We set out one cold winter day to walk up Richland Creek to the falls. It was cold enough our warm coats felt good, even while walking, and the water rushing down the rocky streambed looked like a good thing to avoid.
The only problem is, it's a little hard to avoid getting wet if you're going to follow the stream.
You can, of course, climb to higher ground and walk along a ledge around Stump Mountain, exchanging the sights of the creek bottom for the grandeur of mountain vistas.
But the stream is our choice, so up the creek we go, finding it necessary to cross and cross again as we hike. Richland Creek has rocks. Lots of rocks. Big rocks. It's not one of those gently gurgling streams. It rumbles and races and pounds as it smashes its way downstream over ledges and around boulders.
Using the rocks for crossing points, I can't help thinking each time how cold that water's going to be if I slip. Perhaps warmer weather would be a better choice. But winter is our "secret season", the time when fewer people have time or inclination to be outdoors in the Ozarks. Yet, it is a time of incredible beauty and deep solitude. You can have this walk pretty much to yourself at this time of year.
Born high in the thousands of acres of the Richland Creek Wilderness, this water is about as clean and clear as water can get. Its surroundings are hardwood forested hills with a variety of sturdy old oaks, smaller dogwoods and gums, wide-leaved hickories, walnuts, elm and ash. It's a diverse forest that attracts a wide range of wildlife and birds and sports a vast display of wildflowers, ferns, wild herbs, berries and native grasses.
I suppose, if asked, I would tell you the point of this hike is the Twin Falls and Devil's Fork. It's well worth a walk to see the water pouring over the wide rock ledge and listen to the music of the falls. Yet, really, the point of this hike is that special feeling of aloneness in the wilderness where phones don't ring, cars don't zoom, and voices are quieted. It may not be for everyone, but there's a peace that's refreshing to the soul for those who love the outdoors. Somehow, it's a little easier to go back to the grind with the memory of a walk along Richland Creek lingering in your mind.