Friday, April 3
It rained last night, and when I say rained, I mean RAINED. Six different times our phones alerted us to severe weather announcements: three for tornado warnings, two for flash flood warnings, and once for a standard flood warning. Don’t worry though, we weren’t forced to seek shelter in the Lebanon, MO Walmart with Chance in his cat carrier: all of the warnings save the standard flood warning were for the wrong county. Silly phone alerts. There was occasional loud thunder though, and for once I was glad for the semi parked next to us whose engine idled all night – the background noise made the thunder less startling.
Julie and I pull into Bennett Spring State Park in south central Missouri around noon, and I smile. At first glance, it looks a lot like Roaring River State Park does, that’s the MO park farther west of here that I fell in love with on my first trip as a full-timer in the fall of 2012.
Bennett Spring has a large spring like Roaring River, a trout hatchery, a gift and bait shop, quaint little cabins, and an ample campground. Despite it being a holiday weekend, there are few families around, and for the number of people present the place is pretty quiet. Most of the people who visit this park come for the fishing, it’s a different and less boisterous crowd for which I’m thankful.
While pulling into the campground where we have a reservation for the next two nights, I hazard a peek out of Bertha’s window at the stream, remembering the clear blue-green water of other Missouri spring fed creeks.
Oh yeah, the flood warning.
The stream is a raging muddy torrent of a river that has lept its bank and taken over much of the grassy park. A sliver of a sign out in the water is so submerged that it’s impossible to read. The trout fishers in the water keep their legs in a wide stance to avoid being swept away by the current. Yikes, good luck guys.
Julie and I end up in campsite 515, that’s spot 15 in campground 5 – the non-reservation campground. We had thought about making a reservation, but a call to the park ahead of time made it seem like it wouldn’t be necessary, and it wasn’t.
I do enjoy the Missouri State Park System. The parks have no entrance fees, and here at Bennett Spring the overnight price for our electric site is $21 which I think is reasonable. Even better, a good number of MO parks have free WiFi accessible right at the campground, I get a usable signal inside Cas without any sort of antenna or amplifier which is such a novelty.
Campground 5 is on top of a oak wooded hill along with Campground 4, and both are quite pretty. They’re farther away from the water and thus are probably considered less desirable to the locals who bring their RVs to stage fishing trips out of, but just fine for me. Campgrounds 2 and 3 are still closed for the season and are midway down the hill, Campground 1 is at the bottom with close access to the stream and is the only area with full hookups, but there are few trees and the sites are close together.
After getting unhitched, it’s time for the customary ‘get to know the park’ walk. There is a 0.6 mile trail that follows the head of the spring that sounds like it would be neat, and we drive down the hill to find the trail head.
Yep, the trail head is over there, across the flooded bridge. Scratch that idea. The spring itself is visible from here though, and wow does it look odd. The brown water running over the bridge meets the clearer water welling up out of the ground and creates a brief zebra effect as it flows quickly downstream.
Bennet Spring is the 8th biggest spring in Missouri, expelling more than 100 million gallons of water in a day. The cave that Bennett Spring flows from is 100 feet long, 85 feet deep, and is wide enough for scuba divers to explore. On the average day, you could stand on the bank and the deep underwater cave would appear as a brilliant blue hole, but right now it’s all just varying shades of opaque brown.
I feel a little bad for Julie. This is her first time getting to see the Ozarks and she’s going to miss the beauty of the springs, but she isn’t too perturbed. “It’s just an excuse to come back and see it later.” she says.
We pour over the map for other short hikes to take. The Wooden Bridge also is closed to vehicle traffic with water flowing over it, but it’s shallow enough water to walk over. On the other side of it is the 0.25 mile Bluff Trail, 0.75 mile Bridge Trail, and the 0.3 mile Oak-Hickory Trail.
We hike all three and are treated to views of the stream, the fish hatchery, and tiny flowers tentatively poking up from the leaf covered forest floor. Traveling north in spring is like traveling back in time. It’s spring here, but a much earlier spring. The woods are still mostly dormant, and you have to look harder for signs of life.
We end the day with a sad little campfire. It’s not entirely our ineptitude at fire-starting that’s to blame in this case. The firewood did endure about two inches of rainfall last night, and is so wet that water sizzles and drips out the ends when we managed to get kindling lit underneath it. We’re constantly gathering twigs and smaller sticks to keep the flame going, and after cooking hotdogs for supper we let it go out and retreat to the warmth of the Casita. The low tonight is 30 degrees, good thing we have electricity.
Sunday, April 5
Note: Julie and I spent all day Saturday at a different state park, which is going to be a separate blog post for the sake of brevity and to make it easier for people to pick and choose which park they’re interested in learning about. I’ll be posting about Ha Ha Tonka on Wednesday if all goes well.
The Spring Trail, at last! The water has gone down enough that we can drive Bertha over the bridge to the trail head. The water is still murky, but no longer pudding brown. It’s a more translucent gray/brown now, but still not clear enough to see the bottom. I wonder how long it takes spring water to clear up after flooding? That sign that I spied two days ago upon our arrival is now just high enough out of the receding water to read: “Danger: Deep water” I laugh.
It’s an enjoyable little walk, if still muddy in places. The air warms quickly and the sun shines clear. After the walk we go down to the fish hatchery.
Their water is still pretty murky too, but it’s cleared up enough that you can see that the fish are indeed trout. I’m amused by how “friendly” the biggest ones in the pool on the end are, when Julie and I lean over the railing to look they crowd around and break the surface of the water, waiting to get fed.
Down at the other end of the long pool, their friendliness is explained. For 25 cents you can buy a handful of fish food to give them, apparently these are the brood stock that aren’t released into the stream, so it’s okay if they’re really people friendly. Some of them in this pool are monstrous, larger than any brown or rainbow trout I’d ever caught.
There’s also a little building by the hatchery with displays and information on trout and their relation to the park system, pretty neat.
There’s still more to see at Bennet Spring, including a seven mile hike that leads to an impressively long natural tunnel, but that will have to wait for a future trip as today we’re pulling out and heading to St. Louis. I had a good time revisiting the Ozarks, but the road is calling and there are other adventures ahead…
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