Sometimes old roads go nowhere. But sometimes they do. In early March, I was wandering around Meremec State Park, piecing together unofficial trails, abandoned roads and obvious cross-country routes. I knew I was in an area that had had a bunch of river clubhouses before the the failed attempt to dam the Meremec, so it seemed wise to follow whatever evidence of previous use I came across.
Like, for example, this almost washed out bridge
which had been washed out so long that the traces of the road on the other side were not entirely visible. But still, I followed it, since it seems to head uphill in the general direction of a bluff I had earlier seen from a gravel bar down by the river.
Up to this point, the hike had proceeded not by plan (the creek I had explored was not particularly large, and I never did find the springs I was looking for), but by serendipity. I had stumbled across the ruins of a clubhouse, made obvious by a patch of daffodils, planted at least 40 years ago to brighten up the place. Beer cans in Meremec River bottoms are a common sight (things fall out of canoes, after all), but I had found a full one (Milwaukee's Best, paint all faded; I didn't drink it, but I did open it and smell it as I poured it out, and it still smelled okay, or as okay as Milwaukee's Best ever will). So serendipity seemed like a better plan than any plan I had come up with.
And did it ever prove so! After I walked up the road (and found the remains of another clubhouse), I cut through the woods to the top of the bluff, where I was able to approach very close to a flock of hawks, circling over the bluff. If hawks were all that the detour would have yielded, I would have been fortunate. But the hawks were only a start: the view was as good as anything in the state:
From the edge of the bluff, the view plunged right down into the surprisingly clear river (see the thumbnail at the top of this post for more):
At times I feel as if I'm apologizing for the Ozarks, for their lack of big views and dramatic expanses. But these aren't half bad. Part of appeal of this vista is, of course, is a function of the distances exposed by the view, distances which go on for miles, far enough to darken the ridges on the horizon. The distances aren't as great as other Ozark vistas (the bluff isn't really all that high), but they're not inconsiderable.
Another part of the appeal is the depth--and not just the distance--exposed by the view. The river is really deep beneath the bluff, and it's clear enough to make the sunken trees visible. And they're big trees, their trunks probably two feet in diameter, their root wads six or eight feet across. The river is perhaps twenty or thirty feet deep beneath the bluff, and it's all visible.
In the end, however, the pleasure of the place rises from its being so different
from what surrounds it. Most of Meremec State Park is forest, a thick and mature forest. The bluff top is the opposite, open and grassy, sunbaked most of the time and quick to dry out. The openness that makes the view possible.
The bluff top would make a good lunch spot, especially now that I know the quickest way to get there. It's really not all that far from a parking lot, and there's a clean unofficial trail (or, if you will, a thoroughly overgrown old road) almost all the way there. I may have to arrange a picnic there, perhaps in the fall when the leaves change and the weather cools,previous serendipity being the best source of future plans.