Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cross Timbers Country

If you've ever seen the early 1980s maps of the ecological regions of the United States, you'll see a region where the Great Plains prairie meets the Eastern Deciduous Forest, aptly called the Cross Timbers Region. Widely scattered and stunted post oaks and black oaks dot the landscape, historically mantled in long lived perennial wildflowers and warm season grasses. Today, Cross Timbers country, located about an hour's drive from the Niangua Basin, is the land of recreational fishing lakes designed to generate hydroelectric power. In Missouri, we have several of these associated lakes surrounded by protected largescale wooded landscapes. While many of these wooded areas are generally depauperate from a biodiversity perspective, they're still undeveloped woods full of birds, and the world isn't making undeveloped woods anymore. Despite the local serious deer overpopulation problem, lack of fire, and long history of grazing, the wooded tracts in Cross Timbers county are protected from development and have an intrinsic value for this reason. It's nice to be in big tracts of woods with short little post oaks and scraggly black oaks that average 50 ft. tall.

Around the Current River, especially near Van Buren, development pressure is significant. When I first saw the new Winona wine shop, a fancy place called The Wine Cube of modern architecture, I couldn't help but think that there go the Ozarks--a vacationing population or full time residents of a class that can support a fancy wine shop? Outside of the Scenic Riverways, on the approach to Van Buren by canoe, massive homes of great value now line the streambanks. There's a lot of money moving into some parts of the Ozarks, especially around the Current River. It's a case of the country turning into the city, similar to the Lake of the Ozarks region; the reasons for having a country home no longer exist. It's a city in and of itself now. Not so much in this part of the Cross Timbers.

Recreational opportunities tend to be focused on the fishing resources and RV parks in the area. Huge, enormous campers and nice boats are pretty common around here. There's one winery, Crane Creek, that specializes in terrific fruit wines; Crane Creek's elderberry and strawberry wines are particularly nice. The drought, their location, and lack of traffic coincident with the end of the Missouri Wine Passport Program have, together, provided a great challenge to this little winery, located a stone's throw from the Nemo corner. At Hobo's, a family style restaurant, one could order Crane Creek's blackberry wine by the glass.

Dining options, like the wine options in the area, are limited to rustic fare: pizza at the bowling alley, a fun, diverse menu (with the ability to modify to make certain foods vegetarian and healthy) at Virginia and Tim's Pub and Grub, and multiple family style barbecue restaurants in the area. This is not the fancy part of the Ozarks or the Lake of the Ozarks region, and I think folks are happy with that. These are good-hearted, hard working people, appreciative of the surrounding natural world and their fishing opportunities. This is not the climate for a fancy wine shop, and it's great that way.