Columbia Bottom Conservation Area

This is a very different kind of area, and a very long one. I was unsure if the entire loop was 8 miles or 9.5, but it seems if you park at the visitors center and take the 1.8 mile path to the river access point it is more like a total of 9 miles. This will make this the longest hike I've completed since I started this blog, and a day later I am still feeling the pain in my legs! I am very glad that I was with a friend (my roommate Ashley) because there was a little frustration in the end and my legs were dying by the end of the hike, to but it is helpful to have someone to push you at times like these.

Columbia Bottom is actually two trails, the River Confluence Trail, and the River's Edge Trail, which make a kind of loop connected at the start/end point of the river's access point, with the remaining trail from that point to the visitor's center. The 4.75 Confluence Trail is an open, paved path. I can see how it could be nice in the winter because it's very wide open flood plain with a lot of sun... it actually got kind of hot while I was walking, and I was glad I had remembered to put on sunblock. The pavement walking by the end was getting kind of hard on my shins, probably because I had worn my hiking boots (or because I'm out of shape and by 7 miles was getting very tired... we had also kept up a very brisk pace). The scenery is very pretty though, in a bare way. EVerything was brown and golden in the late November season, but the tree line next to the river is tall and the floodplan is full of marshes and trees and crops, with lots of birds.

The 3 mile River's Edge Trail was a lot more rugged than I was expecting considering how paved the Confluence Trail is. It really does ramble right along the edge of the Missouri on a dirt path with small ups and downs. The surrounding forest looks almost like a jungle with all the vines hanging, even without leaves, and there were times where you were pretty much on an overhang with the river underneath  you, which lent a nice breeze on the very warm day. The River's Edge trail ends at the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers, which is a really neat thing to visit, where the park has a nice spot to overlook the place where the two rivers converge as you stop and rest. I liked the River's Edge trail a lot, and it was a really nice different pace than the open paved path of the confluence trail. Both were very nicely marked.

Our main issue was that after walking from the visitors center to the confluence point via the River's Edge trail, we found the second part of the Confluence Trail closed for maintenance. Not only had there been no signs up anywhere in the entire park, but nobody at the visitor's center had let us know. I found this strange, almost as if the sign had been left up by accident because there was no sign stopping us from being on the trail had we started on the other edge of the Confluence Trail. Because neither Ashley nor I wanted to go back the way we had come, we opted to walk the car road back to the river access point... probably not the best choice as it winded a lot and was very hot without the shade of the river side trees.

I have had issues with the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area before. The first time I went quite a few years ago with my father, we stopped at the visitors center and everything and drove down the river access point only to find the Confluence Trail was blocked with a sign saying it was closed. Once again, no warnings at the visitor center had been posted, nor did any of the workers say anything when we asked about trail length. I understand that trails need to be  closed to be maintained, and that the Missouri Conservation areas are not getting a lot of money, but it would have been nice if Ashley and I hadn't found ourselves without a trail after nearly 5 miles of walking.

All in all, though, I felt very accomplished to have walked what we did, and the scenery was lovely and kind of different, with a lot of history.

Urban Walking

I had planned on hiking today, but got sidetracked, as sometimes happened. Instead I enjoyed some tea while my sister ate breakfast, after which we went shopping (crazy, I know, I usually avoid anything to do with after Thanksgiving sales), and finished the afternoon with a small lunch with my sister with whom I don't get to spend nearly as much time as I'd like to. Tomorrow is  supposed to be even nicer weather than today, so I think tomorrow will be my hiking day (today was nearly 55 degrees, tomorrow will be around 65, if anyone can believe it on November 27th). But I wanted to take my hiking boots on a walk... wearing them around the apartment hadn't really been doing any good, so I guess now that they've been outside I'm keeping them. My arch pushes against the top a little if I lace it too tight, but I think with some more breaking in, they should do just fine.

Walking in the city is a very different feeling than what I usually do, but I actually kind of like it. I have a route I usually walk, which I calculated at about 2.5 miles with which is really neat and useful. My route, you can see, is here: Neighborhood 2.5 mile walk . I would like to try to expand it to about 3 miles if possible sometime, and it only takes me about 40 minutes to walk, which seems strange since a 2.5 mile hike might take me a great deal longer than that. Most of it sticks to the sidewalks except the beginning in the back neighborhoods, I cross over an interstate on a bridge twice which is kind of dizzying, and there is only one brief section where I have to wait for a crosswalk. I kind of enjoy the neighborhood walking, whether in daylight or at night, it is relaxing in it's own strange way. I usually need music to block out the cars, but I can set a good pace and really get into the rhythm fairly easily.

To say the least, it's not nearly the same as a peaceful walk out in the woods all alone somewhere far out. But on the days that I can't drive somewhere to take a hike, a walk seems like a nice alternative way to stay active (especially after Thanksgiving week!) that I can do almost every day. Sometimes my roommate and I will do much shorter 10/15 minute version of this walk in the back neighborhoods just to get some fresh air after dinner. The tree-filled neighborhoods are nice scenery for a walk, and right now despite being near the end of November, there are still flowers here and there that don't seem to know what season it is. Next time I do the full walk, I'll try to take a few pictures, but it's nothing too impressive or unique.

Trying to figure out where to go tomorrow still, and with whom. The shoes and socks from REI performed well, I can't wait to try them out on more rugged ground!

Valley View Glades

This hike really was out of the way, as the book promised. I haven't driven down to Hillsboro, Missouri before, and don't even bother trying to search for "Valley View Glades" on your GPS or mapquest or anything, because it doesn't come up. Since the book directions start out near Hillsboro itself, I had to do some searching on my own on exactly how to get to the intersection of Mo-21 and Rt. B, which actually wasn't too hard after all, and after that I made it just fine. There were a surprising number of cars parked there when I arrived, but as soon as I started in on the trail, I ran into the group that the cars belonged to... some sort of dog-walking trail group that were very nice and warned me that I needed rubber boots because of the mud on the trail. Aside from them, I only saw two other people on the trail the whole time.

I accidentally went through the trail the opposite way that the trail is marked, heading counter-clockwise when I hit the fork as I first passed out of the immediate woods to the valley overlook. The sign to the left marking the trail was kind of worn, so I didn't see it, but luckily the trail was marked for both directions throughout the whole thing. There were a few times at the top of the trail circle where I got a little confused because the trail leaves and joins an old road a few times that looks like a trail, but I never got lost and for the most part the trail was wonderfully marked with posts and two different kinds of signs, even with the leaves all over the ground the trail was hard to lose sight of.

The terrain of the trail was really neat. Glades are a really unique kind of area that I'm not overly familiar with, really rocky surface and almost giving a feeling like you're in a dried out desert. The trail itself was mostly dirt (mud) and rocks, and there were a few steep descents/inclines along the way that could get kind of slippery thanks to all the rain we've been having... I don't know if I'd try this trail in winter, because of all the water. But the water is what made the trail great. You kind of pass over the same streams throughout your hike, but then at the end (or at he very beginning if you took the trail clockwise like you're supposed to) you get to little waterfalls and streams and rocky pools that are absolutely beautiful. I think some of the streams I had to cross on the trail were possibly a little fuller than usual, because I actually had to find rocks to step across a few times to keep my shoes from getting wet (not that they were particularly deep, just wet). I  liked it though, made me feel more adventurous! The little waterfall hollows were peaceful, and I loved being able to hear the sound of water as I hiked... talk about babbling brooks! One of the things about this trail that bothered me a little was the traffic sounds that could be heard from time to time, but the water totally made up for it, not to mention all the different bird calls I heard too.

The trail switches between forested bits with the streams, and big grassy plains. Because it is mid-November (albeit a warm mid-November day, and not good for pictures because it was either cloudy or hazy), there was very little green on the trip-- all the trees except for some firs had lost their leaves, and the grasses over the hills were lovely brown and golden colors that actually I thought were quite pretty. But the book mentioned what a pretty hike this was in the spring with the wildflowers, so I think I'll definitely be making a trip back in 2010! It's too bad that spring is my worst season due to my allergies-- though a few years of shots have made my life manageable and less miserable, the spring season can still be hit and miss for me. It was nice to switch between the more calm wood walks and then pass out onto the hill and look out over the grass and hills and rocks, and then back down into the valley to cross the springs. I could have stayed and explored the streams for a long time. Over all it was a very peaceful hike, a great length of 3 miles with mostly calm, easy paths and a few places to make you work your lungs. I really enjoyed myself!

Quiet weekend at home

No hike this Sunday, unfortunately. Despite the fact that I'm still fighting the remnants of a cold away, I was going to push ahead and hike anyway-- I figure a little walking never hurt anyone, and this time it's not as if I had an upper respitory infection like I did with the Lewis & Clark trail. But despite sleeping on a drowsy allergy pill and having been awake for more than 18 hours (I had to get up at 6am this Saturday to go to an early childhood education conference, at which I was also presenting), I slept very badly, waking up at least twice (the only ones I know for sure are 4am and 6am, because I looked at the clock). The forcast was for rain, though of course it hasn't rained yet all day. Strange weather today, actually. It was chilly, but not really cold, but it looked like the most wintery day we've had so far. Cloudy in the sense that the sky and air is one great big expanse of gray so that you can't tell where the horizon ends and the sky begins sometimes, where it looks as if it must be misting, but there is no precipitation. So in the end, I decided to sleep in a little bit and then headed to the London Tea Room for lunch and a nice pot of my favorite tea blend there-- the 5th of November. Black and smokey like a campfire, really hit the spot.

I don't want the changing weather to affect my hiking. While I'm not really a winter person (fall is by far my favorite season), I don't see that unless it is really unbearably cold and windy, I should stop. The problem is that I need the proper dressings for a winter hike, and I'm not sure what that is yet. I hesitate to go to an outdoorsy shop because I don't want a salesperson pushing expensive gear and coats on me that I cannot afford and may not need. I imagine it is mostly a matter of learning how to properly layer. I have some long-john type underthings that I bought for when I studied abroad in Austria, though I have to find them. Heavy socks are an easy thing to get, and I still need to get off my butt and figure out if those hiking shoes are mine or need to be returned. What I *don't* know is if my winter coat is appropriate-- will it be too heavy and uncomfortable once I start moving and working up a sweat? Should I get something in between a fleece jacket and winter coat, and wear my regular shirt and long-john shirt under that? I have no idea, but I suppose a little bit of trial and error will do me well-- take some shorter winter hikes and see how my winter coat pans out. I don't really have the money to spend on anything too fancy, but I'm going to look around and see what my options are.

Maybe next weekend it will still be nice and I can go on a hike. I really want to try the View Valley Glades hike... though it doesn't come up when I search for it on mapquest. Instead, Victoria Valley Glades shows up in the same area, but is a completely different conservation area that isn't in the 60 Hikes book at all. Confusing. But I have a pretty good idea of how to get there now (both are near Hillsboro, Missouri), so if my luck is set next weekend, I'll check one of them out.

Hilda Young Conservation Area & Powder Valley Park

Even though we are about to begin the second week of November, the weather has been extremely warm (though with St. Louis weather, that hardly surprises me) at near 80 degrees today! So of course I couldn't pass up the day for hiking, especially after an especially quiet and lazy weekend at home. Originally it was going to be another group hike, but in the end it was just me and Allison, and a promise to meet the other girls at the London Tea Room later that afternoon.

I wanted to try the Hilda Young Conservation Area because it sounded gorgeous and seemed kind of out of the way, though 60 Hikes in 60 Miles recommended it as a good spring and winter hike. However when we arrived, not only were there plenty of cars already parked in the small lot (it seemed like mostly hunters and fishers?), but a sign on the board said that the main trail was closed because the bridge was out. I'm not sure when Missouri Conservation plans on fixing this, but hopefully by next spring the whole trail will be available to hike. I will be returning to this trail again in the future to complete the entire thing.

Despite this, Allison and I took the hike down to where the bridge was out, just to take a look, then began hiking back down the closing side of the loop that would lead us towards the pond and the parking lot again, a nice short loop. I was very glad, however, to have the 60 Hikes book with us, because the author described a small mown path that we could take that would follow LaBarque Creek and give us a look at the bluff where the pine plantation was (where the full hike would have taken us had the bridge been in working order). It was very pretty and gave us just the extra bit of hiking to make us feel that we hadn't missed something by coming while the bridge was out. Between the very pretty light woods, the open medows with tall grasses, the creek, and the easy to see, wide grassy trails, the hike was pleasant, very pretty, and really relaxing. The trail was very well marked (for once!) with easy to see sign-posts and little markers with hikers on them, and also had some informative signs along the way near benches explaining how the planting of certain trees was working to prevent erosion. Despite the large number of cars in the parking lot, we didn't see anyone on the trail or spur except for a man fishing at the pond when we started. There was some noise from the nearby roads that never quite seemed to disappear, but it wasn't too bothersome-- also, I imagine as the hike goes on further past the creek, noise might be less of a concern. Overall I really liked the feel of this area, small and kind of intimate, and the book promised some really good sights further on up the trail which I will definitely return to explore. The warnings about hunting season made me slightly nervous, but the signs on the trail seemed to promise no hunting within those limits.

Afterwards, because it was on our way back, we stopped briefly at Powder Valley Park in Kirkwood and did their shortest 2/3 of a mile hike on the Broken Ridge Trail. This was a very different walk for me because the paths were paved, but it was actually very beautiful, and completely surprising to find such an expanse of wooded walks in what seems like the middle of the suburbs. The path was crowded with families and children, but it is very family friendly so that was to be expected. The trail actually had some pretty steep inclines, and was very peaceful and a very short but pleasant and fulfilling walk. If I have more time, I would love to go back and do the other two short trails at Powder Valley. It seems like a nice place to go for a stroll with friends or jogging.

Lone Elk Park

I have been waiting to try out the trail at Lone Elk Park because my good friend Allison has been wanting to do it with me. Today was the perfect opportunity. My roommate Ashley and friend Tanya also joined us! This opened up an entire new kind of hiking for me. The trend that I've represented on this journal is of me hiking alone. When I'm alone, hiking is an experience that I cannot explain. It seems really sappy and cliched to talk about it out loud, but being alone with just me and a really beautiful surrounding is so peaceful and calming. I like being alone, having the me-time. It's introspective, or on the other hand I don't have to think about anything at all except my next step and the view.

But hiking with three other people was actually really fun. It was hard to get a good pace down at first. I tend to either walk very very fast, or very slow when I'm looking at the scenery. We took turns being trail leaders, but in a natural way-- when one person lost the trail (I'll get to that in a minute), we would all stand together and work to find it, sometimes someone would skip ahead to check out a possibility, and someone new would usually start in the front, the rest of us behind. We also fooled around a lot, which is usually what annoys me about other people on the trails I go on, but was actually refreshing to take a little less of a serious approach to hiking. It was fun to talk, see where the conversation took us, or sometimes just walk in comfortable silence. There is always something to talk about though when you think you're lost or about to be impaled by elk. It was fun to take ridiculous pictures and romp around! I really, completely enjoyed myself, and could definitely see me going on these outings more often. It's definitely a very different experience, but not in a bad way at all!

So, Lone Elk Park. We took the only trail that is there, the White Bison Trail, which is about 3.25 miles around a lake. This was nice because it was a different vista than I've been doing lately-- trading out my rocks and rivers for deep woods and lake overviews. Some of the trail is a lot less wild than others I've been on, following the road that drivers take around the lake to view the elk from the safety of their vehicles. These cars then proceed to stare at you strangely because it does look indeed like you are somewhere you are not supposed to be-- it is not widely marked through the park that there is a hiking trail.

Actually, the trail itself is badly marked. I would NOT recommend this trail for a late fall hike. There were so many leaves on the ground that most of the time the trail was completely unreadable, and the trail is seriously lacking in signs or posts-- some of the posts that were on the trail had markings that had been worn or actually taken off and were completely bare, while other signs that seem to have been meant for trees were either fallen on the ground or lacking actual arrows. We lost the trail about half the time we were one it, and only with stupid luck of pushing forward despite not knowing which way to go did we find the trail again. The visitors office was out of trail maps, and the ones I had in my 60 Hikes in 60 Miles was not detailed enough to be helpful. We worked extra hard climbing up incredibly steep (and slippery) inclines that were probably not the trail at all, but it was so hard to tell that our only hope was to keep pushing forward.

The hiking trail gets you closer to Elk than I actually thought it would, or possibly closer than I needed to be! There are signs posted telling you when to be careful of mating season, and to always keep a safe distance of 100 feet from the animals. This would be good advice, except twice on the trail, groups of elk, both male and female, were actually blocking the trail. Giant creatures, beautiful to watch, but regardless blocking the visible trail. The first time was easier-- we were about to cross and follow the road to the second part of the trail anyway, so we were easily able to not interrupt the elk, but also get a really good view of them from where we were. They barely paid attention to us at all, eating and resting under the trees. The second time the elk blocked the trail was NOT as easy. There were quite a few large males, and we had to walk up a steep hill towards the road above us, walk over the ridge and carefully try to pick up the trail on the other side of the elk. They didn't seem to mind us too much (obviously the animals in such a park are completely used to people being around them, there was even a deer that was within a few feet of us that didn't move while we tried to maneuver our way through the weeds), but did follow us watching in case we got too close. obviously one of the best parts about this trail is getting so unbelievably close to these giant, amazing animals.

I would love to revisit this trail in the springtime and see if it is any easier to navigate, since the stress of feeling completely lost every 15 minutes started taking it's toll after awhile. Obviously the best part of this trail was getting so incredibly close to the animals, which makes up for the incredible amounts of deer/elk poop. The lake was beautiful, and while though sometimes the cars driving by on the road were slightly annoying, some of the trail was also secluded (and the road helped us get our bearings more than once). I had a really good time, and it was pleasant to do something different.