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Ozark National Scenic Riverways

There is no place like Missouri in the springtime, and in springtime Missouri, there is no place any more beautiful than Ozark National Scenic Riverways. So, that is where our next trip takes us as we travel to the special places in our home state that have been set aside to be protected and managed by the National Park Service.


Deep into southern Missouri you will find a jewel of the Missouri Ozarks, the land where two crystal clear rivers, the Current and the Jacks Fork, flow to make up the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. This national park was established by Congress in 1964, and dedicated in 1971, becoming the first river system to be managed and protected by the National Park Service. The establishment of this riverways park would ensure that the two rivers would be allowed to remain in their natural state, and that they would never be dammed. And thank goodness, because they are beautiful, they are inviting, and they are invigorating…a day spent anywhere in the park will just plain put a smile on your face.

One of Missouri’s nicknames is the Cave State…for good reason. There are over 6,000 caves in the state (600 of which are in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways), and in many of these caves you will find underground rivers. The water from these underground rivers finds its way to the earth’s surface through springs, and it is from various springs that the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers get their water. This is a picture of water flowing from Big Spring into the riverways (more on this spring a little later)…

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A few weeks ago, Jim and I traveled to the Ozark Riverways to spend a beautiful spring day at the springs. We began our trip by visiting the park headquarters and the Visitor Center which sits atop a bluff overlooking the Current River in Van Buren, MO.

After visiting with the volunteers in the Visitor Center, we headed out on our day in the riverways. The volunteers were very helpful in suggesting some places to visit we might not have thought of. But, alas, this jewel in the Ozarks can not be taken in in one day, so we picked a few with promises to each other to return again…and again…

Our first stop took us to Big Spring, not too far south of the headquarters.

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Big Spring

Big Spring is Missouri’s largest spring. With an average daily flow of 286,000,000 gallons, it is one of the largest springs in the world. When you approach the spring, you are instantly taken in by its deep aquamarine color. If you would see this color on a television spot, or in a photograph, you would truly believe it was a touched-up rendition. When I first saw it, I thought it was caused by the depth of the spring. But what causes this intense aqua color is actually the minerals within the water.

We took some time to walk around the spring…

Big Spring has a visitor information center, a picnic area and a camping area. There are also cabins and a dining lodge, built by the CCC in the ’30’s which are presently closed for renovation.

Our next stop took us back north of Van Buren to Rocky Falls…

Rocky Falls

Rocky Falls

Most of the rock you will find in the Ozarks is sandstone and limestone, softer rocks which are dissolved over time by the action of water. But where you find Rocky Falls, the rock is rhyolite, which is harder and dissolves more slowly. So, this slower dissolving rock creates less space for Rocky Creek to flow, and you get this waterfall effect as it moves from one wider valley to the next. This area is called a “shut-in”. Regardless of how you explain it, it is a very pretty spot, especially in springtime, after a good rain.

While at the falls you can hear very few sounds other than the water falling over the rock, the wind rustling through the trees, and the birds in the area. It was very hard to leave this very quiet place. But…

We did move on to our next stop, Alley Spring, one of my favorite places in the state of Missouri.

Alley Spring

Alley Spring

We hiked around Alley Spring, which has an average daily flow of 81,000,000 gallons. It is a pleasant, easy trail, with many different views of the spring and the old mill, which is the focal point of the site.

Alley Spring was once a thriving mill town. The mill you see today at Alley Spring was built in 1894 by George Washington McCaskill. It used steel rollers for grinding wheat and corn for the residents of the community. No other buildings from the original town are still on the national park grounds.

Several years ago, Jim and I visited the Story’s Creek School, which has been moved onto the Alley Spring grounds. It is a one room school house that was used into the 1950’s.

Our last stop on our trip to the Ozark Riverways was to Round Spring, which is just as the name suggests, round…and it is a very intense aqua blue. As with the other springs in the area, Round Spring maintains a water temperature between 55 and 58 degrees.

Round Spring

Round Spring

Near the spring is a wetland area where you might see birds, ducks, and other creatures who live in a wetland environment

Wood Ducks are prominent inhabitants of the wetland area.

Wood Ducks are prominent inhabitants of the wetland area.

We have come to the end of our visit to the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, and we have hardly begun to scratch the surface of the many things it has to offer. In addition to the sightseeing we did, there is canoeing, hiking, fishing, and camping available. The Current River is noted as being one of the best canoeing rivers in the country, and the Ozark Hiking Trail runs through the park. I do not think you can take in all the pleasures of this place unless you come and stay a while…we will be coming back again…and again…

You can learn more about this national park, and plan your own visit by visiting the park’s website at http://www.nps.gov/ozar/.

Pretty Pinwheel Biscuits

While we were at the visitor center for the park, I picked up a cookbook entitled Secrets of the Great Old-Timey Cooks by Barbara Swell. It is full of recipes from years ago, the ones our grandmas and great-grandmas used to make. This recipe for fancy biscuits is adapted from this book. They are pretty, and when warm, they are absolutely delicious. I cannot wait to make some of them for my grandchildren when they come to visit.

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Pinwheel Biscuits

  • 2 c. flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c. milk

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. With a pastry blender or a fork, combine the butter with the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, beat the egg with the milk; then add to the combined mixture. You may have to add a little more milk to make a soft dough that can be rolled out.

Roll the dough into a rectangular shape about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 3 inch squares. Cut each square diagonally from each corner to not quite the center. Then fold every other corner toward the center, as in a pinwheel. Use your thumb to close the center, leaving a large indentation.

Bake on a greased pan at 450 degrees until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Keep and eye on them so they do not burn at the pinwheel tips.

When serving, put a dollop of jam, honey butter, preserves, or anything you can think of that would make these biscuits even better, in the center of each biscuit. Serve with coffer, tea, or milk.