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Not all adventures will follow your Expected Path, Part One. Berryman and Brazil Creek Recreation Areas, Mark Twain National Forest 2/21-22/2014

February 24, 2014

First of all, it has been too long since I have sat down to write about my excursions. I have been busy with a lot of other things going on in real life, and as I HAVE been getting out into the woods now and again, I haven’t been making the time to sit down and record my thoughts and pictures. I also feel that the format of “reviewing” a campground or park or trail is helpful as an information source and I will continue to do that, but I have to allow myself to write more about my adventures too, and not limit myself by a self imposed structure. It is what I enjoy the most, sharing the adventure, and this is my latest one.

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For the record, the car was NOT in motion.

So…this past weekend with all the beautiful weather that has been rolling through the midwest, temporarily, I have been feeling the urge to go out and spend a night in the woods, which hasn’t happened in too long of a time span. I had my kids this weekend also, and I felt that it would be an added bonus to drag them out on an adventure since we were going to have just another day or two of relatively tolerable temperatures.

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One of the best copilots I know.

Lately I have been looking at all the gear that I typically go camping with and have been trying to approach running off to the forest in more of “lighter gear” mindset. Now I don’t want to be out there with a can of soup and no can opener or spoon, so we usually bring all sorts of stuff that we might need given current and changing circumstances…but I have been thinking a lot more about “What would I need if I had to carry it all a couple of miles from the car?” This wasn’t gonna be a camping trip quite as stripped down as that…but it was a one-nighter of stealing away into the woods with the kids, right after work on a Friday. We weren’t gonna be hiking off into the forest, but we weren’t going to be needing a full weekend’s worth of gear either. This was gonna be a “Heading down highway 67 at 10 pm before a day off” kinda trip.

When I was in my late teens, a good friend of mine and I had a habit of just heading off to the woods after dark and finding a place to camp for the night. This sort of behavior led to some of the more memorable trips of my life, and it very much illustrated to me the simplicity with which camping can be done. When we would pack up our gear, it was usually a duffel bag with a couple pairs of clean socks, a package of hot dogs, a flashlight, some container filled with water, whatever booze we had left over from the last time we had convinced a non-minor to buy us some booze, and then a sleeping bag and tent. This time I was old enough to buy my own booze, but given the short length of this trip, we weren’t going to need much else.

So we packed up a handful of spare clothes, sleeping bags, chairs, tent, thermarest bedrolls, and various snacks and drinks, and headed out. Since by the time we were hitting the road it was going to be dinner time anyway, we just got something on our way down.

Recently during a Stream Team cleanup, I had a conversation that inspired me in the direction of focusing my personal camping spot research on the Mark Twain National Forest Recreation Areas we have here in Missouri…and let me tell you, there are a LOT of opportunities to get out there into the woods. The spot that I had been planning on going to this time is the Brazil Creek Recreation Area. There is no direct route from the St. Louis area, and it is somewhere sort of between Potosi, MO and Bourbon, MO, and can be reached in just about the same time frame (seemingly) from either town. It is in the northeast corner of the Potosi Ranger District, and we took highway 21 south as our direction of attack.

After you get to Potosi, you want to head about 16 miles west on Highway 8, to County Road 207. Now, true to my past, it was dark and the road signs were NOT clearly marked. After getting out as far as we figured the turnoff was, we spent the better part of an hour dodging traffic, pulling into gravel driveways to turn around, and taking short, horror-movie-esque trips down progressively worsening dirt roads into the forest. At one point we pulled off the road where the crossing for the Ozark Trail is, and I put it up for a vote that we just set up camp there for the night, as I was ready to get the tent set up and get a warming fire going. I was quickly outvoted, 2 to 1. Too bad Max the adventure dog didn’t get a say in it. He was just glad to get out of the car for a couple minutes.

So we finally, through the preceding process of elimination, found the correct turnoff onto County Road 207, and headed north with an increased confidence that we were back on track. After a mile or so, just after we passed the Berryman Recreation Area on our left, we were stopped in the road by two polite gentlemen who informed us that the road was closed due to running of the “Rally in the 100 Acre Wood”. This was a mildly frustrating development, as I knew through recent experience that no other northbound road nearby other than this one went through, safely, to where we were trying to get to, but given the timing of things I took it in stride and just chalked it up to being another part of the adventure. So we turned around and I pulled into the Berryman Recreation Area, to give us a couple minutes to reevaluate our plans.

The Berryman Recreation Area is a picnic area and campground that is on the same spot as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was back in 1937, and is an access point to the Berryman Trail, a 24 mile loop trail through some mildly rugged hills (from the looks of it). There was a lone car in the parking lot, whose owner was mostly likely hiking the trail, and we got out to take a look at the map that was posted on the little information hut there. I had never been to this spot, and it looked like the campground was just to the south. Well…there was a jeep trail at the southwest corner of the parking lot, so I figured that it HAD to be the route to the “8 campsites, each with table, lantern post, and fire ring”. We headed into the woods on this narrow road, and it started to head in a bit of a downhill direction. Now, the woods this whole time had been dark and mildly imposing, but as we rolled deeper into the forest it didn’t seem like we were arriving at any regularly traveled area, and these tables and fire rings we had read about weren’t exposing themselves to us either. After about a quarter of a mile of overbearing pines and progressively choking and scraping leafless underbrush, we came to a dip in the “road” that was full of water. I pulled off into a slightly open spot to the side, and the kids and dog and I got out with our flashlights to take a group survey of the area. This did NOT look like the road to the campground.

After a group vote, deciding whether to just set up camp right where we were or head back and through Potosi to pull into Washington State Park and call it a night in a more civilized area, I was voted down 2 to 1…AGAIN. So we got back into the car and drove back up what now looked more like a road to nowhere than a road to the campground, and back out to the parking lot. Heading toward the exit and back the way we came, considering the failures of the night’s adventure so far, we came to an intersection with a road to the south I hadn’t noticed on the way into the recreation area. As I slowed down and turned the car slightly to the right, having had my high beams on permanently for a while now, I saw just a bit off into the woods the silhouette of a picnic table, and across the road from that what looked to be the faded yellow block walls of the vault toilets of the campground. Turns out it wasn’t at all down that last turn we had made. Right then I made the executive decision to camp there, and with a renewed happiness, the kids and I slowly drove through this little campground and surveyed our options for where we were going to set up our tent for the night.

To be continued…

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