October 24, 2018
Not far from Branson, Missouri is a nice little natural gem called the Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area. If you’re old enough, like I am, you the name Henning might sound familiar. That’s because Paul Henning created such television classics as the Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres.
We hiked several of their scenic trails and took in some of their stunning views. This 1,536 acre area consists of steep hills (all the hills around here are steep!) covered in oak and hickory forests (all the hills around here are covered in forests!). However this area also has scenic glades, or “balds” as the locals called them. After the Civil War vigilante groups would meet on the balds so they became known as baldknobbers.
Being good tourists, we read the signs along the sidewalk in the parking lot. Holly read this “Glade Animals” sign and learned that they have road runners here… in Missouri! We’ve never seen one so Holly was determined and spent the day looking for one. Unfortunately, we don’t know anything about road runners so we didn’t even know where we should be looking but that didn’t discourage Holly. She looked anyhow. I am sorry to say she never saw anything that could pass for a roadrunner. She did ask a lot of questions: Do they fly? Do they nest on the ground? Where the heck would they even be? As usual, I had no answers, good or bad.
One of the animals I wanted to spot was a collared lizard. Sadly, my quest failed as miserably as Holly’s.
But what, you ask, is a glade?
I’m glad you asked that question!
A glade is an open, rocky and dry habitat that generally faces south and west. Hot, dry conditions slow the natural soil building process. Wind and rain erode the soil almost as fast as it develops. Shallow soils and bare rock make it very difficult for most trees to gain a foothold. Only specialized plants and animals can survive on a glade.
Our first hike took us to a overlook tower where we got a terrific view of the area surrounding Branson. We were told this would be a tough uphill hike. It really wasn’t. The “trail” was paved and it wasn’t that steep, maybe an 80 to 100 foot elevation gain over a quarter of a mile.
Our second hike, on the Dewey Bald Trail, took us past some balds. We had walked quite a while without seeing one and we began to wonder if we would. One of the signs we read had said they do controlled burns to get rid of red cedar which are an invasive species and can quickly take over a bald. We wondered if they hadn’t done a burn in a while which would explain not seeing any balds. We kept walking and our patience paid off. We eventually saw a large, magnificent bald.
When we (quickly) toured Branson, we learned that the book “Shepherd of the Hills” is a fictional story based on this area that features Dewey Bald. Apparently this book used to be required reading in many schools and the claim in Branson is that it is one of the most read books in the world. They also claim the book is what made people want to see the Ozark Mountains so it is credited with bringing tourism to Branson. We were skeptical of the “most widely read book” claim but Holly borrowed an electronic version and read it while we were in the area. She said it is a good book and she thinks she DID read it when she was younger so maybe it was required reading “back in the day”. I have no recollection of the book at all but may add it to my reading list at some point.