Last Saturday Rich and I finished the Trace Creek Section of the Ozark Trail by hiking the upper 12.5 miles of the section – from Hazel Creek to the Hwy DD crossing. Today was a special day for us – we would be completing our 200th mile of the Ozark Trail! Unfortunately, I came down with a cold the day before, making it somewhat difficult to fully enjoy that milestone. Nevertheless, it was a milestone that we’re quite proud of. Since we started hiking the Ozark Trail some 7 years ago, we’ve completed the Taum Sauk, Middle Fork, Blair Creek, Current River, Between The Rivers, Eleven Point, and – now – Trace Creek Sections. Of these, the Taum Sauk Section is unquestionably the finest, crossing the rugged granite outcroppings of the St. Francois Mountains, and the Eleven Point Section with its towering bluff top views is a close second. We still have much to see, however. Completed sections still awaiting us are the Karkaghne, Marble Creek, Wappapello, and Victory Sections, and the Coutois and North Fork Sections are nearing completion. By the time we complete these sections, I expect additional parts of the planned route will be constructed and ready for our enjoyment.
But back to Saturday’s hike. We started at Hazel Creek with mild temps and cloudy skies but no precip in the forecast. We talked briefly to a mountain biker with a 29er who took this photo of us:
These cabin remains lie in the campground at the trailhead – those are sandstone blocks which I suppose must have been transported from the Lamotte formations some 30 miles to the east near Ste. Genevieve.
There was much to see in the vicinity of Hazel Creek. As an orchid enthusiast, I was pleased to find these Adam and Eve orchids (Aplectrum hymenale), also known as puttyroot, growing in healthy numbers on the hillside above the valley. The single leaf of this unusual plant is dusky grey-green in color, deeply creased and looking like crepe paper. They appear in late summer and persist until the plant flowers the following spring.
My preoccupation with lichens continues. This colony of British Soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) was found growing in trailside rocks. This lichen is named for its resemblance to the uniforms worn by English soldiers during the Revolutionary War, although the spore-producing reproductive structures are not the brilliant red color as seen during the summer. Lichens are not plants, or even a single organism, but instead a symbiotic association between an alga (in this case, Trebouxia erici) and a fungus (in this case, Cladonia cristatella). Lichen scientific names are derived from the fungus part of the relationship.
Puffball mushrooms have been a favorite of mine since I found my first colony during childhood and delighted in watching the ‘smoke’ fly as I slapped them with my hands. These days I’m satisfied to just look at them (and maybe poke one or two).
The term “puffball” actually refers to a polyphyletic assemblage of fungi distributed within several orders in the division Basidiomycota. I’m no expert (or even a novice), but I wonder if these apparently mature individuals might represent the pear-shaped Morganella pyriforme, a saprobic species that is considered a choice edible while still young. Please leave a comment if you know its identity.
The trail was not particularly rugged but traversed across a number of ridges between the Hazel Creek and Trace Creek valleys. The bedrock was mainly chert, and along the trail we saw this quartz formation with its intricately formed interior exposed.
Approaching Trace Creek, this fireplace and chimney were all that remained of what was probably once a cozy little homestead. Obviously this house had not been constructed of sandstone blocks like the one at Hazel Creek. On each side of where the house once must have been stood two grand, old sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum) – we speculated they had been planted by the former residents and wondered what life was like in this isolated little part of the Ozarks back in the day.
We reached the trails namesake, Trace Creek, about halfway through our hike, and by this time we were the Ozark Trail’s newest 200-mile veterans. It was a pretty little valley, and we stopped here for a bit to eat and rest. Adam and Eve orchids were plentiful here, and in looking for them I became surprised to notice how large a variety of green, herbaceous plants one can find in these deciduous forests during the winter, especially in the lower elevations (moister?).
On these hikes, it has become customary to ‘push over’ trees – dead trees, that is. The larger the better, but of course the larger they are the ‘deader’ they must be for us to be able to push them. I did not push over a single tree on my previous hike of the lower Trace Creek Section, so I made up for it this time and found three trees to push over. Here, Rich finds out what all the fun is about:
The final miles of the hike became more difficult, as my sore throat and congestion combined with the miles started taking their toll on me. We finished our hike at the Hwy DD crossing after 7 hrs of hiking, portaged back to the other car, and met up in Sullivan for our traditional post-Ozark Trail hike pizza dinner.