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.

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.




Like we need more togetherness, right?




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.




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.



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-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).




What did Travis find?



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.



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




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.



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.




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.