Girls’ Weekend in Joplin: The Great Outdoors

There are times when the planets align and miraculous things happen.

 

For me, that was last weekend.

 

My husband went out of town to visit a college friend, and my girls were spending quality time with their grandparents, so I had the house all to myself.

 

My family sure knows what to get me as an early Mother’s Day gift. I love them so.

 

For weeks prior to the Miraculous Weekend, I thought and thought about how I would spend my time. I knew I wanted to do something with my girlfriends, but what would we do?

 

An idea came to me as I was driving around town doing my routine activities. I noticed that more vibrant green leaves had grown on the trees, confirming the fact that spring had definitely arrived. I rolled down the car window to catch a breeze of the changing air, air which promised warm, carefree days ahead.

 

That’s when I caught spring fever – and suddenly I knew what I wanted to do on my Miraculous Weekend: I wanted to be outside and embrace the season which I’d longed for throughout the cold winter.

 

And I wanted to celebrate it with my friends.

 

waters-edge-girls-float-selfie

 

 

Friday

“Enjoy having the house to yourself,” said my teenager (with more than a bit of jealousy, I might add) as she and her younger siblings marched out the front door and into their grandmother’s car, which looked as magical as Cinderella’s glass carriage to me at that moment.

 

Since my husband had already left on his trip, I was free – yes, free – to kick off my Miraculous Spring Fever Weekend, so as soon as the glass carriage exited the driveway, I hopped in my car and drove to meet my friend Shanon.

 

Shanon and I meet occasionally on Friday afternoons to celebrate the end of the work week with a different kind of Happy Hour. Instead of going to a bar and sipping a cocktail (don’t get me wrong – we sometimes do that, too) we’ll meet in the heart of the city at the Frisco Greenway Trail for a stress-relieving walk through through the woods.

 

girilfriend-trails-canopy

On this spring afternoon, Shanon was waiting for me in the parking lot. “You escaped!” she said, giving me a warm hug.

 

We escaped,” I said, our footsteps falling in sync as our shoes crunched the fine gravel beneath our feet. I felt like a kid at recess, catching up with my friend while enjoying a slice of freedom from our schoolwork.

 

After our walk, we wanted to keep up the health-conscious theme we had going, so we decided to get ourselves some nutritious smoothies at Joplin Avenue Coffee Company, a hip downtown Joplin coffee house that also serves tea, sweet treats, and healthy food options from a delivery service called Fit Foods.

 

coffee-menu

Shanon ordered the Dirty Monkey Smoothie, made with peanut butter, banana, and mocha, as well as a ready-made Turkey Hummus Wrap to take home with her for lunch the next day. I ordered the Berry Vanilla Detox Smoothie; packed with fresh fruit, protein and chia seeds, it felt like a nutrient infusion, and filled me up to the point to where I decided to just count that as my dinner that night. Yay! No cooking for me.

 

I went home afterward and lit some candles, put on soft music, and sank into a cloud of bubbles and warm water in the bathtub – a sublime way to end the first day of my Miraculous Weekend.

 

 

Saturday

Another day, another hug from a friend whom I hadn’t seen in months. Johanna had driven in from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and was now at my front door. “Are you ready?” she asked.

 

“I just need to grab my yoga mat and I will be,” I said. We were headed to a Yoga in Nature class at Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center. During this mild time of the year, the yoga class is held just outside the center under a pavilion.

 

We unrolled our mats and faced in the direction of Shoal Creek.

 

wildcat-creek-springtime

The area between us and the creek was the chert glade, a rare, desert-like ecosystem that exists right here in southwest Missouri. As we saluted the sun, colorful butterflies danced around the blooming bushes just outside the pavilion, joyously welcoming in the season of renewal.

 

Instead of hiking the trails at Wildcat that day – which we did the last time Johanna was in town – we decided to walk the trails at George Washington Carver National Monument. But first, we needed to get a bite to eat.

 

On the way from Wildcat to the restaurant, we passed Grand Falls. “Do you mind if we stopped?” Johanna asked. “I haven’t seen the Falls in a while.”

 

falls-mist

As the largest continuously running waterfall in the state of Missouri, Grand Falls is one of the prettiest natural attractions in the area, and visitors stop here throughout the year. As Johanna and I navigated our way among the chert (more chert!) outcroppings to get closer to the falls, we noticed that we weren’t the only ones enjoying the view that morning; there were a few men fishing in the creek, and some kids splashing in the shallow pools.

 

From Grand Falls, we took the scenic roads to Sandstone Gardens, a 50,000-square-foot home interior showroom housed inside a stately French chateau. In addition to offering shoppers a one-of-a-kind experience, it also offered us somewhere to eat.

 

Located in the east side of the building is the Bistro, a warm and welcoming place for lunch. I had the Chicken Salad, made with fresh, crunchy grapes, and Johanna ordered the Reuben, which is one of the restaurant’s specialties.

 

bistro-dessert

Since the desserts at the Bistro are made from scratch on site, I felt it would be disrespectful not to order one, so Johanna and I split a piece of heavenly German Chocolate Cake.

 

Then, we were off to George Washington Carver National Monument, located twenty minutes south of Joplin in Diamond. We arrived there just in time to catch the end of the lab demonstration where participants were invited to make peanut milk, so we got to join along.

 

gwc-mortar

George Washington Carver was an educator and scientist who discovered multiple uses for peanuts and other crops, and he was born in a cabin on the land on which the monument sits. The center houses exhibits which detail Carver’s life, and the trail outside offers a glimpse of the world that Carver saw as a boy meandering through the thick woods and across the blooming prairie.

 

gwc-carver-statue-with-butterfly

After hiking the trail, we started back toward Joplin, my appetite growing bigger with every mile we passed. “How about grabbing dinner at the Eagle?” I asked.

 

“You know it’s one of my favorite restaurants,” Johanna said. “Do they still have the Bison Burger?”

 

“They do. They also have killer Jalapeno Margaritas, if you are up for some spice.”

 

We lingered at the Eagle Drive-In, eating burgers and sipping margaritas until the sun dipped behind the horizon, completing a perfect day.

 

 

Sunday

This was it. This was the day I was going big, putting the final dot on the exclamation point of the Miraculous Spring Fever Weekend! My friend Julie and I were going up a creek – with two paddles, on a Shoal Creek float trip.

 

But first, we needed to fuel up. I picked up Julie and we went to Club 1201 for brunch. I ordered my favorite dish, Eggs Benedict, and Julie tried the Artisan French Toast. We celebrated Float Trip Day by toasting our drink glasses which we customized at the Bloody Mary Bar.

 

club-1201-brunch-bmb1

 

After brunch, we drove just south of Joplin to Water’s Edge, where we got set up with our canoe. For several hours, it was just me, Julie, and the rhythmic sounds of our paddles pushing through the water. Oh, and an occasional turtle.

 

waters-edge-girls-float-creek

With just the two of us – no distractions – we were able to discuss all of the things that we had on our mental checklists to talk to each other about whenever we had the chance. And today, we had that chance.

 

Now we were good for a few more months.

 

I relished my Miraculous Weekend at home – alone, and I cherished the time I spent with my friends as we explored the great outdoors, reveling in the warmth of the spring air. I felt refreshed and alive, and ready to jump back into my responsibilities as a mom.

 

Yet, even though I had a phenomenal time with my friends, nothing from that weekend compared to the unbridled joy I felt when I saw my daughters walk through the door Sunday night.

 

That is, until ten minutes later when they started to bicker…

 

 

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

Couple’s Weekend in Joplin

My husband Travis’ birthday is in January. This year, it fell on a Thursday, a day when our schedule forced us to divide and conquer, driving one child to dance class and picking up another from basketball practice.

 

Not the most fun way to spend a birthday, but Travis didn’t complain. He’s such a trooper.

 

Did I mention that I’m his number one fan?

 

couple's fun

 

Miraculously, the weekend following his birthday we had no obligations with the kids. I don’t know how this happened, but from the moment I realized it, the wheels in my head started to spin. We had an entire weekend of free time, and I wanted to plan special activities that I thought Travis would like, things that he normally doesn’t get to do in a household of all females.

 

You know, guy things.

 

I came up with a jam-packed itinerary, and thanks to offers from the grandparents to watch the kids for us, we were ready to kick off Travis’ Epic Birthday Weekend.

 

 

Friday

Sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures greeted us on this January morning. “Nice day,” Travis commented, looking longingly out the window of our home office.

 

I grabbed his shoes and placed them at his feet. “Put these on. We’ve got a tee-off time in 20 minutes,” I said.

 

He raised his eyebrows. “Really?” He looked at his computer screen, then out the window. Then he clicked the keyboard feverishly as he typed a message to his business partner, reached for his shoes and said, “Let’s go!”

 

All epic birthday weekends start off with playing hooky from work on Friday, right?

 

This one started off at Schifferdecker Golf Course. “It feels great to be outside,” said Travis, placing this ball on his tee. “Golfing was a great idea.”

 

“Aw, thanks,” I said. Then he swung his driver, whacking the ball and sending it straight down the fairway.

 

“Your turn,” he said, gesturing for me to tee off. I lined up my driver, took a deep breath, then swung. But the only thing that went flying through the air was a piece of turf. “I guess I’m a bit rusty,” I said tamping down the grass to fix the divot that I’d made in the ground.

 

Schiff-golf-map

Over the next couple of hours, my game didn’t improve, and on the eighth hole, Travis said, “Why don’t we stop after the next hole? I’m not feeling up to doing all 18 today.” 

 

I sighed in relief, grateful to him for granting me mercy.

 

We packed up our clubs and headed downtown for lunch at Instant Karma. Known for its gourmet hot dogs, inventive burgers, and wide selection of local and craft beers, this eclectic restaurant is a favorite lunch spot of ours. I ordered the vegetarian Bio Diesel, a meatless hot dog covered in homemade blue cheese slaw and Sriracha sauce.

 

instant karma bio

Travis polished off his Heavenly Donut, a juicy burger served with a glazed donut as a bun. “I’m ready for my nap now,” he said.

 

instant karma donut burger

 

“Let’s go home and rest up,” I told him. “You’ll need your ninja reflexes for laser tag this afternoon.”

 

A few hours later, we were refreshed and ready to do battle at Lazer Force. Placed on opposing teams, we mentally prepared for our game of indoor hide and seek with laser guns.

 

 

Lazer-labyrinth

The last time we’d played here, I scored over a hundred points more than Travis. Today, he beat me by 300 points. But that’s okay because he’s the birthday boy.

 

We emerged from the laser tag darkness and into the still-mild winter afternoon. “Let’s not let this gorgeous afternoon go to waste,” I said. “Let’s go to Tropicana.”

 

 

tropicana-day

Tropicana is a two-story bar and grill with outdoor seating and over 20 beers on tap. We sat on the patio and drank our beer until the sun disappeared behind the horizon and the air grew chilly.

 

We found a table inside near the warm fire and placed our dinner order: Fish tacos for Travis and the Buddha Gouda Burger (with Tropicana’s signature sauce) for me.

 

tropicana-buddha

 

While we waited for our food to arrive, we watched as a local band warmed up for a show. Tropicana often has live music on the weekends, and tonight happened to be one of those times.

 

It was great timing for us: dinner and entertainment. Today’s schedule had worked out well.

 

When the server brought us fresh drinks, I raised my glass. “Happy birthday, Travis.”

 

 

Saturday

With nowhere to be Saturday morning, we slept in. When we finally got up and dressed for the day, I told Travis that I needed to go to the mall to return a shirt.

 

Travis groaned. “I thought this was supposed to be a fun weekend.”

 

“It will be. I promise.”

 

I knew we’d be eating out the rest of the day so I got two breakfast bars out of the pantry for us to snack on during our drive to Northpark Mall. After we got out of the car at the mall, Travis looked at my empty hands and asked, “Where’s the shirt you need to return?”

 

“About that…” I began. By that time, we had made it to the entrance of Tilt Studio.

 

Then it hit him.

 

“You don’t have anything to return, do you?” he asked. “You just brought me here to challenge me at air hockey, didn’t you?” he asked.

 

I grinned sheepishly. “Come on!” I said, pulling on his arm. “It’ll be fun!”

 

He rolled his eyes. “You just can’t stand the fact that I beat you last time, can you?”

 

I hated to admit it, but the man was right.

 

tilt travis air hockey

 

We played two games of air hockey, each of us winning one.

 

Then came the tiebreaker.

 

Guess what?

 

I won.

 

And everything was right in the world again.

 

To prove that there were no hard feelings, I took Travis downtown to one of his favorite restaurants: Hackett’s Hot Wings.

 

hacketts wings

 

While I don’t care for chicken wings, I do love Hackett’s homemade sauce, so I ordered a salad with sauce-covered grilled chicken breast on top. It was like eating a boneless version of Hackett’s well-known wings.

 

Afterward, we wanted to get outdoors and enjoy yet another mild January day, so we drove a few blocks to the trailhead for the Frisco Trail to take a hike.

 

“Hey, let’s see if we can find a cache on the trail,” I suggested. Sometimes Travis and I like to combine our hikes with geocaching, which is like an outdoor scavenger hunt where you use GPS coordinates to find caches. There were several located on the Frisco Trail, and we ended up finding one close to the trail head.

 

Worn out from our day of play, we went home to rest for a few hours (this involved some Netflix binge watching, of course). Then we freshened up for our night out with friends.

 

We met two couples for dinner at Blackthorn Pizza & Pub, a cozy place to chill out with friends. Blackthorn offers a variety of beer on tap, and each of us ordered something different.

 

blackthorn beer on tap

And what tastes great with beer? Pizza. We ordered The Iconica, which was topped with blackened chicken, Italian sausage, bacon, garlic, and jalapenos. It was mildly spicy and very tasty.

 

blackthorn pizza

After an hour, I said, “Let’s head over to JB’s to get some good seats for the show.” We settled our bill, then walked a couple of blocks to JB’s Downtown Joplin to watch the dueling piano show.

 

The room was already crowded with people enjoying their pre-show drinks and conversation, but we were able to claim a table off to the side, which gave us a good view of both the pianos.

 

jbs-trio

Billy Joel’s crowd-pleasing “Piano Man” kicked off the show, with people joining in the chorus.

 

It was going to be a fun night.

 

A few songs into the show, I walked up to one of the piano players and requested a song.

 

“What did you request?” asked Travis when I came back to the table.

 

“You’ll see,” I said.

 

A few minutes later, one of the piano players leaned toward his microphone and asked, “Where’s Travis Smith?”

 

“Right here,” I said, pointing to my blindsighted husband.

 

“This song’s for you, man” said the piano player.

 

The familiar melody of the song “Happy Birthday” filled the room. I sang along, loud and proud, while Travis turned red and gave me the evil eye.

 

But secretly I knew he enjoyed the attention. At least, I hoped he did.

 

 

Sunday

After the late night out with our friends, we were moving rather slowly on Sunday morning. The rhythmic pounding of the rain on the roof didn’t exactly help motivate us get up, either. But once the grumbling from our stomachs started, we were dressed and out the door within ten minutes.

 

“The last meal of your birthday weekend,” I said wistfully, as we pulled up to the tiny brick building which houses The Bruncheonette. I had to admit that this weekend’s break from cooking was just as much a gift for me as eating out at his favorite restaurants was for Travis.

 

And eating at The Bruncheonette is always a treat. Serving breakfast, brunch, and lunch items, this restaurant combines locally sourced ingredients in wildly inventive ways. Today, both Travis and I ordered different variations of Eggs Benedict. Travis had the Cuban B, with tender pulled pork, ham, and gruyere, and I ordered the Garden Benny, topped with fresh asparagus, tomatoes, avocados, local micro greens beet Hollandaise.

 

 

holiday ex brunch

As I swirled the last bite of my poached egg in the creamy sauce, I looked out the window and saw people dashing from their cars to the door of The Bruncheonette with their coats over their heads, protecting themselves from the sudden torrential downpour. “We’ll have to take a raincheck on paintball today,” I said. Playing paintball had been our last activity in our birthday weekend schedule.

 

Travis pushed away his empty plate and leaned back in his chair. “That’s no big deal. I already had a great weekend,” he said.

 

“There’s just one bad thing about it though,” he added.

 

My heart dropped. “What?”

 

“I’m going to expect this much fun every birthday from now on,” he said playfully.

 

“Done,” I promised.

 

 

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.