Tuesday, October 16, 2012—Hiking the Ozark Highlands Trail

First and foremost, happy 17th birthday, Kaden.

121016_E04With Kay gone, inspired by the just read AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller, and all the chores caught up (at least the ones I wanted to do), I drove to the Leatherwood Wilderness for a short hike.  My objective was to view the vibrant fall colors, get a little exercise, and find the saltpeter caves Ed and Ellen told us about.

Though I have driven it many times, US Forest Service Road 1118 seemed more rough than usual.  Normally, the area is devoid of people, but today I saw at least a dozen people riding horses, several automobiles, and one ATV.  When I came to the junction where I should have parked, several riders were there on horseback, concealing the trail.  I turned and drove right, but shortly came to a private horse camp.  I turned around, drove back to the intersection, and continued left this time, I came to the Spring Creek Trailhead on the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT).  121016_E02This section of the OHT had been closed for a lengthy time following the January 2009 Ice Storm which left entire tops of trees hanging and suspended above the trail.  Rather than begin this trail, the map showed a loop trail across the road, and I hoped it would take me to the top of Almus Knob.  I followed it for a half mile (the gnats were horrible), but it’s direction was inconsistent with the map, and without proper hiking supplies, I opted to return, looking carefully for another trail, but to no avail.

121016_E03I returned to the car, and drove to Spring Creek and towards Big Flat, but did not see another trailhead.  Driving back the way I came, I stopped at the intersection mentioned earlier, and found a significant trail towards Almus Knob.  After only a short hike, I came to the entrance of one of the saltpeter caves.  There is a large room with a hole in the “roof”, and beyond is a small opening to the cave itself, shown on the bottom right of the photograph, behind the pointed rock.  Following this entrance, one can crawl and explore the depths of the cave if desired, but without a flashlight and not having told anyone where I was, I did not go beyond the entrance.  However, this is on my list for a future date, hopefully with Kay, Ed, and Ellen since the latter two know where there is another cave and the location of the trail to the top of Almus Knob.  Pretty awesome, huh?

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