A Treasure In Our Own Back Yard
There are oh so many treasures of nature right in our back yard and I experienced one of those very special places with my two young boys just the other day. A warm invitation from a good friend initiated the adventure on this crisp fall morning to the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, located just a mile north of Puxico, Missouri.
With picnic packed and four very excited boys, we arrived at the Visitor Center and checked out wonderful exhibits the educational center had on display. Our favorite was a “preserved” (or less elegantly described by a seven year old as “stuffed”) pair of 10 and 12-point White-tailed deer, their horns locked in a deadly tangle seconds before they both fell into Stanley Creek, surrendering not only battle, but breath. Just as they were found back in 2004, so shall they remain, giving us humans an almost sacred look into their real life in the wild bottomland forest and wetland realm that is Mingo National Wildlife Refuge.
And life in the wild is what we continued to have the privilege of witnessing as we walked the wooded trails and footpaths. Completely enshrouded in autumn’s resplendence, we kept a keen eye out for wildlife as we traipsed the trails. Every path led to lookout spots perfect for peering over lush marshlands, pristine wilderness acreage, ancient Ozark rock bluffs, settlements of early, indigenous peoples and so much more.
Each of these stopping points had a thousand tales to tell of how and when the area came into existence and how its early human inhabitants almost turned the Mingo Swamp Basin into a wasteland. But the best story by far tells how it was given another chance to flourish when humans saw fit to come alongside to preserve and protect it. Today the Refuge, managed by Ben Mense and staff, serves its natural function as a happy habitat for migrating water fowl, and rich treasure of bottomland hardwood forest and wilderness land.
There was so much to take in historically. I enjoyed seeing the boys’ eyes light up as we learned of Mingo’s Woodland Indian inhabitants, because they had recently studied about pre-Columbus American History in school. They also thought it very interesting that the Mississippi used to run right through Mingo and that a possible earthquake made the muddy river change course. I can tell you that nothing gripped all the young nature lovers’ attention more than happening upon, and creeping ever closer to, several White-tailed deer, a stately Great Blue Heron and a couple of poisonous Cottonmouth Water Moccasins.
Nothing beats a picnic under a canopy of towering trees, where the sunlight sparkles down through patches of blue to warm chilly cheeks. And just as I imagined, one visit to this wildlife wonderland in the company of such good friends only made us eager to experience more. My boys can’t wait to return to Mingo. They both agree that this time, along with a picnic and friends, we’ll pack a canoe, fishing poles and Dad.
We’ve marked our calendars for February 7, 2009 to experience Eagle Days at The Refuge. The day-long event (9am – 4pm) where the majestic eagle takes center stage features live eagle programs, exhibits, activities, videos, guides with spotting scopes and refreshments.