Travelogue -- Day Seven, Ha Ha Tonka State Park
The morning was very raw and a paddleboat ride didn't seem quite as enticing as it did the other mornings, so I contented myself with watching the lake from the porch with my hands wrapped around a hot cup of coffee.
Everyone was anxious to go to the other state park in the area on our last day. So after a leisurely breakfast we drove southwest, past Camdenton, to Ha Ha Tonka State Park. It had been the home to the Osage, Cherokee and other Native American Indian tribes, which I guess is the reason for the curious name, which means Land of Laughing Water. It is a beautiful park, but Chris and I didn't remember it from our childhood. We found out later from our mother that we had driven through the area once, even though it wouldn't be a state park for many years.
We went to the ruins of an old castle first. A prominent Kansas City businessman built the wonderful castle high among the bluffs of the Ozarks at the turn of the century. Robert Snyder's aim was to build a private retreat that rivaled the old castles in Europe. He died in an auto crash before it was finished, however. The family continued the construction, and struggled to keep it for years. They had it leased as a hotel in the early forties when sparks from a chimney ignited the roof, and the building was gutted. The State of Missouri purchased the estate in seventy-eight and opened it to the public as a State Park.
We simply loved the ruins of the castle and stables, and lingered to take many photographs. There were dozens of shots all around with striking arrangements of light and shadow. Ruins of an eighty-foot stone water tower stood not far away, with a steep board walk leading up to it. It was burned, as well, much later by vandals.
As beautiful as the castle ruins were, the view of Ha Ha Tonka Spring and the Lake of the Ozarks from the observation area was even more inspiring. In my opinion, we saw the most spectacular scenery of our entire trip there.
It made me very nervous when Erik and Chris climbed down below the observation area and got too close to edge of the cliffs. There were a few times my stomach churned thinking about what one missed step could mean. Erik even climbed up a wall at the stable ruins.
We stayed quite a while at the ruins, but there was much more we wanted to see at Ha Ha Tonka, as well. The park is said to be one of the best examples of karst topography. The tour books define karst as "An area of irregular limestone in which erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, underground streams, and caverns."
No doubt the largest sinkhole is called the Colosseum. We took a half-mile trail of fairly rough terrain down through the huge sinkhole. The trail winds under a seventy-foot wide natural bridge that spans sixty feet and stands more than one-hundred feet high.
After our hike on the Colosseum Trial we drove down into a gorge to take the Spring Trial. It was an easier hike, mostly paved, but we passed some beautiful scenery on our way to the spring itself.
Bluffs more than two hundred and fifty feet high rise above the gorge where more than fifty million gallons of water a day gush from the Ha Ha Tonka Spring into the Niangua Arm of the Lake of the Ozarks.
From the spring, we noticed the castle ruins perched atop the rocky bluffs and realized we had been looking down from there to the spot we were now standing.
Once on the island, we took a winding rocky trail, where the tour book promised there was a balancing rock. We looked for it as we made our way along the difficult trail, and saw what we thought was the balancing rock. A little further along the trail, though, there was no doubt that we were at the balancing rock. A stone the size of a small car sat directly atop a rocky protrusion.
I wondered what would happen if someone leaned too hard against it, but I wasn't going to try to find out. Erik got up there with it and pretended he was holding it up for the camera.
We resumed our hike along the paved spring trail after our detour to the little island. We were struck by the eerie color of the water at the mouth of the spring and in the shallows. The water was so clear that it had to come from what lay beneath and the reflections of the trees on the other shore.
The Spring Trial was one-way, so we walked back along the same path, each of collecting a stick as we went along so we could try toasting marshmallows for Smores again -- with decent sticks this time.
On our way back to the cottages we stopped to take pictures from the side of the road of a particularly lovely field that we had seen on our way into the park. The bucolic vista was different than most of the scenery on our trip but as peaceful as any of the lake pictures.
It was the middle of the afternoon before we got back to the cottage to fix lunch, and we were all starved. Luckily, we had enough leftovers from the Mexican dinner that all we had to do was fix a bit more guacamole and heat up the other food. It was just as good as it was on Wednesday.
By the time the dishes were cleaned up it was late. There was an outlet mall in the nearby town of Osage Beach, and since Jill wanted to look for some new flatware, we all went shopping. We only hit a couple stores but Jill found what she wanted and we all bought something. Since that was our only shopping trip on the whole vacation, we didn't spend too much, though. Erik also picked up a few more groceries because he had friends driving down from the north side of the lake to spend the evening with him. They were a couple he met when he lived in Missouri before moving back to Ohio.
Chris made another batch of guacamole for Erik to serve with the last of the Mexican leftovers. He entertained his friends at the Bordeaux cottage while we played scrabble, worked on the puzzle and started a pot of potato soup for whenever we were hungry again.
When it got dark we joined them down at the dock area and had more success with our Smores than the night before. It was cold and we huddled close to the chiminia in our sweatshirts and blankets and talked for a while as we took turns making the treats. More than one marshmallow burst into flames when it got too close to the fire, but that was part of the fun.
We didn't get around to eating our potato soup until around nine or so, but it did taste good then. Needless to say we again went to bed sated. I think everyone enjoyed our last evening together.