June 6, 2017
Hikers: Julie, Becky, Michelle
The night before was hot and muggy making for a sweat soaked night of tossing and turning without even the smallest of breezes to provide some relief. We had chosen this time of year to make sure it was warm enough to enjoy swimming at the shut-ins. It appeared, however, that we chosen a time that was a little too hot! A snail meandering through camp perfectly represented how we were all feeling that morning.
Despite the uncomfortable night of sleeping, our spirits were buoyed by the knowledge that we were only a few miles from the state park. Water was in short supply but there was an anticipated water source only a couple of miles from camp. We hit the trail with visions of swimming holes and picnic tables for lunch dancing in our heads.
The trail was a mixture of woods and open, sunny meadows. Did I mention it was hot? As the morning dragged on, it became obvious that we were risking dehydration for at least one, if not all of our hikers. We stopped for a meeting of minds at one open area that also had cell phone service. There sometimes is a fine line between perseverance in the name of accomplishing a goal and unnecessary risk taking in the name of stubbornness. We came to the decision to end our hike at Johnson’s Shut-Ins. We called the park and reserved a campsite for two nights. Our trail soon started dropping down towards the park but we never came across the water source that we had anticipated in this section.
The Ozark Trail had been well marked and easy to follow up to this point. Once we reached the state park, however, we became very confused. There were plenty of signs, but none indicated which trail led us to Johnson Shut-Ins. Fortunately, some kind soul had used a sharpie to point the way!
Oh the horrors! Not a natural surface trail! I guess this sign is in the same category as “don’t eat the desiccant pouches” you find in packages.
Once inside the park, we were pretty much guessing as to where we needed to go since none of us had a state park map. Poor planning on our part. We did find a trail that pointed us in the direction of the “scour” which we definitely wanted to see. The scour is a stretch of land stripped down to bare rock by 1.3 billion gallons of water that roared down the mountainside following a reservoir failure on top of a neighboring Proffit Mountain. The December 2005 flood eradicated the park’s campground and damaged many other park features and structures. The park was eventually cleaned up and rebuilt but did not fully reopen until 2009. A new campground was added in 2010 but was wisely placed outside of the flood path should the unthinkable happen again. It was exceedingly fortunate that the campground was empty at the time of the 2005 disaster.
From the area of the scour, we could see the nature center. Now just to figure out how to get to it! Back on the trail, we came to a choice, up or down?
Turns out, both trails would eventually put us at the same point, a parking area. From the parking area, we could a see a sign pointing us to the park entrance. A little road walking but at least we now knew we were heading the right direction! We crossed a stream that actually had water in it. We were tempted to go wade around to cool off but opted to keep trudging on to the nature center.
First order of business at the nature center was drinking large amounts of cool, clear water from the drinking fountain. It’s amazing how good water can taste when you are hot and thirsty! Second necessity was finding a shuttle since we were still 15 miles (by trail) from Michelle’s car. We were able to arrange a shuttle very quickly through the park and were picked up within an hour of our arrival. Our good fortune was soured though when we reached Michelle’s car and found a rock had been thrown through the window. Proof there are assholes in the world. We found it crazy that the only thing missing were the blueberry almonds in the console and not the rather expensive cooler filled with cold beer in the back. We did treat ourselves to a beer while we cleaned up glass from the backseat. We were then off to the nearest town to file a police report. We found the town, found the sheriff department only to find out we were in the wrong county. Directions in hand, we were off to try again.
Our second attempt was more successful and we were pleasantly surprised that the deputy took the time to get details and promised to look into it. He was pretty sure it had to be “Scary Larry” because he couldn’t think of anyone else who would do such a thing and only take some almonds. I honestly don’t know what ever came of the investigation but we did get the needed police report.
Finally, after our eventful day, we treated ourselves to hot dogs over the fire and a few more of the cold beers from the cooler we were lucky to still have. The deputy we spoke with was surprised that we had been vandalized and said it was only the second time he could remember it happening. Insurance did cover the repair so it ended up being more of an annoyance than anything but it did put a damper on our trip. Since our shortened itinerary gave us some extra days, we continued our adventure by visiting Onondaga Cave, Elephant Rocks Rocks State Park and of course, splashing around in the Shut-Ins. All-in-all, I would give the Ozark Trail a thumbs up and Johnson’s Shut-Ins a must do area of any section hike. Just research the water situation ahead of time and plan accordingly!
In case you are wondering, the term “shut-ins” refers to an area where a river flows through hard, erosion resistant rock and forms a natural water park of pools, cascades and rapids.