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.
Such old roads are common in the Ozarks, left-overs from the when the land was logged. Usually they were routed either along ridge tops, or else along a creek bottom; in other words, they're located where the ground is flat. Land managers sometimes use them for trails, since they're ready made, and they tend to be the easiest way to get from one point to another.
No trail runs along this road at Victoria Glades. It looked like it hadn't been used in quite a while. It was thick with leaves, and obstructed by fallen branches.
Old roads in the Ozarks usually predate current land uses, so they go where people wanted to go a hundred years past. So following old roads willy-nilly is a good way to get lost. And, to complicate matters, whenever a trail follows an old road, it usually does so for only a part of its length, so hikers have to pay attention for points where the trail diverges from the road, lest they find themselves lost.
The Goggins Mountain Equestrian Trail at Johnsons Shutin State Park is a good example of the problem. The middle part of the trail consists of an old road that runs along the top of Goggins Mountain. However, the road connects twice with single track trails. The last time I hiked there, I missed both both junctions and continued on the old road. Fortunately, I had hiked the trail before, so I didn't go wrong by far. But had I not been expecting confusion, I could have easily ended up a long, long way from camp.
As I strolled down the old road, picking my way past brush and downed branches, I fiddled with my camera. It had decided to quit working properly just as I started hiking. The camera worked, sort of, for the rest of the day. But somehow I still managed to take a video of my feet.
Troubles with cameras are nothing new for me. In fact, I'm always surprised when a picture turns out. And even when one does, it still is never quite as good as my memory, so much so that I often wonder if a camera is worth the trouble. But I suppose that since people now expect pictures on web sites, a camera is a necessity.
In any case, I eventually tired of fiddling with the broken camera, and actually looked at the hilltop traversed by the old road. At first glance, it seemed typical, another long flat stretch of ground crowded with trees and brush, carpeted with fallen leaves. And yet it wasn't quite typical. Missing was the sort of large fallen trees that I expect to see. In lots of forests, the tress grow up, die, and then fall over. The size of the largest standing trees should be not much less than the size of the trunks fallen on the ground. In some places, the fallen timber is so thick that the forest seems to be rising out of its own bones.
But not on this hilltop. As soon as I noticed the oddity, I looked out for fallen trees whenever I went through thicker timber. And the only large downed tree I saw had obviously been taken down with a chainsaw. Has Victoria Glades been used as a woodlot, not recently, but at some point in living memory? I expect so.
There's a similar old road that's part of the trail at Valley View Glades. There, it's easy to see why it makes sense to route a trail along an old road. It's pleasant, strolling along the ridge, almost like walking along a sidewalk.
After a bit, the trail takes a brief detour away from the road. The detour is a sign of considerate trail construction, because it delivers the hiker to an expansive view of the glade complex. It relieves what some might regard as a tedious slog down an old road. Trails can be so thoughtlessly constructed that they seem to lead to nowhere, and to take a long time getting there. So whenever someone bothers to route a trail so that the hiker is rewarded with a visit to a pleasant spot, it's important to take note.
After the detour, the trail returns to the old road for another short stretch, then turns away from the road and continues as single track. As I noted earlier, these connections between old roads and single track trails are good places for route finding confusion. This particular junction is marked and signed quite well. I suppose the Conservation Department does not want hikers wandering onto the neighbor's property.