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.

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.