Forests of the Ozarks
Exploring Missouri Ozarks in the Current River Watershed
This course is now past but may be offered again in the future.
When the Rocky Mountains rose beyond the Great Plains, the Ozarks were already ancient, weaving a magical landscape out of cool spring-fed rivers, steep mountainside glades, and labyrinths of caves. Join us as we explore the western edge of a biome, remnants of the oldest mountains on the continent, and some of the largest, most remote forests left in the eastern half of the continent.
This is a trip to to the Missouri Ozarks, the tension zone between the lush eastern forests and the progressively drier prairies of the Midwest. Our destination is the wilderness region of the spring-fed Current River and its tributary, Jacks Fork River; two of America's clearest rivers. The wild waters of the Current watershed has earned it worldwide recognition in the eyes of canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts. Unfortunately for most boaters, the river corridor is all they see. Yet step into Missouri terra firma, beyond the tourist books, and you will enter one of the most fascinating botanical, geological and zoological areas in all of North America. The Ozarks boast over 160 endemic species found no where else in the world. We will see prairie glades filled with blooming orchids and a dazzling array of forbes, natural canebrake communities that have nearly disappeared elsewhere in the east, and remnants of Missouri's once-expansive pine-oak woodlands.
We will be keeping our eyes open for the exremely rare Swainson's warbler, found almost exclusively in canebrake communities. And naturally, we will be studying the temperate deciduous forest -- the Missouri expression of it -- noting interesting woody species not found in the Appalachian motherland such as the Ozark Witch-hazel. Interesting mammal species include several bats, cougar, bobcats, bear and the Allegheny wood rat. Missouri also offers some of the nation's largest springs and sinkholes, and more caves than any other state except Tennessee -- fully six thousand of them, known as the "jewels of the Ozarks." During our trip we will be exploring wild caves without the trappings of sidewalks and electric lights, in one case walking over one mile completely underground. Last but not least, our Ozark destination will take us to one of the "herp" capitals of the continent. In addition to daily sightings of Missouri's more common of its 13 species of lizards and skinks, we will have a chance to see collared lizards, which when frightened run up on their back legs; and we will learn about a rare Ozark endemic, the Ozark hellbender.