Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Magical Ozarks– A Springtime Oasis!


Spring is my favorite season.  After 4 months in the Southwest with it’s subtle color variations, I was really longing for a good old Midwest “knock your socks off” panorama of vibrant green as far as the eye could see!   So I planned to stop a few days in the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri during my trip back to Chicago where I’d be sure to get my spring green fix!

I started seeing a few vistas of green in Oklahoma, and by the time I crossed the Arkansas border near Fort Smith, there was no mistaking that I was now it brilliant green Ozark country!  I decided to spend the night, appropriately, in the town of Ozark, AR just a few miles off of I-40 along the Arkansas river.

I stayed at a nice Army COE campground called Aux Arc Park (using the classier French spelling of Ozark) and got a spot right along the river

The next day I wanted to drive north to the Buffalo River area around Harrison and Jasper.  I took Scenic Route 21 from Clarksville and it was a delightfully rolling and twisting drive up and down the Ozark mountains and past fields of crimson clover and yellow canola


I had been thinking about staying a few days around Harrison to do a paddling trip along the Buffalo, but I wasn’t finding the right blend of scenic campground with hookups that I was looking for (and I also found out the Buffalo water levels were quite low so I’d not be able to paddle the section I was most interested in).

So…on to Plan B.  I continued on towards the Ozark National Scenic Riverways park in southeast Missouri stopping first at a large, quiet Wal-Mart parking lot for the night in White Plains, MO to stock up on supplies.


I don’t know why driving into the small town of Eminence, MO always reminds me of the song “Dueling Banjos” from the movie Deliverance, but there are more than a few old rundown houses in town that have an assortment of old recliners, appliances, and even ATVs parked on the front porch!  Combined with spotty to non-existent cell phone, TV or radio reception, and a city slicker could certainly feel a bit apprehensive in this part of hillbilly country.

But, truth be told, the people are honest and friendly, and it’s a wonderful get-away from the hectic pace of the modern world.  There are so few places in the eastern half of the U.S. where you can do that!

The park protects two natural spring-fed rivers—the Current and the Jacks Fork.  Both are crystal clear and nearly completely devoid of any mud or sediment.  Millie tested out both rivers and gave them her highest “Four Paws” seal of approval!


The afternoon sun on the still Jacks Fork river also made for some terrific mirror reflections:



I badly wanted to paddle one of these rivers, but I also really wanted to photograph the natural springs that feed them and didn’t have time to do both.  So, the springs won out this time (I know I’ll be back!)

I started my explorations at the southern end of the park near the down of Van Buren, MO to see Big Spring.  It’s adjacent to a large NPS campground and picnic area which must be quite busy in the summer.  Thankfully, on this quiet spring weekday, I had the place virtually all to myself!  What an idyllic spot to enjoy the afternoon!




I took a different route back home towards camp so that I could check out Blue Spring, supposedly the deepest of all the Ozark springs.  It, indeed, was a brilliant blue and looked pretty darn deep!



The photo below initially appears to be a mirror reflection of the trees, but click it to look a bit closer at the water—it’s the rocky cliff beneath the surface heading down into the spring!


The spring poured out onto a brief stretch of rapids that I followed alongside via a short path that led to a nice view of the Current river where the spring water ended up.


Back at the Alley Spring campground, I noticed the tell-tail sign that a change of weather would be coming within 12 hours—altocumulus clouds in the sky!


Sure enough, the next morning we awoke to rain and significantly colder weather.  As soon as the rain let up a little bit, I hopped in the Tracker to head over to nearby Alley Spring. 

I was first enchanted by this place in the Fall of 2010.  As wonderful as it was to photograph in Autumn, I was intrigued by what it might look like in the Spring.  I now have to say that I like it even better at this time of year!  See if you agree--  .


As pretty as the little creek and waterfall were, the vibrant aqua spring itself is the main attraction here.  Of course, the rains resumed just as I started photographing it, but no worries!  I had my camera on a tripod and just slowed my exposures down enough to smooth out the water surface of the steady raindrops.  The rain also ensured that I could have this special “Heaven on Earth” place all to myself for the morning.  What a delicious oasis to return to after so many months in the desert!






We left camp the next day to drive back home to Chicago.  I had hoped to photograph the final spring, Round Spring, on the north end of the park, but the park service had it closed off to visitors for the weekend.  Guess I’ll have something new to explore the next time!


  1. Aux Arc is a nice campground. We drove out to check it out week before last and will try to find a nice time to spend a night or two.

    Lake Fort Smith State Park is also a very nice park. The lake was enlarged a few years back and the old campground was moved to the new location. So, the sites are nice sized and all utilities are new. They have three pull through sights that face the lake through the trees.

    Your photos are beautiful, thanks for sharing them.

  2. I'd say you were at those places at the right time. Beautiful!

  3. I've been in a small part of the Ozarks, but not this part. Beautiful photos. This area is going on my bucket list!

  4. My parents live in the Ozarks for a while and I thought it was beautiful there but these pictures go far beyond the beauty I saw there. What a wonderful life you lead.

  5. Spectacular water shots! And, the green looks a little obscene after months in the desert!

    The Verde Valley is, you know, verdant compared to the Sonoran Desert, but still not Arkansas green.

  6. My husband and I stayed in a very interesting place several years ago in Eureka Springs, Arkansas: Treehouse Cottages. It was a 30th anniversary trip, and we found the tree houses delightful and that area full of natural beauty. I'm wondering if any of your readers have stayed there also?

  7. I have lots of family in Emminence, though they're distant cousins, for the most part. We would go there every summer from Colorado, and I have no idea why, but always in the hottest part of summer. I think there was a family reunion every year at that time.

    Spent lots of time around all the springs. I remember one time we were driving along the Jacks Fork on an old rutted road in my dad's cousin's old pickup. He was a true hillbilly. He pulled the steering wheel off the truck as he drove along and about scared my mom to death. It was just a joke and he thought it was pretty funny. We kids did too. :)

  8. PS I got so caught up in the memories that I forgot to say that your photos are beautiful and really take me back to a great time (except for the heat and chiggers). :)

  9. What a lovely area, one day we shall have to explore the US rather than Mexico. Lovely photos as always.


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