynjulfson's herd of white walking horses that became stranded during an uncharacteristically bad Missouri blizzard. As soon as the weather cleared, he set out to look for them. He told me he eventually found the horses banded together in a large cave. Everything was white, he said, except for the darkness of the cave silhouetting the white horses.

At later times, I have come upon this cave filled with campers or hikers, but I can only see it filled with white horses.

I'm also not sure of the exact location of "Baptizing Rock," though whenever I see a spot where the

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