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Hurricane Creek Wilderness
October 30, 2007
The natural bridge in the Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area was another landmark I was determined to visit during my vacation. I first read about it in Tim Ernst’s Ozark Highlands Trail Guide about four years ago, and it had been high on my list ever since. Until recently I could not find a single photo of the bridge any where, which, combined with the fact that reaching the bridge required a 12-mile round trip hike through isolated wilderness, made it quite intriguing.
I got up around 5 Tuesday morning, early enough to get a good start but avoid that edgy feeling you get from not having nearly enough sleep. About mid way through the drive I pulled over just east of Ludwig, because I caught a glimpse of some trees in a hayfield that just "had" to be photographed. Frost covered the ground and I was glad I wore my long-johns and had brought along my new red down vest. I lingered in the field until just after sunrise then continued northeast to Hurricane Creek.
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My hike began along a 4-wheeler road I'd found during my exploration last summer. A thick layer of gray fog overhead made it look like a cloudy morning, except I knew before long the sun would drive away the fog to reveal blue sky. The water was only a few inches deep where the road forded the creek, but I took the time to change into my crocs instead of risking a day with wet socks and boots.
I repeated the route I'd discovered in September, staying on the 4-wheeler road until I'd reach the beginning of my self-coined Big Easy stretch just downstream of the big turn in the creek to the North. Once again I took off my boots for a brief wet crossing.
My second visit to the big turn confirmed what I felt on the first trip... this is a special, one-of-a-kind spot with its own personality. It's a large, curved, deep pool with banks that are mostly flat rock. On the outside of the curve, behind the banks are steep wooded mountainsides.
The beautiful scenery and the crisp fall air had me a bit giddy as I continued hiking upstream along the flat rock bank. I halted abruptly to take a closer look at a large, flat boulder on the bank that seemed a bit out of place. This boulder was about 6 feet tall, 7 feet wide, 1 foot thick, and was leaning on top of a couple of smaller rocks. The top surface of the boulder was rough and was reddish-brown in color, unlike all of the surrounding stones which were smooth and gray. I checked the underside of the boulder and it seemed to match the other the tops of the surrounding rocks. I think this boulder was recently flipped by flood waters, and it amazes me.
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 found where the Ozark Highlands Trail crossed the creek, about 2 miles upstream from where I'd started out, and I stopped for lunch. The path of the trail went right over a huge boulder in the middle of the stream bed. I was able to climb up on the boulder, walk across it, then jump down to the other side of the creek without getting my boots wet. I planned on following the trail to the natural bridge, but I lost the trail as it headed uphill away from the creek. I had the coordinates for the natural bridge stored in my GPS receiver so I just bushwhacked in the direction of the bridge. Along the way I found a really nice backpacker's campsite. I came upon the trail and was below the bridge in no time. The bridge was along the edge of a tall bluff that ran south to north.
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I relaxed for a while beneath the bridge, then followed the trail northward a few hundred yards to a location mentioned in the Ernst guidebook, Cedar Limb Hollow. I just had to at least see the entrance to the hollow for myself. The stream bed there was bone dry, which was to be expected this time of year. I turned around and hiked back to the natural bridge, then continued southward, exploring the bluff as I went. There were recessed shelters In a few spots, and I saw some interesting red colors and textures in the sandstone.
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After a couple of hundred yards the bluff line ended. I had to decide whether or not to go find the top of the bridge. It was after 3 p.m. and I was feeling pretty drained, but for years I'd dreamed of seeing the Hurricane Creek natural bridge; and when else would I be this close? Of course I went to the top, as if there really was any other outcome!
But first I lightened my load as much as possible. I'd already shed the down vest and my favorite Old Navy blue hooded sweatshirt and had them tied down to the outside of my backpack. But it was getting pretty warm so I took off my long-john bottoms, then I hid my crocs and all my excess clothing behind a big rock. I headed up the steep hillside, which took me up above the bluff. Even with a couple of brief stops to catch my breath, I found the bridge in 20 minutes. There was no safe way to get up on the southern end, but I was able to walk right out on to the northern end. Looking out in front then down below, I recognized a big walnut tree I'd first noticed while at the bottom of the bluff.
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It was a fairly easy walk back across the sloping hillside above the bluff then downhill to where I'd hidden my extra clothes. The trail was nearby, so I took it southward. It curved to the West temporarily and crossed a gorgeous little shaded hollow filled with moss-covered boulders. I marked the spot on my GPS and vowed to return some spring day when water would be spilling over those rocks.
The trail returned to Hurricane Creek, and I figured out why I'd lost it earlier; the trail takes a severe left turn and goes up a natural stone stair-step as it heads uphill. There weren't any trail markers there, and the rock showed no signs of wear.
The sun had set and it was getting dark as I reached the truck. On the drive home I started thinking about how, if I returned to Hurricane Creek in the spring after a big rain, I might get to Cedar Limb Hollow and that other small hollow I'd discovered. I'd crossed one destination off my "must see" list, only to add two more.
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