Sunday, February 28, 2016

Gans Creek Shooting Star Trailhead

We hit another amazing trail last weekend and hiked for more than three miles through a beautiful terrain. Jeremy's Fit Bit said we had climbed more than "30 floors" when it was all said and done. It was probably the most difficult trail we've done with the boys, including the trail at Three Creeks where you climb a steep incline at the base of the river to get back to the trail.

I first wrote about Gans Creek Trails a few weeks ago when we hiked our first hike of the season. We couldn't resist the crisp air and melting snow, but didn't hike for long that day. While we were there, we picked up a brochure and looked at the extensive Gans Creek trail system that is actually connected to Rock Bridge State Park.

The entrance to this side of Gans Creek is east of the entire trail system so pretty far removed from the Rock Bridge trails. Compared to Rock Bridge, Gans Creek is much less touristy, much more rugged and way more expansive. We were worried when we pulled up and saw so many cars in the parking lot, but over the 3+ miles, we only saw about 10 people so basically we were hiking alone.

 It was in the 50's and sunny. Perfect.

With the weather we've been having, these trees may soon have leaves! I was surprised to see this area so overgrown. The forests along our typical hikes are a little clearer.

The trail did not start out too promising. Balancing on the edges of a mud pit is not my idea of fun. Fortunately, this was just the beginning and the trails did dry up.

It was so quiet.

A glimpse of Gans Creek. The creek is pretty far down there but it's hard to see in this picture.


 I am in love with this tree. This picture may be going on my wall. There's just something about it...

Here are Jeremy and Eli overlooking the creek. There were several lookout points on this trail loop. The kind where you stand on the edge of a bluff and look across the ravine and creek bed. Also the points where we hang on to the boys for dear life, because there's a straight edge drop off.

 But the views...

And then we were on our way. Most of the rest of the trail was narrow like in the picture above. Sometimes, it was so narrow that you couldn't see too far ahead where you were supposed to go. Eli was so cute on this hike. On several different occasions, we had to choose one direction or another, and Eli would point one way and say, "This way looks promising." Precocious little 4 year old. We took his advice every time.

At this point, we were maybe just under a mile in to the trail and we were sloping down towards the creek.

A view of a bluff along the way. All the while we are going down, down, down.

And then we finally got to the creek. At this point we saw our first fellow hiker who was actually running the trail. We let him pass because as always, when we get to water, we have to stop and skip stones. Or in the boys' case, throw them. All I could think was that this would be the perfect swimming hole when the weather gets warmer.

Check out that bluff in the background! It was so beautiful down there.

Here's the cool part. See all those large stones across the creek? That's part of the trail. Because the trail actually continues on the other side. So you have to skip your way across.  So fun.

Lex and Eli. These little hikers make me so proud. 

And one with mama. Because sometimes I need proof that I was there too.

So when I said earlier that crossing the creek across the rivers was "fun...." well what I really meant was that it was fun for Jeremy, Eli, and me. That picture above is Jeremy and Eli who quickly crossed with only one wet shoe (Eli) from a slip at the very end. Lex on the other hand... well if you read our story about Three Creeks you may know that Lex is terrified of living things in creeks. He saw one sign of life in the creek and immediately refused to cross. No amount of encouragement could make him take one more step.

So daddy came to the rescue. Back across to carry Lex.

Forward march.

Oh my goodness. I could have a picnic right here and then stay all afternoon. If only we had packed a picnic.

We hiked along the edge of the creek bed before heading back up the trail.

Look at that determination on Lex's face!

 The trail was so well maintained. Of course there were some fallen trees we had to climb over along the way, but that's just par for the course.

By this point, we had gone all the way down to the creek and climbed all the way back up to the top of the ridge again. We had probably gone more than 2 miles and Eli was starting to slow down. I wish I had captured this picture one second later when he wasn't hiding behind the tree.

A different view of the creek from above.

As we looped around to head back down to the creek, we hit the edge of the forest.

A dried up creek bed. I would give an explanation here, but I honestly don't even remember this spot.

 This is where the trail got really narrow. A few times, I wondered if we were still even on the trail. Fortunately, the trail marking are great out here, so we just kept looking for the brown diamond markings on trees.


And then finally, we were back down to the creek bed to cross back to the other side. So if you're keeping track, we started at a higher elevation, hiked down to the creek, hiked back up to the peak of the bluff, and then back down to the creek. And we will still have to go up to get to the car. I'm sure we had hit mile 3 by this point.

This creek crossing was much easier as you see. What a great natural bridge. What's really cool is that spot right in front of me is kind of like a natural water slide over the rocks. It would be a great spot to come back to in the summer so the boys can try it out. Other than than little spot to step over, though, this was easy compared to the first trip across the creek.

And then....After a climb back up, we came to a beautiful lookout across the ravine that these pictures barely do justice. It was seriously so peaceful and so magnificent...I want to come back here and just sit.

It was a great finale to this amazing hike and a restful break before our last push to the end.

You could see forever.

The sun was just beginning to set as we entered this tree tunnel. See the tip of Lex's head on the bottom of the picture?

The third and best hike of the season so far! And it's not even March yet! Spring fever has definitely taken hold in this household. We are so lucky to have these amazing trails around us. We are definitely hooked.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mark Twain National Forest Hike

Last weekend, we were desperate to get outdoors. Even though we had hiked the weekend before, that had only acted as a teaser and made us want to get out more. We were all in the mood to hike and the boys have never done better. Since the time they have walked, we have had the boys on trails with us. We have had them on steep terrain, in creek beds, grasslands, and wooded trails. But we have always kept the hikes short or at least allowed for some significant break time (aka swimming in the creek) before finishing the hike.

But this past week, our boys proved that they are ready for real hiking. After a good mile, the boys insisted that we keep going because they were dying to try out a trail head that broke off the main trail. We ended up going more than 2 miles, including plucking through mud, jumping over creeks, climbing trees (that part was optional, but the boys insisted), and up a steep climb to the top of a bluff. The payoff was amazing. You'll see in a minute. The boys did incredible. Not one single complaint.

We've hiked the Mark Twain Forest once before while we were camping nearby, but we didn't go far. This time, we entered from a different part for a completely different view.

It all starts from this rickety foot bridge. There's a little swimming hole right underneath that we spotted when we scouted this place out last summer. The bridge itself is somewhat scary looking, but the steal beams offer some reassurance. The boards are all uneven and loose, but we managed to get across without incident. Since there isn't much keeping you from falling off, I didn't let the boys out of reach.

See the little sandy beach down there?

And the remnants of ice in the distance? That was a surprise since it hasn't even been that cold.

This was how the first part of the trail went - hip hopping back and forth over thick mud. We managed to get through the first section without being covered in mud, so that was a bonus. Eli did almost fall in at one point, but that's all par for the course, I guess.

I want this to be my backyard.

The first trail we went on looked like this, nice and wide. At first, it was so rocky that I wondered if it had once been a creek bed, but towards the top, it actually looked like it was maybe used as a service road. Either way, there was plenty of space for running.

Here's a little trail that veered off from the main trail. We checked it out but decided to go on up the main trail and come back to this one later. 

Posing for mommy.

What the "dead of winter" looks like.

Eli trying to "pick up the tree."

Eli settling for "climbing the tree."

Our family selfie. Close your mouth, Eli.

Almost to the top of the trail. I should mention that at this point, we had only gone up hill. I love these kinds of trails, because you know that at some point you will get to go back down. I much prefer the uphill climb to be the first thing you do. A lot of our hikes involve going down to the river first, then having to climb back up after you've spent all your energy.

This was the official end of that trail. We ended up in a little gravel parking lot, and a gravel road from the north. Nothing much to see here. We turned around and headed back down. At this point, we had probably gone about half a mile. And all of us were still really in the mood to hike. Eli was the one who suggested that we take the other trail that we had seen, so we decided to make a go of it.

Back down the trail. The trail that veered off was a much more narrow trail, but so beautiful.

I love this picture, above.  So typical of him to run up ahead.

See that view between the trees? We hoped for a good clearing so that we could get a really good shot of it.

We had to cross over a dry creek bed.

Which looked like a fun place to explore, but we kept heading up and up and up.

And were rewarded with this amazing view at the top of a bluff. I couldn't believe we found such an amazing place. It's this kind of discovery that makes us love hiking so much. You explore and explore, and then this happens. It's like we found this little treasure. Unfortunately, it's not a completely secret treasure. There was another group of people up there with a professional looking camera set up. There were also several fire pit areas that made it look like people probably come up here quite a bit. Fortunately for us, the people packed up to leave about as soon as we got up there, so we had the place to ourselves for a bit.

Another shot. This is to the west.

And this is to the south. Let me tell you, I was panicked a little bit to have the boys up here. About 5 feet in front of Jeremy is the edge of the bluff. In other words, a straight drop down hundreds of feet. We did not let go of the boys even for a second.

Our last picture of the day. Look at those muddy shoes. A sign of a great hike. We did venture a little further down the trail on the edge of the bluff, but unfortunately, my phone died right after I took these pictures. The photographic documentation of this trail will have to wait until we do this one again - hopefully soon!

It's the beginning of February and we have already scored 2 amazing hikes. I am loving this weather!