Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory

Missouri’s Ozarks Hills and Rivers

By Carolyn Tomlin

Since early civilization, people have used natural resources nearby for building homes. Native Indians used bark, hides from animals, rough-hewed timbers or whatever was available. Missouri is no different. One of the unique features of this section is the historic old buildings—homes, businesses, banks, stores-- covered with small gravel or rocks from the land. Giving character to the structures, it shows the resourcefulness of the people in finding a good life by using the materials at-hand.

Ozark National Scenic Riverways

As part of the Mark Twain National Forest, the Ozark National Scenic Riverway is part of the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior in this section of Missouri. The Riverway covers more than 134 miles of clear, spring-fed streams and superb scenery. Thanks to the efforts of environmentalists and those who respect this natural beauty, these rivers are some of the cleanest and purest in the nation.

RVers will find numerous places for camping, fishing, picnics and water sports. Festivals and fairs scheduled throughout the year offer crafts—ranging from white-oak baskets, to carvings, to jewelry.

About six miles south of Van Buren, Missouri on the Current River is Big Spring. Due to the limestone in the area, the water appears a bright blue. The largest spring in Missouri and one of the largest in the world, an average of 278 million gallons a day flow from the subterranean passages. This flow swells the Current River and provides water activities for canoes and water sports. Look for watercress along the banks—but don’t pick. Missouri law forbids the picking of any native flower or plant. However, capture the species with your camera and save the image in your mind for later recall when you’re thinking of Missouri. During spring, summer and fall, wild flowers, such as black-eyed Susans, purple coneflower, butterfly weed, and orange lilies grow along the roadsides.

Missouri’s Old Mills: Part of American’s Past
In the early days of our country, everything west of the Mississippi River was considered the “Western Frontier.” When early settlers relocated and set up small communities, they soon thought of ways to make a better life for the people. And if they could put down roots near a river, life was easier. Not only did a riverway provide a means of transportation, but there was fish for food, water for drinking and washing clothes.

Some of the growth pioneers brought was based on “needs” and others on “wants.” One of the needs that all households required was flour and meal for cooking. As farmers grew wheat and corn they looked for a mill to turn the grain into a useable product. Harnessing the water power, they build mills with a large stone turned by the water current flowing over a massive wheel. With the use of this simple machine, such as the wheel-and-axle, water turns the wheel which grinds the grain. Two types of wheels are used. The horizontal wheel works best with a small volume of water flowing at a fairly high velocity. The vertical water wheel is driven by gears. The various names for different types of vertical wheels are based on the location where the water hits the wheel.

Today, several of these old mills in south-central Missouri remain open and welcome visitors. Different in their own way, they have their own unique charm. These sturdy wooden buildings, built of felled trees and fieldstone foundations, reflect part of American history. Each mill is easy to find and the roads leading to the sites are well marked. Pick up an Ozark Riverways Map at a visitor’s center to find the locations.

One of the most picturesque is Alley Spring Mill, located on the Jacks Fork River. About five miles east of Eminence, MO on Hwy.19, the red mill has been called, “A human contribution to the landscape.” It’s true, as the wooden structure and its reflection in the millpond continue to lure photographers from around the nation. Over 80 million gallons of pure water a day, more than doubling the size of the Jack’s Fork River flows through Alley Spring.

Other mills in Ozark County Missouri include: Dawt Mill (first built in 1892) is located two miles northeast of Tecumseh, about a mile off PP Highway, producing 28,900,000 gallons of water a day. Generators from this spring powered a cotton mill, sawmill and overall factory before the Rural Electrification Administration was formed in 1936. Kiepzig Mill is another, located near Roberts Field off Hwy. H.

Safety Regulations on Missouri Waterway

Whenever you’re in natural areas, be cautious of inherent dangers. Being aware of these hazards will help you have a safe RV trip and avoid injury or accidents.
  • Don’t dive or jump into rivers. Never jump from a bluff or fallen tree. Avoid swinging on vines

  • Swim only in clear, calm water. Check below the surface for submerged objects and water depth.

  • Never enter a cave alone—go with others. Talk with a park ranger. Tell others of your plans. Take at least three sources of light.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of the river. Water can rise suddenly. Choose campsites that allow an escape route.

  • Treat all water from natural sources, such as springs and streams, before drinking. Boiling for at least 5 minutes is recommended

  • Wear an approved life jacket when using a canoe.

  • The park is home to four venomous snakes: western cottonmouth, southern copperhead, timber rattlesnake, and western pygmy rattlesnake. Know how to identify each.

  • Watch out for poison ivy which grows in damp, woody areas. Remember the adage: “Leaflets three, let them be.”