I recently returned from a few days in the woods and nights in a really fantastic cabin. At the end of the year, many compile their lists of favorite music recordings, movies, and others, and I have been fortunate to spend a lot of time traveling the Ozarks this past year, I felt it incumbent that I would share my favorite places from this year. 2015 marks my ten year anniversary as a full time resident of Missouri and there are still a number of places I keep intending to visit but are pushed out of the way for reliable stand-bys. Further, a good number of great natural places have been destroyed in recent years, some great coffeeshops and wineries have closed, development has impacted the rustic nature of a lot of great spots and the wonderful cabins at Big Spring are still closed for renovation. So here's a list of my 2015 "Bests," not all time, but just from this past year.
Best Float Trip in 2015: Easy. The best (too short)float of the year was when my kid sister from Jackson Hole, Wyoming came to Missouri for a long weekend and we floated the Current River stretch from Baptist Camp to Akers Ferry. I told her in no uncertain terms that I do not recreate on Ozark rivers on weekends, so she would have to fly in early in the week. The beautiful weather and the popularity of the river stretch (chosen by us because it was close to home) brought out the motley assortment of domestic disputes and loud radios which certainly put a damper on the float. I explained that on a Tuesday in February it's just not like that. Nevertheless, the Baptist Camp to Akers Ferry float is a great 8 mile float which, in winter, can easily be stretched out into an overnight float with a few remaining secluded gravel bars, good fishing if you're into that kind of thing, and not too many roads allowing access from non-floaters. Regardless of the rowdiness of a random Thursday afternoon, my kid sister had fun and we look forward to the day when she brings her family to Current River country.
Best Float Outfitters in 2015:This one is a little bittersweet. I do love Akers Ferry Canoe Rentalbecause they are always open and they manage a fabulous stretch of the Current River, and they're close to home. However, I have historic particular fondness for a stretch of the Niangua River (another close to home stretch) that is currently being beat up from every development angle. The float outfitters at Ho-Humm are really lovely people. Ho-Humm offers winter floats and random day floats which, like Akers Ferry, allow floating to your car. The last time I went to Ho-Humm my friend there was not in good health. The river's health is declining dramatically and rapidly, as well. I am grateful I had the opportunity to regularly float the Bennett to Ho-Humm or Prosperine Access ten years ago. The river scene has changed, and not for the better ecologically or recreationally.
Best Cabin Rentals in 2015:Royal W Resort in the White River Hills (pictured). Cindy is a wonderful hostess and these little 1950s cabins have small kitchenettes, comfortable beds, and Cindy's homemade soap in each bathroom. The Royal W Resort is a Cora Steyermark site for Ozark least trillium, a population of which the resort owners are well aware and protective. Also down in White River country is the Timbers Resort and Lodge near Shell Knob. Rustic but modern cabins with fireplaces and Christmas decorations in December, a very nice touch. These cabins have full kitchens and are located on Glade Lane, a drive through a huge stand of Ashe's juniper.
Best Coffee in 2015: This is a very important category and will undoubtedly result in my being chastised by friends. Coffee is vital to function and it must be available and fresh at all times of the day and night. It must be available in all reaches of tiny towns and small roads. If an option presents itself, such as needing coffee during normal working hours and an independently owned coffeeshop is nearby, I will invariably opt for that. However, McDonald's coffee is consistently reliable and there are McDonald's restaurants all over the place serving good, reliable, and inexpensive coffee at all hours of day and night. I cannot manage Folger's or any other robusto beans that are often served at diners and cafes. So, independent coffeeshops or McDonald's. Casey's gas stations apparently have good coffee but I haven't tried it yet.
Best Norton in 2015: Noboleis Vineyards, the beautiful setting on rolling hills near Augusta, has produced a Norton Reserve that is absolutely stunning. There are so many capable Nortons being produced in Missouri, but the Noboleis 2012 Norton Reserve knocked my socks off. As with all other Nortons, this one should be served in the Reidel Norton stem. This is not a gravel bar wine to be consumed out of a plastic cup.
Best Wildflower Display in 2015: The wet spring resulted in robust wildflower displays in May and June. On a hike in late May through a glade belt in the Niangua Basin (burned in February 2015), the explosion of Echinacea was matched with every other awesome glade plant that appeared to be on steroids. Spring and summer 2015 were very flowery, providing beautiful memories to take us through these short and cloudy days of mid-December.