The Top 5 Picnic Spots in Joplin

My husband Travis and I have a tradition where we plan a weekday picnic lunch date once our kids are back in school, then again in early May before the kids get out for summer break. It’s our way to relax, reconnect, and secretly gloat that we get recess while our kids are busy learning.

 

There are some perks to being a grown-up.

 

picnic mcindoe bench

Our favorite spot.

 

Last week, we finally had the chance to have our back-to-school picnic, and while we were resting on our blanket looking up at the blue September sky at our favorite picnic spot, I began to wonder where else in Joplin other magical picnic spots might exist – ones where we might even bring the children to on a nice weekend day.

 

So, I hopped in my car to do some field research. For a picnic spot to be ideal, it had to be naturally shaded – in other words, not in a shelter or pavilion. If I’m going to be eating outside, I want to be able to see the sky above me. (If you’re a pavilion-seeking picnic person, don’t worry; I’ve included some options for you, too.)

 

I found five outstanding picnic spots, which I’ve detailed below. At the end of each description, I’ve listed a summary of amenities, including nearby restaurants where you can pick up food for your picnic instead of having to make it yourself.

 

THE TOP 5 PICNIC SPOTS IN JOPLIN

 

  1. McIndoe Park (Glendale Road and Jackson Avenue)

When I told my friend where Travis and I had our back-to-school picnic, she said, “McIndoe Park? Never heard of it.” Not many people know the name of this park, which is perched on the banks of sparkling Shoal Creek. Most people assume that this park is an extension of Wildcat Park just to the south, but it’s actually a Joplin city park.

 

Travis and I found a spot just to the south of the historic one-lane low-water bridge, built in 1919. Driving over this bridge is a mind-bending experience; since you can’t see the pavement next to you, it feels like you’re gliding across the creek in a boat.

 

picnic mcindoe creek

McIndoe Park is our favorite Joplin picnic spot because here we can eat at a shaded picnic table while enjoying a creekside view, then rest on a blanket in the nearby grass.

 

picnic mcindoe t

So sorry the kids couldn’t be here. Hee, hee.

Sometimes we play cards, and sometimes we watch the wildlife. Last week, we saw a stealthy blue heron perched on a log across the creek, scanning the water for his lunch, as well as several vibrant bluebirds singing their cheerful songs.

 

Natural shade: Yes

Pavilions: No

Playground: No

Restrooms: No

Nearby restaurants: Eagle Drive-In (1.5 miles)

 

 

  1. McClelland Park (4568 McClelland Park Road)

This large, wooded park is located on a hilltop on Joplin’s southwest side. There are parking lots near the entrance, which is where I found this cute green picnic table. It’s located right next to the playground, making it a great spot for a family picnic.

 

picnic mcclelland park

If you’re seeking solitude and tranquility away from the busy playground and shelter area, follow McClelland Park Road along the eastern edge of the park.

 

picnic mcclelland course

Here you’ll find several pull-off areas leading to secluded picnic tables surrounded by trees on one side and the 18-hole disc golf course on the other.

 

Natural shade: Yes

Pavilions: 2

Playground: Yes

Restrooms: Yes

Nearby restaurants: Sakura Sushi & Grill Japanese Restaurant, Del Rio Grill & Cantina, Subway (all 1.5 miles)

 

 

  1. Leonard Park (4th Street and Turk Avenue)

This is my go-to park if I’m shopping on North Range Line Road and need a quick nature fix. Located just west of North Point Shopping Center (the one with Toys ‘R’ Us), Leonard Park was one of my favorite parks to take my kids when they were little. In addition to a playground, there’s a little creek that runs through the park, making it a magical place for kids to explore.

 

While there are a few picnic tables outside of the pavilion here, none are shaded, so my favorite place to picnic here is on the grass right next to the creek.

 

picnic leonard

Looks like a scene from a fairy tale, doesn’t it?

 

Natural shade: Yes

Pavilions: 1

Playground: Yes

Restrooms: Yes

Nearby restaurants: A variety of fast-food options on Range Line Road, plus Habaneros Mexican Grill and Lalo’s Taqueria (both .4 miles).

 

 

  1. Cunningham Park (26th Street and Maiden Lane)

Our family has known this park through its two incarnations: as a shaded park where my little ones pointed excitedly when they spied the medical helicopter taking off from the hospital across the street (pre-tornado), and as a spacious, open park with areas for quiet reflection (post-tornado).

 

Cunningham Park’s landscape may have changed since May 22, 2001, but its popularity hasn’t. It’s beautiful in a new way now, and the colorful blooming plants and tranquil water features in the Butterfly Garden exemplify this.

 

picnic cunningham pagoda

That’s the bench under a pergola in the background.

While there are picnic tables in other areas of Cunningham Park, there aren’t any in the garden. However, there are a couple of benches (one is partially shaded by a pergola) that are situated on either side of the “Hope” water feature which traces the path of the Joplin tornado. Either one provides a peaceful for enjoying a meal.

 

picnic cunningham angled bench

Natural shade: No (but the tranquility of the Butterfly Garden makes it worth visiting)

Pavilions: 3

Playground: Yes

Restrooms: Yes

Nearby restaurants: A Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market is just across the street from the park (on the west side) if you want to pick up a deli meal; Tropicana Bar & Grill, and El Vaquero (both 1 mile).

 

 

  1. Bluff Trail (see below for the slightly complicated directions, but I promise it’s totally worth visiting)

To enjoy a picnic with the best view in Joplin, be prepared to take a short hike through the woods (by short, I mean all of two minutes; the trail is somewhat rocky and steep so don’t wear stilettos).

 

There are two picnic tables just off Wildcat Park’s Bluff Trail (see  southernmost trails on the map here), which runs along the bluff above the west side of Shoal Creek and offers breathtaking views. While hiking up from creek level is an option (a strenuous one), so is parking your car on Castle Drive and walking down to the tables (much easier).

 

However, the easier option is also the trickier one, as the trail from Castle Drive to the tables is not marked. In fact, after looking around for 15 minutes by myself, I had Travis come help me (he found it right away, of course, which was a bit infuriating). So, we decided to drive from each direction and record the distance, so that we (okay, I) could find it easily next time.

 

Here’s what we found. If you’re coming from Main Street (Highway 86), turn west on Castle Drive and follow it for one mile. If you’re coming from McIndoe Park, take the low-water bridge across to the south side of Shoal Creek and turn east on Murphy Boulevard (which becomes Castle Drive) and drive for .7 miles.

 

At this point you will be on top of a hill and there will be gravel parking areas on either side of the road. Park here and walk on the east side of the road (just south of the gravel parking area – confused yet?) and you will see this trail head.

 

picnic bluff trail entrance

This will take you to the closest picnic table (the other one is farther south), and to this amazing view.

 

picnic bluff trail

See that dark thing in the sky? That’s actually a leaf falling from a tree on the first day of autumn. So poetic.

Please, please, please do me a favor and bring a bag for trash, as there are no trash cans nearby and you’ll need to carry it out with you. This is probably also a good time to mention using the restroom before your picnic, too.

 

Natural shade: Yes

Pavilions: No

Playground: No

Restrooms: No

Nearby restaurants: All Aboard Ice Cream (and burgers!) (1 mile).

 

 

Honorable Mention: Garvin Park (28th Street & Virginia Avenue)

This tiny park may not offer any natural shade, but its location is fundamental to its appeal. It’s situated right next to McDonald’s, causing me to often wonder why people would eat inside the restaurant (or even in their cars, for that matter) when this pretty outdoor space is literally just a few feet away.

 

picnic garvin 1 (1)

The building in the background on the right (behind the lion) is McDonald’s.

 

Having a picnic at this park offers a double win: kids can eat their Happy Meals and then run around the playground, giving parents a good 30-60 minutes of quiet time.

 

picnic garvin 2

Bonus: The lion water fountain. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen in Joplin. I guess it doesn’t take much to impress me.

 

Natural shade: No, but letting mommy have some quiet time is worth the sacrifice.

Pavilions: 2

Playground: Yes

Restrooms: No, but use the restrooms in McDonald’s when you’re buying the Happy Meals.

Nearby restaurants: Obviously, you’re aware that McDonald’s is literally a few steps away; Tropicana Bar & Grill, and El Vaquero (both .3 miles).

 

So, now that you know where the best picnic spots are in Joplin, grab your lunch and head outdoors.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

 

Grand Falls

Grand Falls is a must-see for anyone visiting – or living in – Joplin.

 

This natural formation is beautiful, so be sure to bring your camera. Bring your family, too, because Grand Falls makes an outstanding background in photos.

 

But Grand Falls isn’t just a pretty place to visit.

 

It’s also the largest continuously running waterfall in Missouri.

 

falls autumn

That’s, right! The water in Shoal Creek plunges 12 feet to a rock ledge.

 

What? Only 12 feet? Clearly you won’t need to crane your neck to see the top of the falls, but you are guaranteed a chance to see it flowing every time you visit because, well, that’s how a continuously flowing waterfall works.

 

Above the falls there’s a man-made dam. This was installed to form a reservoir that supplies water to Joplin residents.

 

The natural falls are created by a ledge of solid chert rock that measures 163 feet across, creating a Little Niagra Falls right here in our backyard.

 

There are outcroppings of chert next to the falls that fill with water and create pools that kids of all ages can splash in,

 

falls pool splash

and explore to discover frogs and other types of life in the water.

 

falls kids on chert

Grand Falls is accessible from Riverside Drive, and there’s a small gravel lot where you can park your car. You can admire the falls from there, or you can walk the path from the parking lot down to the creek.

 

As you can see from all of the rock in the photos, the terrain is uneven, so be sure to wear appropriate shoes. If you plan on playing in the water (especially in the pools of water in between the rocks), I’d recommend a pair of rubber aqua socks because the rocks can be slippery.

 

Falls kids on rocks

Or maybe you just want to find a dry rock to sit on so you can rest while listening to the peaceful flowing water. Visit the falls at sunrise and treat yourself to the sight of early morning mist drifting off the creek while you sip some coffee.

 

falls mist

Ahh.

 

After visiting the falls (which is on the east side of the creek) our family usually stops at Inspiration Point and McClelland Park (which are both on the bluff on the west side of the creek).

 

Inspiration Point is located near the intersection of Glendale Road and McClelland Park Boulevard. There’s a gravel overlook area where you can pull over and enjoy a breathtaking view of Shoal Creek.

 

falls inspiration

Next to Inspiration Point is McClelland Park. This park is situated on top of a hill, making it a prime spot for kite-flying in the spring. There are several areas with playground equipment, plus a disc golf course that’s located in the south part of the park.

 

The many mature trees at McClelland make it a perfect place for a picnic, and there are several tables located throughout the park.

 

Here’s a table near the bluff that overlooks Grand Falls to the east. We visited the park on that spectacular fall day take photos to use in our holiday card.

 

falls picnic

 No, we didn’t use this for our holiday photo and, no, she did not push her sister off the table (surprisingly).

 

So take a few minutes out of your day to stop at picturesque Grand Falls, where you can enjoy the unique natural surroundings and recharge your batteries.

 

If you have more time, swing by Inspiration Point, then have a picnic under the trees at McClelland Park.

 

 


Grand Falls is located at 5400 Riverside Drive, and McClelland Park is located at Maiden Lane and Shoal Creek (click here for its website and map).

 

Directions to Grand Falls: Off I-44, exit 6; south on Route 86 (Hearnes Blvd./South Main Street) two blocks; at the roundabout go west (right) on Glendale Road 1.5 miles; south (left) on Jackson across the low-water bridge; west (right) on Riverside Drive two miles; and Grand Falls is on the right.

 

Photos by Travis Smith; family photo by Lloyd Smith.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Cunningham Park

Helicopter Park is what we used to call it, about a decade ago.

 

I’d bring my oldest two girls here to let them jump, slide, swing, and climb on the brightly-colored playground equipment under the shade of the many tall trees in this park.

 

If we were lucky – and we often were – we’d hear it: a distant whirring, growing closer and louder by the minute until we saw the source of the sound hovering above the treeline, pausing for a moment as if winking at us before it whisked itself away.

 

cunningham pre 1

Seeing this flying object was a highly anticipated event whenever we came here, and we’d all stop whatever we were doing just to watch it. This magical machine was the St. John’s medical helicopter which was housed at the hospital’s helipad right across the street from one of our favorite places in Joplin: Cunningham Park.

 

cunningham pre 2So many leaves on the ground from so many trees!

 

Unfortunately, what my girls and I knew as Helicopter Park was destroyed by the EF5 tornado that roared through Joplin on May 22, 2011. All of those beautiful shade trees were transformed into matchsticks, tossed with mangled playground equipment, then lumped into piles of debris.

 

But it didn’t take long for the people of our city, working alongside thousands of volunteers from all over the country and all over the world, to clean up the twisted bits of our former buildings and parks, and to create fresh spaces where we could form new memories. The result was a touching tribute, not only to the past, but to the ever-present power of the human spirit.

 

My kids and I weren’t the only ones who missed playing at Cunningham Park in the months after the tornado; lots of people were hard-pressed to find a space in Joplin where their kids could run and play with no worries.

 

Thanks to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, that all changed. The production, which built seven homes a few blocks from the park, also took on the task of building a play area and basketball court at Cunningham Park, introducing these features to the public in October 2011.

 

cunningham boomtown

This wooden play area is made to look like Joplin in its booming mining days. I like it because it feels like a miniature movie set from an old Western.

 

cunningham tall playground

For kids who crave more height and thrills, there’s a three-story modern plastic playground set that has been added on the north side of the park.

 

cunningham old playgroundThe former playground today.

 

cunningham post tornadoThe former playground after the tornado.

 
In the center of the park, in the space that once contained the playground equipment that my kids climbed on back in the Helicopter Park days, there’s now a serene koi pond on the north side and a pond with a waterfall on the south side, with a bridge separating the two.

 

cunningham koi

This is the reflecting pond, which honors the lives of the children lost in the tornado.

 

Walking southeast from this area is the green space where my kids would once excitedly run from me in an effort to get me to chase them. Most of this area is still open, but there are a few new fixtures that are honor the lives lost in the tornado.

 

cunningham plaqueThis plaque lists the names of the 161 citizens who perished on May 22.

 
cunningham fountain

Dedicated on November 22, 2011, the “Proclamation of Restoration” fountain is a replica of the original one which stood at Cunningham Park, the first city park in Joplin, and it reads: To the City of Joplin and the “Seasoning of Lives” lost during and from the aftermath of the May 22 tornado.

 

The north part of the park features a tribute to the volunteers who flocked to Joplin to help our city in those months after the storm. This is the Volunteer Tribute and Children’s Memorial, designed and built by architecture students from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri.

 

cunningham steel band

This stainless steel band represents the “The Miracle of the Human Spirit” wristbands that many people wore during the recovery process.

 

The four circles of the tribute represent Rescue, Recovery, Demolition and Rebirth, and pieces of debris form mosaics in the walls of the circles.

 

cunnningham debris mosaic 1

In the center of the circles is a mosaic that reflects the stories about the “Butterfly People” that children told after the storm.

 

cunningham butterfly mosaic

To the north of this area, just past the boundaries of the original park, is the Butterfly Garden and Overlook. What I think is so cool about this area is the “penciled” outlines of the former homes that stood at that spot, especially the Carl Owen house, which was built in 1911 (click here to see what it looked like).

 

cunningham penciled

Sometimes while my kids were playing, I’d look at that house with its unusual row of windows on the upper floor, and I’d wonder what exactly the upstairs was used for. I’d like to think that it was a huge dance studio or a writing room that overlooked the park (how dreamy would that be?).

 

cunningham flowers wall outline

Today, you can walk through the skeleton of the house and learn facts about the tornado and the butterfly garden from the series of plaques that are placed inside of it.

 

cunningham strong fountain

There are several places in the garden where you can sit down and reflect, or simply watch the many butterflies alight on the many blooms that were planted there just for them.

 

cunningham waterwall

There’s a cozy spot under a pavilion that faces the water wall, a 38-segment water feature which represents the number of minutes that the tornado was on the ground. There’s a void in the water wall at the seventh minute, which is when Cunningham Park was struck.

 

While I miss those times when my girls were little and I’d take them to Helicopter Park, I embrace the new features of this transformed park and appreciate the symbolism of every one of them.

 

Now, instead of a helicopter rising above the treeline, I envision a phoenix rising from the rubble.

 

cunningham rosesCunningham Park is located at 26th Street and Maiden Lane.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

 

Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center

Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center is one of my favorite places in Joplin. It’s a place where you can both learn about and experience the unique beauty of a chert glade in southwest Missouri.

 

The first stop on a trip to Wildcat Glades is the visitor’s center; a unique building that reflects its desert surroundings (yes, desert, but more on that later).

 

christmas bird count center facade

The center houses a hands-on learning area, classrooms and a gift shop that sells educational items and earth-friendly items like these earrings made from recycled cereal boxes.

 

wildcat butterfly earrings

The Missouri Department of Conservation has an office adjacent to the center, and it’s a good place to pick up information about other Missouri parks.

 

In the middle of the center, visitors can view wildlife native to the area. There’s a 1,300-gallon fish tank and Ozark stream, plus a chert glade terrarium complex that houses snakes and a tarantula.

 

wildcat turtle tank

A bobcat and a coyote can be found lurking nearby (both are stuffed, thankfully).

 

wildcat center cat

Stop and say hello to Willow, the female American kestrel (a type of small falcon). Adopted by the center in 2015, Willow is unable to fly, so she now lives safely indoors here at the center.

 

Isn’t she pretty?

 

wildcat kestrel

There’s a discovery area where you can listen to different wildlife sounds (such as bird calls), as well as feel the textures of various animal pelts.

 

wildcat center pelts

 

There are several classrooms in the building, and the center offers frequent programming for both children and adults, like “Nature Photography” and “Bird Banding” (for adults), and “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Talkin’ Turkey” (for children).

 

Several large events are held at Wildcat Glades throughout the year, like the Shoal Creek Water Festival in summer, and the Christmas Bird Count in December.

 

Armed with knowledge of the area and its wildlife, you’ll be ready to hit the trails and start exploring. Exit through the rear of the visitor center, and you’ll find the hiking trail that begins on the chert glade. 

 

wildcat romping on chert

In Missouri the term “glade” is used to describe a place where underlying rock cuts through thin soil to develop its own unique ecosystem. At Wildcat Glades, the rock that cuts through the soil is chert, which is extremely rare and extremely hard, and it breaks sharply. Like flint, chert was used to make spears and arrows, and archaeologists have found many near Wildcat Park (there are some on display in the center).

 

The chert glade ecosystem is very dry, and plants that are native to arid climates can grow here (yes, that means cacti in Missouri!). These plants also attract wildlife native to arid climates, such as lizards and scorpions (eek!). I’ve personally encountered snakes twice while on the trail.

 

wildcat girls on path

After crossing the glade, the trail enters the woods and begins following the banks of Shoal Creek. The change in scenery is dramatic: from a dry, sunny glade to a cool, shaded forest.

 

wildcat peaceful water

The view from the creek bank is breathtaking in places. Tall bluffs jut out from the sparkling water and demand admiration. If you are up for a challenge, there is a trail that follows the edge of the bluffs and offers a fantastic bird’s eye view of the creek; if not, you can safely view the bluff from below.

 

wildcat cliff reach

If you stay on the trail that leads to the Redings Mill bridge, you can peek into a cave (this is my kids’ favorite trail, for that very reason). We’ve also been fortunate to have spotted a fox along this same trail.

 

There’s so much to discover at the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center; we find something new each time we go.

 

 

Wildcat Glades is located at 201 West Riviera Drive. Click here to visit its website and click here to view its Facebook page.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Yoga in Nature

I like nature.

 

And I like yoga.

 

So it made sense for me to try the monthly Yoga in Nature class offered at Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center.

 

What doesn’t make sense is that I picked a freezing rainy day in December on which to try it out.

 

But there you go.

 

I was curious to see how connected to nature I would feel on a day when I was tempted to stay curled up in bed inside my electric-heated home, with insulated walls protecting me from the miserable weather outside.

 

Plus, I had signed up for the class weeks ago, and I don’t like breaking my commitments.

 

So I grabbed my yoga mat, bundled up, and went to class.

Because of the inclement weather, the class was being held inside the nature center in one of the classrooms, rather than outside under the pavilion, thus making the class Yoga Next to Nature rather than Yoga in Nature.

 
yoga-pavilion

View from the pavilion (which I took on a previous, sunny visit to Wildcat)

 
Still, the atmosphere was much more tranquil than that of my usual yoga practice in my living room. Here, there were no kids asking me for anything as I attempted to find inner peace while following an instructor on a YouTube video.

 

At Wildcat, I had a clear view of the busy bird feeders just outside the classroom window. One of the windows was cracked open, allowing the cheerful bird songs to drift inside. That, along with the chirping of the crickets housed temporarily (unbeknownst to them…) in the classroom’s turtle habitat, created a peaceful ambient background for the yoga class.

 

yoga-feeder

 

While rolling out my mat on the floor, I started asking the instructor, Donna Bowman, some questions. It turns out that, in addition to teaching yoga, she also teaches special education to young children in Carl Junction. After a few minutes of class, I could see how Donna’s clearly articulated instructions, delivered in a patient and calm tone, would work equally well on her young special education students and with her yoga clients.

 

Her voice was as smooth as melted chocolate.

 

Donna began class with simple directions – simple, that is, if you don’t have a frenzied mind like I do, with thoughts bouncing around like a bored spider monkey inside a zoo exhibit:

 

“Take what you need to do today and clear it off your mat. Focus only on your breath.”

 

My monkey brain needed to hear that. Obediently, I mentally tucked away my list of Saturday morning errands and zeroed in on the sound of fresh, pure air filling up my lungs.

 

The first pose we did was Cat-Cow, which is a gentle warm-up done on the hands and knees, and it prepares the body for the rest of class. Donna said to think of this pose as “dental floss for the spine,” which I thought was brilliant. Every day since taking Donna’s class, I’ve been trying to remember to do Cat-Cow in order to keep my spine limber but, like flossing, I sometimes forget…

 

yoga-warrior

Instructor Donna Bowman

 

The pace of Donna’s class was mindfully slow, but that doesn’t imply that it wasn’t challenging. Moving at a slower pace means having to hold positions – like plank position – longer, and I felt my arm muscles quivering at several points during class.

 

When we resting in Child’s Pose after doing Sun Salutations, Donna came over to adjust me and to ensure that I was executing the pose correctly. As she gently pressed on my back, she said, “The rest is just as important as the work.”

 

I tossed that statement around in my mind for a while. I’m constantly guilty of pressing my nose to the grindstone and forgetting to schedule time for rest and play. I know that I’m a better mother/wife/friend/writer/human when I carve out time to rest, and Donna’s words validated this for me.

 

I had found my new mantra.

 

By the end of class, the ever-present tautness in my upper back had given way to fluidity. I felt refreshed and renewed, like I’d just spent the day at a spa.

 

I plan on making this a regular monthly experience.

 

yoga-triangle

 

Donna’s final words echoed what I was already feeling:

 

“Be grateful. Be grateful for the body that you’ve been given, and for the time that you’ve given yourself.”

 

Going to Yoga in Nature that day was like an early Christmas present – to me, from me. And not only did I benefit from going, but so did my family, because I came home relaxed and happy.

 

Because I took time for myself.

 

Because I took time to rest.

 

yoga-bird-in-bush

This sweet bird surprised me as I was leaving class. I thought it was a decoy at first because it didn’t move, even though I was only about a foot away from it. It must have sensed my zen-like yoga afterglow. Namaste, birdie.

 

Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center is located at 201 W. Riviera Drive. Click here to visit its website.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

 

Geocaching in Joplin

My husband Travis and I both work at home.

 

Somehow, our marriage has survived 7 years of this arrangement.

 

Maybe it’s because every day I sequester myself in my daughter’s bedroom with my laptop to write while she’s at school, and her room is on the opposite side of the house from where my husband is talking on the phone with his clients.

 

And that’s how my husband and I are able to both work at home together and still enjoy wedded bliss.

 

Each of us also makes sure to take sanity breaks during the day. Travis and I love to be outdoors, so we make sure to leave our house/office at least once during the workday and take a walk, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.

 

We generally take our sanity breaks in solitude because, hey, that’s the point. But sometimes we take our breaks together.

 

Gasp!

 

Like we need more togetherness, right?

 

geo-couple

 

But there’s a lot of value in disconnecting from work and home responsibilities in order to reconnect with your partner. Sometimes, Travis and I will pack a picnic lunch and dine al fresco at a local park. Sometimes we’ll grab our hiking boots and hit some nearby trails.

 

Sometimes we’ll play games.

 

Specifically, I’m talking about a game that can be played outdoors – anywhere, anytime.

 

It’s called geocaching.

 

Geocaching is basically an outdoor scavenger hunt that combines adventure with technology. It involves searching for an object that is hidden outside by using GPS coordinates which are posted online.

 

You’d be surprised at how many caches are hidden all over the Joplin area – or anywhere, for that matter, as geocaching is a game that’s played all over the world.

 

On a recent lunch break, Travis and I decided to combine a short hike at Wildcat Park with a game of geocaching.

 

Before we left our house, I checked for local caches on my smartphone’s geocaching app. Cachebot offers a free app which allows you to view nearby caches on a map, as well as detailed descriptions of, and coordinates for, up to three caches per day; if you want to research more, then you’ll need to upgrade to the paid version.

 

Travis has the classic version of the Groundspeak Navigation app on his phone, which he downloaded several years ago. When I recently signed up for the free version of the app, I found it to be very limited; I could see nearby caches, but had to upgrade to a monthly or yearly membership in order to retrieve the details and coordinates of the caches.

 

Regardless of which app you choose, you’ll need to create an account on a cache listing site (geocaching.com) and link it to your app. This sounds like a complicated process, but it’s a one-time deal that will allow you to track your finds forever. And it’s free!

 

If you want to go old-school, you can use a handheld GPS navigator, such as those made by Garmin. But since most people have smartphones on them these days, it’s more convenient to use a phone app.

 

After looking for nearby caches on my app, I selected one located on a bluff trail at Wildcat Park. The cache is called Love Hollow at Mother Nature’s Crack, which sounds both romantic and crass at the same time.

 

But knowing that Mother Nature’s Crack refers to a fissure in a particular rock outcropping on the trail rather than a part of the human anatomy, I focused on the enticing “Love Hollow” part of the cache name instead. The person who hid the cache did so as a gift for his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day to mark the spot where they and their friends had gathered for years and created happy memories.

 

I thought that sounded sweet when I first read it, but then I thought how disappointed I would be if my guy got me a Valentine’s Day gift and then immediately hid it.

 

Forever.

 

It’s a romantic gesture, nonetheless, and it made for a nice backstory for my geocaching lunch date adventure with Travis.

 

When Travis and I reached Mother Nature’s Crack on the hiking trail, he pulled out his phone and read the hint that was given about where to find the cache: Look for the dead trees.

 

Hmm. There were several dead trees lying on the forest floor on the hill above us, but my attention was drawn to a group of them several feet up from the cliff. As I circled around them, I saw what I thought was a piece of trash tucked between the tree and a pile of leaves.

 

Upon closer inspection, I saw that there was writing on this “trash” which indicated that it was, indeed, the Love Hollow cache.

 

geo-bag

I felt giddy that I found the treasure on our scavenger hunt, but also a bit disappointed at the state of the cache itself. This weathered plastic Ziploc bag with a hole in one end was not was I was expecting.

 

Typically, caches are protected in metal boxes which can withstand the elements, like these that my kids have found on previous geocaching outings:

 

geo-shoal

 

geo-big-boxBut there was nothing inside of the partially disintegrated baggie at Love Hollow.

 

Usually, there’s a log to sign when you find a cache. I like to glance through these logs to see who else has found them, and when they found them. Granted, I can read cache logs online (plus add our own find to the log), but it’s more personal to see different people’s writing on a piece of paper.

 

Also, there weren’t any trackables in the bag. Trackables are items that move from one cache to another, and you can follow their movements online, which is another fun part of the geocaching experience.

 

Although there were no trackables or log entries for me to read about, I was still satisfied because I had found the cache (as you can tell from my smug posture).

 

geo-lounge

 

What did Travis find?

 

geo-glove

Well, he found a glove on the ground. It was totally unrelated to our mission, but he seemed pleased with himself. Considering the glove blended in with the rocks on the ground like an object in an I Spy book, finding it was definitely an accomplishment.

 

The best part of hunting for the Love Hollow cache was its location. I know you have been curious about this since the beginning of the post, so here you go: This is Mother Nature’s Crack.

 

geo-crack-view

Even when the trees are bare, this is a beautiful view.

 

geo-standing-on-crack

 

Travis and I decided to take a selfie to commemorate our Love Hollow lunch date. As I was struggling to position my smartphone to take the photo, Travis showed me how to use the photo timer for the selfie.

 

The what?

 

This was a game-changer for me.

 

Up to this point, the few selfies that I’ve taken have been blurry, a result of me trying to look into the lens while simultaneously looking for the camera button.

 

I’m sure this timer thing is common knowledge to the majority of smartphone wielding population, but I’ve arrived a bit late to the selfie culture.

 

geo-selfie

Here I am just after processing this new knowledge. Travis is looking at me like I’m a crazy person, but that’s okay. I learned something new!

 

We left Mother Nature’s Crack behind us and hiked back to the car. I had seen another cache that I wanted to stop at before our lunch break was over. This cache is called Winged Cross, and it marks the edge of the area where an EF5 tornado touched down on May 22, 2011.

 

Unlike traditional caches, which are hidden, this cache is in the open, and is considered a landmark cache. Located on a corner in a residential area, the Winged Cross stands over 5 feet tall and was carved from a tree that was several hundred years old.

 

geo-cross

 

I thought I’d seen all of the commemorative works that have popped up in Joplin after the tornado, but I had never seen this – nor had I heard about it until Travis and I decided to go geocaching.

 

So here you have it, the secret to being able to work at home with your spouse: Be sure to take sanity breaks during the day, and make sure you add a little adventure together every now and then.

 

 

To learn more about geocaching, click here.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

The Girlfriend’s Guide to Joplin Trails

Ding.

 

My gaze shifted from my laptop screen over to my phone where a message illuminated my home screen: Looking forward to Happy Hour.

 

I smiled as I typed my response: Only two more hours!

 

Happy Hour was dangling in front of me like a carrot that Friday afternoon, driving me to finish up my work so that I could reward myself by meeting my friend Shanon for some quality time together.

 

The plan was for me to meet her after work. She’s a schoolteacher, so her work day ends in the late afternoon, giving us a head start on celebrating the weekend. So once my own kids got home from school and got settled, I bolted for the door.

 

“Don’t get too crazy,” cautioned my husband.

 

I laughed – kind of crazily, I might add.

 

The moment I got in the car, I rolled down the windows and cranked up the volume on the radio. The breeze swirled around me, removing any remnants of stress that had attached to me that week and forcing them out the window. Ah, sweet release.

 

I pulled next to Shanon’s car in the parking lot. She was standing behind it with her foot up on the bumper, tying the laces on her walking shoes. She was dressed in her yoga pants and t-shirt, ready to hit the trails.

 

Trails?

 

But I thought this was Happy Hour, you say.

 

It is. It’s our version of Happy Hour (well, one of them, anyway); it’s where we escape from work and from home and find solitude on the walking trails in Joplin. At this stage of our lives, this is our definition of happiness, and we were going to enjoy an hour of it that Friday afternoon.

 

girilfriend-trails-canopy

 

That day we were walking the Frisco Greenway Trail in the north part of the city. The Frisco Trail was a “rails-to-trails” project; a 3.5-mile portion of the former St. Louis-San Francisco (Frisco) Railroad, once important to the mining industry in the Joplin and Webb City areas, was converted into a hiking and biking trail in an effort to promote a healthier community.

 

What Shanon and I like about the Frisco Trail is that it’s conveniently located within the city, yet with the canopy of trees overhead, it feels like we are miles from civilization. We passed a few joggers and bikers, but the rest of the time we had the trail to ourselves, giving us the opportunity to catch up on each other’s lives without interruption – which is a rare thing for us these days.

 

girlfriend-trails-caterpillar

We turned off the crushed gravel portion of the trail onto the paved spur that follows Turkey Creek, giving us a peaceful view of the water on one side and the woods on the other. We walked until we realized that the sun had dipped past the horizon, then we begrudgingly turned back. Happy Hour was ending just when we felt like it was getting started!

 

But once you experience Happy Hour, you’re left craving more, so as Shanon and I walked back to our cars we discussed plans for our next one.

 

And with several trail systems in the Joplin area, we could even trail-hop if we wanted to. 

 

The following Joplin trails are great places to enjoy Happy Hour. So raise your water bottle and say “Cheers!”

 

Frisco Trail: There are three parking areas available along the Frisco Trail, one at each trail head: the south end (on East North Street between North School and North Division Streets); midway (on North Saint Louis Avenue, just south of Zora Street); and the north end (behind Crowder College at Ellis and 5th Streets in Webb City). Click here for coordinates for the trailheads from the Joplin Trail’s Coalition website.

 

Turkey Creek Trail: Just east of the Frisco Trail, this 1.5-mile paved trail is hilly in some spots, but its short distance makes it doable. For those who want more of a challenge, there are some single-track trails located off of the main trail, one of which follows the edge of a bluff. The parking lot for Turkey Creek Trail is located at North Florida Avenue and Newman Road.

 

Wildcat Park: Located just south of Joplin, this park has over 4 miles of walking trails, one that cuts through the desert-like chert glade, one that winds through the woods and along the banks of sparkling Shoal Creek, and one that climbs a hill and follows the the edge of a bluff, offering a bird’s eye view of the creek below. Wildcat Park is located at 201 Riviera Drive.

 

girlfriend-trails-wildcat-bluff

 

Walter Woods Conservation Area: Also south of Joplin, this conservation area is filled with towering oak and hickory trees, tranquil ponds and a bubbling, freshwater spring. The 1-mile trail system here is paved, and pets are welcome. Walter Woods is located at 5265 Eland Road.

 

girlfriend-trails-ww-pond

 

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Schifferdecker Golf Course

I always welcome any chance to be outside, enjoying a beautiful day in the Ozarks. And if I can do so while spending some kid-free quality time with my husband – even better.

 

Such an opportunity came my way a few weeks ago on a picture-perfect late summer day, complete with azure skies and balmy temperatures. While the kids were at school, my husband and I seized the moment, dusted off our golf clubs and zipped across town to Schifferdecker Golf Course.

 

Situated on historic Route 66 (Seventh Street) and Schifferdecker Avenue, Schifferdecker is Joplin’s only public 18-hole course. Designed by Jim “Slat” Larimere, it opened on June 29, 1922, and each year it hosts the Ozark Amateur, one of the oldest medal-play tournaments in the U.S.

 

Schiff golf clubhouse

While I wasn’t expecting to win a trophy on the day we went (I hadn’t played since before having kids), I did hope to learn a tip or two from my, ahem, ever-patient husband who is much more experienced than I am at playing golf.

 

We checked in at the historic clubhouse, and took a moment to look around the inside which is filled with photos of past golf champs like Leonard Ott, a local pro who won the 1929 Ozark Amateur.

 

Schiff golf ott

There’s also a map hanging on the wall, dated April 4, 1965. It gave me an overview of what I could expect on the course that day.

 

Schiff golf map

In order to cover that distance efficiently (like, before the kids got home from school), my husband and I picked up the keys to these fancy wheels.

 

Schiff golf carts

At the first hole, I was excited to reacquaint myself with my favorite golf club, the driver, and to hear the thwacking sound it makes when it contacts the ball. I couldn’t wait to see my ball sail over hundreds of yards of Schifferdecker’s Bermuda fairways.

 

schiff golf fairway

Did I say yards? I meant feet. And not hundreds of them. But, hey, a girl can dream.

 

While the course is relatively flat, there are some small rolling hills. Growing up in Illinois, I was used to flat golf courses, so when we came across this periscope at the second hole, my husband had to explain its purpose to me.

 

Schiff golf peri

He instructed me to look through the periscope to see if the golfers in front of us had finished playing the second hole and had cleared the valley. Luckily I checked; otherwise my super fierce drive might have knocked one of them out cold.

 

I’m glad I didn’t hit anyone that day, and I’m relieved that I never had to fish my ball out of any water, either. Fortunately, Schifferdecker’s course only has two areas of water, and my ball somehow managed to avoid them.

 

Schiff golf water

While my favorite part of the game was driving the ball down the fairway, my best strokes that day proved to be on the green. After all, I’ve honed my putting skills after years of mini-golf with the kids.

 

Schiff golf green

What are the best things about playing golf at Schifferdecker Golf Course? It’s open year-round, it’s accessible to golfers of all skill levels, and the fees are very reasonable.

 

schiff golf swing

When I asked my husband what he thought about Schifferdecker’s course, he said that he liked its openness because it makes for a much more forgiving course.

 

Hmm, I wonder if he’s forgiven the tree that his ball ricocheted off of and then sent flying over to the neighboring fairway…

 

 

Schifferdecker Golf Course is located at 506 South Schifferdecker Avenue. Click here to visit its website.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Water’s Edge Girls’ Float Trip

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Silence engulfed me. It was 8:00 a.m. and all of my children were off to school. The house was finally still.

 

This was the time of day when I usually fired up my laptop and started working. But not today. I opened my eyes and reached for my cell phone. “Ready?” I typed.

 

“I was born ready,” came the response from my friend Julie.

 

Five minutes later I was at her doorstep, giddy with excitement. While our kids were at school and most everybody else we knew was working, we were playing hooky.

 

waters-edge-girls-float-selfie

 

A warm breeze wafted through the trees, foreshadowing a hot September afternoon. “Did you pack sunscreen?” Julie asked.

 

“Two bottles.” We would definitely need it that day. With the sun reflecting off the sparkling waters of Shoal Creek and onto our skin, we’d be red as heirloom tomatoes in under an hour without protection.

 

Our mission that day was to leave the fast-paced, obligation-filled world behind us, immersing ourselves in the serenity of nature.

 

Just two girls and a canoe.

 

And sunscreen.

 

And a cooler with beverages and snacks, and a waterproof bag for our keys and cell phones (yes, we brought those because what if the schools needed to reach us about our kids?).

 

Julie and I had planned this getaway for months. This was our chance to disconnect from our responsibilities and just go with the flow, literally. We had reserved a canoe at Water’s Edge Campground, just south of Joplin, and we were going to spend the next few hours floating our cares away.

 

waters-edge-sign

Water’s Edge is comprised of 43 acres of raw southwest Missouri beauty, with pristine Shoal Creek meandering through it. Visitors can purchase a day pass for swimming and fishing, or they can rent a canoe and spend the day floating on the creek. There’s also a campground on the property that offers RV and primitive camping.

 

After checking in, Julie and I were driven from the rental area to the put-in point where we began our trip. Julie got in the canoe like the old pro that she is (well, she’s not “old,” just much more experienced at canoeing than I am), but I wobbled a bit as I entered, losing my grip on the bag I was holding, sending it splashing into the water.

 

Julie quickly fished it out of the creek before it sank. “And so our adventure begins,” she laughed. I was thankful that my husband had given us the waterproof bag that he brings with him on his fishing trips, and all of our things remained nice and dry.

 

Once we got settled, we pushed off from the bank. The lush trees formed a canopy overhead, nestling us in their shade. Neither one of us spoke for several minutes; we were lost in our thoughts, hypnotized by the rhythmic sound of the paddles sploshing through the water and the occasional call of a songbird.

 

“…all the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life. There was a song in every heart; and if the heart was young, the music issued at the lips.”― Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

 
waters-edge-girls-float-creek

Being infused with a dose of the great outdoors was as therapeutic as a day at the spa – maybe even more so. And the fact that we were playing hooky from our regular responsibilities intensified the experience.

 

“We’re like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, mischievously skipping school and whiling away the day on the water, seeking out adventure,” I mused.

 

“But way cooler, because we’re girls,” Julie joked.

 

But her comment made me think (because that’s what you do when you’re floating down a river). How often do we, as working moms, give ourselves permission to have a “ditch day?”

 

Not often enough.

 

As Julie and I made our way back to the campground area, we occasionally paused to watching a turtle surface or a snake wiggle its way to shore. The wildlife seemed undisturbed by our presence, and since it was a school/work day, we only passed one other canoe the entire time – a fellow rebel.

 

“We should make this a yearly tradition, Tom” said Julie.

 

“I agree, Huck.”

 

I could get used to this carefree, rebellious life.

 

“They said they would rather be outlaws a year in Sherwood Forest than President of the United States forever.”

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

 

 

Water’s Edge is located at 6614 Old Highway 71 in Joplin. Click here to visit Water’s Edge on Facebook.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Nature & History

Doctor Mom Knows Best: 

A mother’s prescription for restless kids involves Joplin’s beautiful parks

by Christine Smith

 

When cabin fever runs rampant in my house here in Joplin, I become Doctor Mom and order one of the following prescriptions for my three restless daughters, who range in age from 5 to 13: 

 

Comb through exposed rocks from the creek bottom and find a treasured fossil or arrowhead.


comb through
Wind your way up Bluff Trail and enjoy and a bird’s-eye view of sparkling Shoal Creek below.

 

wind your
Count the number of turtles you see sunbathing on tree limbs that have fallen into Williams Pond.

 

count the

 

The first two prescriptions can be filled at Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center, and the final one at George Washington Carver National Monument. As Doctor Mom, I’ve chosen these two centers for restlessness rehab because they are close to home, they offer a variety of remedies for my not-so-patient patients, and they are stunningly beautiful.

 

Thanks to these resources, I’m proud to say Doctor Mom’s cure rate is 100%. What’s even more exciting is that it works on anyone, even people just visiting Joplin. In fact, visitors may enjoy their dose of nature therapy so much that they’ll feel compelled to return multiple times for follow-up appointments.

 


wildcate glades

 

Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center

 

When the kids need to step away from the television and get some fresh air, I turn off the TV and say, “Let’s go pet Trevor!” They jump from the couch with excitement, ready to pay a visit to the gigantic fluffy bunny that lives at Wildcat Glades.

 


when the kids

The girls cheerfully chat during the car ride over to Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center, located just south of Joplin. The center, which utilizes green technology, offers environmental education classes, children’s nature programming, and a discovery center.

 


the girls cheerfully
Once inside, each girl becomes engrossed in her own thing: one follows the fluid movements of the native turtles and fish inside the impressive 1,300-gallon tank; another watches in fascination as a native rat snake uncoils its shiny body and begins exploring the perimeter of its terrarium; and the youngest stands in front of the bird exhibit, gleefully pressing buttons to hear various bird calls.

 


once inside each girl
We regroup and take a moment to pet Trevor before we hit the outdoor trails; there are seven to choose from, and they cover more than three miles of diverse landscape—some of it rather unusual.

 

We exit the rear doors of the center, and immediately feel like we’ve been transported to Arizona. We see cacti growing along the trail and lizards scurrying across the arid ground. This desert-like ecosystem, filled with an unusual combination of plants and animals, is the last remaining exposed chert glades—in the world. Wildcat Glades also has the only chert cliffs in the world.

 


we exit

 As we continue along the path, the scenery changes from the dry, sunny glades to the cool, wooded forest by Shoal Creek. My husband and I often hike the mile-long Bluff Trail, which offers stunning views of the creek, but today my daughters unanimously vote for taking St. John’s Creek Trail. Why? Because this half-mile path goes past a cave, and for three young girls, looking in to a cave is practically magical. Though the cave entrance is closed to the public, I still love watching their imaginations run wild together.

 


as we continue
Imaginations have been sparked among my patients. Doctor Mom smiles, satisfied that the treatment plan is working.

 

 

George Washington Carver National Monument

For Doctor Mom, visiting the birthplace of the “Plant Doctor,” is like a pilgrimage; in addition to superior nature therapy, it offers rich historical, educational, and spiritual lessons, as well.

 

During the short drive south of Joplin to Diamond, my girls ask me questions like, “Who was George Washington Carver?” and, “How come he has a park named after him?”

 

George Washington Carver was born into slavery toward the end of the Civil War, most likely in 1864, one of many siblings. Soon after his birth, he, one of his sisters and his mother were kidnapped, and Moses Carver, who owned George and his mother, paid an agent to track them down. Of the three only the infant George was located and returned. Moses and Susan Carver then raised George and his brother, James, as their own. Being a sickly boy, he was excused from chores and allowed to wander the woods and prairie instead, during which time he learned about native plants and developed a talent for taking care of them, earning the name of the “Plant Doctor.”

 

Carver’s thirst for knowledge was unquenchable, and he spent his life exploring and educating, blazing the trail for other African Americans to follow.

 

To honor the important agricultural and educational contributions that Carver made to this country, the George Washington Carver National Monument was established in 1943. This 240-acre park is part of the National Park Service, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016. It’s also the first national park to be named after a non-president, as well as the first one to be dedicated to an African American.

 

When we arrive at the park’s visitors center, my husband and I enjoy reading about Carver’s life in the museum exhibit, the kids look at slides of native plant and insect specimens under microscopes in the discovery area, and play teacher in the old-fashioned school room, instructing their students to write their names on the individual slate boards at their desks.

 

 when we arrive at the park 1          

 when we arrive at the park 2

      

when we arrive at the park 3
Then we go outside to walk the 3/4-mile nature trail. Near the beginning, we see a replica of the base of the 12′ x 12′ cabin where Carver was born. Doctor Mom gathers her patients inside of it and asks, “Can you imagine if we all lived together in such a small space? Talk about cabin fever!” Their eyes grow wide, and in them I see a new appreciation for their individual bedrooms in our modern house.

 

The trail, which is nicely paved, leads into the thick woods. As we pause to look at a bronze statue of Carver as a boy, a blue butterfly lands on it. Even the likeness of Carver seems to commune with nature.

the trail which is

 

We cross the pristine Carver Spring, then loop around Williams Pond, our voices startling turtles on the banks, causing them to dive in the water with loud plunks.

we cross the pristine
After walking through the 1881 Carver homestead, we finally emerge in the prairie restoration area.

 

I slow my pace, allowing my family to move ahead of me on the path. I watch as butterflies dance around their contented faces. I understand why Carver saw divine goodness in the natural world around him, rising early each day to take a devotional walk in the woods in order to talk “with God.”

i slow my pace

 

The natural beauty of this area possesses great power; it can raise doleful spirits, entertain the minds of children, and bring smiles to faces.

 

Just like what Doctor Mom ordered.

 

Explore the outdoors in Joplin on some of the best trails.

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.