In an alternate universe where I went to journalism school – I would have loved a life of travel writing. I love to travel and see new places, but as a wedding photographer, free weekends are far and few between – so I tend to schedule our adventures well in advance, even if I’m unsure of the destination.
I used to view travel as an opportunity to escape Missouri. I think it was an adolescent mindset; that I was bored with Missouri and felt a constant need to venture elsewhere. But over the past decade, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for the state I call home. From lakes and rivers, to vast underground cave systems and historical landmarks, Missouri has so many beautiful things to offer any traveler.
Most recently, we had decided to take a weekend retreat to the vast and peaceful Missouri Ozarks. I had been wanting to explore Echo Bluff State Park in Eminence, Missouri – a new State Park along Current River. While there is a very nice lodge on the park property, we decided to utilize Airbnb to find unique accommodations, and we found that in Splitlimb Ranch. Nestled in the rolling hills of South-Central Missouri, Splitlimb Ranch is more of a destination than just a place to sleep; the ranch offers scenic views, interesting ranch animals (such as free roaming chickens, giant Flemish rabbits, elk, cattle, goats and exotic wild deer) and is free of light and noise pollution. Not to mention – free of internet and cell phone signals, for the most part. I wanted to disconnect, and that is exactly what I received.
While visiting the Ozarks, we also explored the incredible Onondaga State Park Cave.
I love touring caverns! I have always enjoyed caves; I think it has a lot to do with the idea of discovery – being the first to find something previously unknown. Interestingly, Missouri is also known as the “Cave State” – there are over 6,000 cave systems within its boundaries. Many caves are found by chance, and Onondaga Cave is no exception. Located along the Meramec River in Leasburg, Missouri, Onondaga Cave was discovered purely by accident in the late 1800’s – as a local resident was observing the spring outlet that fed a nearby mill. Charles Christopher noticed that there was something beyond the spring, and Onondaga Cave was discovered.
Onondaga Cave has a very interesting history embroiled in controversy, property-rights disputes, and even hosted an intense political debate between then-Senatorial Candidate Harry S. Truman and opposing Republicans. Eventually, Onondaga Cave was accepted as a National Natural Landmark, but not before enduring nearly one hundred years of grief over property ownership.
After our visit to the caves, another location of interest on my list – Alley Spring Mill in Eminence.
Alley Spring Mill is one of the most beautiful mills I’ve seen in person. Often referred to as the “Old Red Mill” for obvious reasons, Alley Spring Mill was established in 1884 and was given the name of one of the town’s most prominent residents, John Alley. Unseen from the main road, you must take a short walk beyond the enveloping trees to find the mill. After crossing a wooden bridge, you are rewarded with a beautiful and serene landscape – the vibrant red mill and the starkly contrasting deep blue water nearby. There’s no Photoshop trickery here – the color of the cerulean blue water is absolutely divine. Mixed with the reflection of the green trees that surround the spring, the water is enchanting – a shade of blue-green that is often unseen. Visiting this mill was the perfect end to the day – beautiful tranquility.