Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Take the Road to a New Zip Code

There's nothing like a good old-fashioned road trip. I've driven cross-country more times than I can count, but it's been a few years since my last trip. That's why, when Todd needed to drive to Missouri for an education conference, we decided to leave a little early for some much-needed road-trippin'.

After visiting friends outside of Springfield, we skirted the more touristy Lake of the Ozarks region for a southern state park that looked interesting: Ha Ha Tonka. Ha Ha Tonka, or "Laughing Waters" as named by the local Native Americans, is a beautiful park with 16 miles of hiking trails. With sinkholes, natural bridges and soaring cliffs created by the karst terrain, and even castle ruins, we were ready to hike, even with the 98 degree temperature.

My main focus was on the local insect life. This Great Spangled Fritillary lingers on this wildflower, getting its fill of the nectar.

This Asterocampa celtis rests on the concrete wall of the visitor's center.

Two Grey Hairstreaks (Strymon melinus) share a moment of connubial bliss on a clover plant.

This is an Eastern Tent Caterpillar moth (Malacasoma americana). In its spiky, black and orange caterpillar form, it spins silky tent-like webs in trees that can grow up to two feet long. They can cause great damage to young trees.

An azalea moth (Datana major) sits in the cool shade.

A pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor)'s iridescent wings remind me of peacock feathers.

The whole park was alive with the whirring and singing of cicadas. Unlike the cicadas we had in Indiana last year, these are 13 year cicadas. They emerge for just a few weeks in late May and early June. After mating, the female cicadas will lay their eggs in tree branches and re-emerge in another 13 years.

They have very distinctive orange-red eyes that make them easily identifiable.

They were so numerous that it was no trouble to observe them at close range. Todd and I were able to see the males thrumming their abdomens to create their distinctive song, hoping to attract a mate.

The abandoned cicada shells clung to overhead leaves and branches.

Even these abandoned exoskeletons have a use. This assassin bug takes some time to search out some leftover fluids here.

Perched on this stem, a brown stink bug prepares for a meal. Stink bugs, so named for the smell they release as a defense mechanism when threatened, can cause serious damage to many different kinds of crops.

We came across a killdeer nest and the parents, anxiously fluttering nearby. Killdeer lay their eggs on the ground. When a potential predator approaches the nest, the adult killdeer feign injury, flopping helplessly and splaying their feathers. The predator sees an easy meal and follows. The bird flies a short distance and continues its act, hoping to distract the predator enough so that it forgets about the eggs.

This five-lined skink's age is easily determined by its tail. Juveniles have a bright blue tail, while the tails of adults are usually a light brown. The purpose of the blue color is to draw attention away from more vulnerable parts, like the head.

We saw salamanders, too, and this northern fence lizard.

There were such beautiful wildflowers, too, like these nodding columbines that were growing out of cracks in the big rocks surrounding the sink holes.

I love the stacked columns of blooms on this wildflower.

There are many varieties of coneflowers in Missouri, too, and fields of black-eyed Susans.

The unusual topography at Ha Ha Tonka is caused by karstification, where water with a slight acid content acts on soluble bedrock, like limestone. You can see the evidence here...

...and here.

This tree, growing out of the forest floor by a karst rock formation, has been affected by the minerals it absorbs from the groundwater. It is almost completely petrified.

We were curious about the castle ruins in the park. In 1904, a wealthy Missourian, Robert Snyder, purchased over 2500 wooded acres. He built a 3-story castle with the help of a European architect.

However, Mr. Snyder was killed in an automobile accident in 1906 - one of Missouri's first. His family struggled to keep the property but eventually had to lease it out to someone else, who made the property into a hotel. In 1942, a fire gutted the property. Only ruins remain.

We couldn't leave Missouri without a visit to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield. I've been a fan of her books since childhood and have read several adult biographies as well. The thought of seeing Pa's fiddle, Mary's braille slate, and Laura's handwritten manuscripts - in person! - was really exciting. The museum did not disappoint. These items and more were on display...along with copious photographs and artifacts described in Laura's books - her "Ambition" essay, the lace given to her by her best friend Ida, and name cards of her friends. I finally got to see Mary Powers' 'copperplate' printing...in person!

The nearby farmhouse, too, was amazing. Laura's husband, Almanzo, designed and built their house himself, with custom cabinets and working surfaces geared toward his 4'8" wife. Nearly everything in the fully decorated home is original. Truly amazing.

Their daughter, Rose, built another house about a mile away for them to use as a 'retirement home'. It was much more modern than their farmhouse, and they didn't particularly like it. They stayed there to appease Rose, but moved right back to their beloved farmhouse when she left town.

I stood on the back porch and looked out over the front lawn...the same view Laura had from her sitting room, and her kitchen windows...windows that Manly put in especially for Laura, so that she could see some sun while doing the dreaded task of making bread. It was a really special moment for me.

So much accomplished in just a few days...good quality time with my beloved husband, good hiking, good sightseeing...and even some knitting on a slouchy hat for fall!

I look forward to many such road trips in the near future, when Todd finishes his dissertation.

Have a great week!

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