Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Exploring Your Own Trail

deep inside a small cave, I found what appears to be a prehistoric petrified jawbone

        I have found the jawbone of a prehistoric animal in a southern Missouri cave.  But it is part of a limestone wall back in the depths where no daylight can reach.  In that cave years ago a friend and I found about ten or fifteen projectile points on the floor of the cave just within it’s opening.  Caves fascinate me.  I love to hunt for them, and I like knowing that I know where many are which few modern explorers have entered.

         If you think about it, today’s people who live their lives in the massive herd of humanity we have created, seldom see a day when they are completely alone in some far reaches of the outdoors.  Modern hikers walk trails that thousands upon thousands of feet have trod before them.  In the late 1970’s I myself was an outdoor hiker in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains of Arkansas.  I laid out and built some trails for the Arkansas State Park System but I never walked established trails. Some trails used today in the Buffalo National Park are trails I laid out. And I was there exploring the wilder places of the state as a naturalist for he Arkansas Heritage Commission. At that time in my life there weren’t many hillsides and ravines I couldn’t climb or navigate. Some of that country was the
 5-inch pink projectile point I found in a remote AR cave
ruggedest wildest mountain country I have seen in the Midwest.  And the things I found, sometimes a full day’s hike into the mountains, were astounding.  Caves and waterfalls, old home places and ancient graves, moonshine stills from another time, and names carved into flat rock knolls that were used by troops in civil war times… were among the things I discovered.  I will always remember walking into a south-facing cave with a dry floor, and looking down to see about a half inch of a projectile point sticking out of the floor.  I just knew it was the broken end of an arrowhead, but I took my knife out and began to scrape away the dirt to reveal a spear point nearly five inches long, a bright pink perfectly-formed weapon made perhaps thousands of years ago.  I stood there holding something that had been made by a man I scarcely could envision in my mind, a man who perhaps lived in that cave with a family.  Maybe nothing has ever made me feel as insignificant and small.

In such caves I also found evidence that early settlers had lived within sheltering rock walls, who knows how long ago.  I recalled times when I had spent nights inside a sheltering cave on the river where I grew up, sometimes escaping the cold, sometimes just staying dry  before a campfire while listening to a pelting rain and the crack of lightning bolts just outside the entrance. When I was in college I caught a pair of live ground mammals in a cave that turned out to be a species never known to have been found in my Ozark region.  That story is related in the spring issue of my outdoor magazine if you care to read about it.
But it may be that the caves of the Ozarks in three states will someday shelter families again as they did for hundreds and hundreds of years.  It could happen as our technology threatens a progressing, modern life in the future.  So many have springs flowing in the back of them, and controlled temperatures that give you a chance to stay warm in the worst of blizzards, or cool in the midst of an August heat wave.
For modern-day outdoor visitors it is probably best that you hike the worn trails of a thousand others who walked them in the few months before you, and photograph the same rocks and waterfalls and outcroppings that thousands have photographed before you.  But there are still, in the huge tracts of national forestland in Arkansas and Missouri and Oklahoma where you can make your own way following no trails at all, in semi-wilderness areas, seeing sights you may be one of only a few to see and experience.  
And you might find a remote cave this time of year where the only tracks across it’s dirt floor are of the black bear hibernating in a deep dark, confined passageway.  Or you may stumble into a small deep cave where bats are roosting by the hundreds, and there are blind crayfish and salamanders.  I have done both, and there isn’t a mapped, used trail I ever want to see again.

Now is the time to go where others do not, when vegetation isn’t heavy and you can see farther and better and there are no rattlesnakes and copperheads to watch for. In such places, your cell phone won’t work, so plan well and be sure you don’t end up needing something you could have taken in a backpack.  If you want to see and feel the best of it, take camping gear and food light enough to pack and spend two or three nights.

Email me at, write  to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or call our office at 417 777 5227.

No comments: