February 2012

The carcass of old car, a '60 Fairlane perhaps, sits in the middle of a dry creek bed a short distance south of the Victoria Glades parking lot. There are two ways to get there. If it hasn't rained recently, follow the creek bed. Otherwise, pick your way down a faint path leading off south from the parking.

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Some trails go nowhere.

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If you hike counter-clockwise around the trail at Valley View Glades, you'll eventually end up on a old wagon road running along a ridgetop. After a bit, the trail leaves the road and descends to a wet weather creek, near a spot where the water plunges over rock ledges and down into a bathtub-sized pool.

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Glades are marvellous places, and Victoria and Valley View Glades are good places to see them. Even though they occur in a variety of places in Missouri, they always feel unique, a departure from the usually timbered Ozark landscape. They invite a kind of slow progress, a constant stopping and turning to look, since glades often reveal a vista that is not possible in thick woods.

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How natural are Ozark glades? They're common around Valley View and Victoria Glades, so at first glance they seem like a normal part of the landscape.

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After wandering a bit across the open landscapes at Victoria Glades, I headed for a nearby hilltop, where the openness was abruptly replaced by thick brush. Fortunately, an old wagon road headed south through the brush along the hilltop.

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After an hour or so wandering around Victoria Glades, sort of looking for the trail, but not looking very hard, I finally found one, and decided to follow it. But I didn't get very far when I noticed, off in the woods, another glade opening and the start of a small creek, fringed in cedars. Since Victoria Glades's trails hadn't done well by me, I headed off through the woods. And, after going not more than twenty or thirty yards, I discovered an utterly magical place.

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I'm puzzled over a spot at Valley View Glades. Running parallel to the trail, as it heads along the top of the ridge, are a pair of long, straight ditches.

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A brilliantly designed and executed trail loops through a small but varied landscape of glades, forest and creek bottoms. Valley View Glades Natural Area is located west of Hillsboro in Jefferson County, about 40 minutes south I-270 down MO 21. MO 21 is four-lane divided highway through Jefferson County to where it ends at route B (paved). Go right on B 4 miles or so to Valley View Glades (parking on left).

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Sometimes, the trail fades away to nothing, inviting (or forcing, depending on your point of view) off-trail exploration.

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A nice stand of nearly mature trees rise in the back of the Young Conservation Area, between ares where the Department of Conservation has been thinning timber. The trees are large enough to shade out the underbrush, so the forest floor is clear and open.

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Every hiking season has its pluses and minuses. In the spring, green takes on a special beauty, especially after winter's monochromes, but it tends to rain a lot. Summer days go on forever, but Missouri can be beastly hot. If there's a perfect season, it's autumm, but usually it isn't cold enough to shut down the chiggers.

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Young Conservation Area is a good place to think about land management. The whole of the Ozarks--the whole of the United States, in fact--is owned by someone, even if that someone is a government agency. And those owners all have agendas of one kind or another. Sometimes, especially if they're like the Missouri Department of Conservation or the U.S. Forest Service, they have multiple goals on their agendas, and those goals get worked out differently in the different parcels owned by the agency.

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Wear orange: A forest actively managed for wildlife and hunting.

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Nathan H. Parker The Missouri Handbook, 1865

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I can't walk by a smallest creek without stopping. I think I must number among what Melville (or Melville's Ishmael--I'm not sure they're the same) calls "the crowds of water-gazers".

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