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.

 

For weeks prior to this 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?

 

An idea came to me as I was driving around town doing my routine activities. I noticed the leaves on the trees, swaying gently in the wind. Fall would arrive soon, and those leaves would float to the ground, leaving the trees bare until spring. I suddenly felt a strong desire to get outside, to immerse myself in the great outdoors one last time this summer.

 

And I wanted to do so with my friends.

 

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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 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.

 

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On this late summer 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.

 

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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, held under a pavilion at Wildcat Park

 

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

 

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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 flowers just outside the pavilion.

 

As we rolled up our mats, Johanna turned to me. “I bet with all of the rain you had here recently, Grand Falls is really flowing. Do you mind it we make a quick stop there to check it out?”

 

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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.

 

The roar of the rushing water was suddenly matched by the sound from my rumbling stomach. “Are you ready for brunch?” I asked Johanna.

 

“Definitely!” We left the falls and made our way to Finn’s, an elegant oasis located in a strip mall. The dining room is cozy, complete with a fireplace – a nice addition in cold weather, but it there wasn’t a fire going on this nice summer day.

 

“The Avocado Toast sounds amazing,” said Johanna, looking at the brunch menu.

 

“The Eggs Benedict is really good here, too,” I said. “That’s what I’m going to order.”

 

 

Our beautifully presented – and hearty – entrees tasted delicious, and provided the fuel that we needed for our next stop: George Washington Carver National Monumentlocated 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.

 

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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.

 

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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 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.

 

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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.

 

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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 late summer 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.

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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 
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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.

Turtleheads Raw Bar

Joplin is nestled in the rolling hills of the Ozarks, right in the heart of America. This means that while we’re surrounded by miles of trails to explore, we’re also a long way from the crashing waves of the ocean. In fact, there are seven degrees of latitude that separate us from our closest ocean access point: The Gulf of Mexico. 

While it’s not easy for us landlocked Ozarkians to physically travel to the beach to enjoy some rest and relaxation, we can feel like we’re there when we visit Turtleheads Raw Bar, located right here in Joplin.

 

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The turquoise exterior of Turtleheads reminds me of the bright Gulf water, and it offers a hint of the carefree, beachy vibe cultivated inside. With kitschy nautical decorations and neon signs adorning the walls, this is a hangout where Jimmy Buffet would feel right at home.

 

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Recently, my husband Travis and I ate at Turtleheads. Both of us went to college in the Gulf region; he in Pensacola, Florida, and I in New Orleans, so every once in a while, we crave the variety of seafood that we had access to when we lived there. Lucky for us, the menu at Turtleheads offers several items that satisfy those cravings.

There are some appetizer options here that you won’t find anywhere else in town, like fried gator tail and frog legs. There are also oysters, both fried and on the half-shell, which Travis ordered.

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He was given the choice of Gulf or Blue Point oysters, and he chose the latter. It had been years since he’d eaten some, and he was excited to be able to do so here in Joplin.

 

I’ve never acquired the taste for oysters, so I ordered the coconut shrimp. Served with honey and citrus sauce, it had a nice tropical flavor.

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As we enjoyed our appetizers, the languid beat of the reggae song Red, Red, Wine by UB40 played, transporting us back to the day that we met on a beach in Illinois in the summer of ‘87. Ah, yet another good time at the beach.

When it came time to order our entrees, I was torn between the po’ boy sandwich or the gumbo, two of my favorite Cajun foods. I ultimately went with the gumbo, which was packed with tomatoes, celery, shrimp, and spicy andouille sausage, served over Cajun rice. 

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My side dish of island slaw, subtly sweetened with coconut and grapes, was a nice complement to the fiery gumbo.

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The Louisiana Pan Roast that Travis ordered also had a kick to it. Similar in consistency to the gumbo, his pan roast contained shrimp and crab, bathed in a creamy – yet spicy – tomato and clam sauce, and served over Cajun rice.

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His side dish of jalapeno hush puppies, served with a remoulade-type sauce for dipping, was delicious.

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In addition to its regular menu items, Turtleheads runs specials on different nights of the week, such as Crab Feast on Wednesdays (with all-you-can-eat crab legs), and Catfish Fry-Days.

But eating seafood is only part of the Gulf Coast lifestyle feeling at Turtleheads; the other part is listening to live music under twinkling lights on the outside patio.

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Midnight Rose performs on the patio stage.

The patio is open year-round, and there’s live music played there every Saturday night. 

Outside, we sipped on our beer as the balmy breeze carried away our worries. We felt relaxed, like we’d been to the beach – yet we’d never left Joplin.

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Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, like Jimmy Buffet sings.

On this night, we mentally changed latitudes with a virtual trip to the beach at Turtleheads.

 

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Turtleheads Raw Bar is located at 4218 South Main Street in Joplin. Click here to visit its website, and click here to find it on Facebook.

 

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