{ Crawdads, Caddisflies and Clifty Creek }

March 22, 2014 § 3 Comments

Every day during elementary school, my bus driver forded Clifty Creek in our yellow school bus, driving nose-down on a steep gravel road, then climbing straight up again. He did this every day, that is, unless the rains were bad. Then, it was an hour detour around that low-water bridge in some rural school emergency orchestration that I’d never want to plan myself.

Unarguably, my great-grandfather had it worse: the mother of one of his school mates had to give him a ride to the other side on her horse.

clifty_creek_conservation area

On second thought, that sounds a little more efficient than a one-hour detour.

Both my favorite and the most frustrating thing about the part of Missouri where my family is from is how cut-off it feels from the rest of civilization. There’s Clifty Creek to contend with, sure, and crossing the Gasconade River was even trickier. Add to that the consistently rocky and hilly terrain, other creeks, and the Big Piney River, and it’s easy to find yourself wanting to get somewhere half a mile away and driving twenty-eight to actually get there.

This does have its up-side. Because southeast Maries County/northeast Pulaski County is so untouchable, it has, for centuries, remained untouched.

Clifty Creek was the state’s first natural area, designated in 1971, and became a conservation area under the Missouri Department of Conservation in 1984.

I never explicitly knew that. To me, Clifty Creek was that spot near the water crossing, just off of the gravel road (private property, I’ve since learned). When family visited, the older kids and my uncles would always head upstream to see its famous natural arch. My grandmother never let me go with them, so I splashed around near the road and got my toes bitten by minnows. (She also never allowed me in deep water, so I still can’t swim.)

Much later, after I had moved from Dixon and graduated high school, a couple of friends and I went on a Route 66 trip. I suggested stopping by my old home place and expected to just hang out at that low-water bridge, but that same year a 2.3-mile trail in the conservation area was opened. We didn’t make it to the natural arch (foiled again!), but it was a good taste of the glades and woodlands.

It’s hard to separate my sentimental feelings from the experience of hiking there, but I will say this: the Gasconade dolomite on the trail seems to sparkle, the biodiversity is plain to see, and the water is crystal clear.

I often bring friends here with me, paired with Bluegrass Pickin’ Time and Elbow Inn. The weather’s usually warmer and we get in the water and meet more crawdads. The Spothanded Crayfish and Golden Crayfishes pictured above are fairly common and found in the same places together. I know we’ve seen at least four or five distinct species at one time before. Next trip, I’ll come armed with my copy of William L. Pflieger’s The Crayfishes of Missouri, which I almost just typed as “Crazyfishes of Missouri.” Also accurate.

The goal today was mostly to move around and be in the sun, but I managed to score a few bird finds, see a groundhog and a little brown bat, and — most exciting — I got to watch this caddisfly larva do his thing. Caddisflies are known to glamp under the right conditions, but I’ll leave you with the naturally fancy one from today:

{ Also }

Listening
“Whole World Round” – The Mississippi Sawyers (Dillards cover)

Drinking
Bella Sera Pinot Noir – a little harsh

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