We lost the popular folk singer John Denver in 1997 in an airplane accident, but John and I had history going back before he made the big time.

One day we were sitting under a shade tree in the beautiful afternoon breeze when I uttered these words to him. “Drop me off anywhere down in the Ozarks Mountains, and I will be as happy as a flea on a hound dog’s belly.”

I thought John Denver was going to bust a gut laughing. You see, John was on a Rocky Mountain high at the time, and the thought of calling the Missouri Ozarks a mountain range was just more than he could comprehend.

“OK,” I said, “So maybe the Ozarks is only a plateau these days if you are from Colorado. But to us here in Missouri we recognize the Ozarks as the very old ancient mountain range that it once was. While the rest of the Great Plains was under the sea, the Ozarks have kept their head above the water over the past 200 million years or so, and were able to dodge the glaciers of the past Ice Age. To me, the Ozarks Mountains are most unique, and as beautiful as any mountains I’ve seen anywhere.”

While he was still laughing, I continued talking.

“Because of their ancient history, the Ozarks have, so far, survived the onslaught of man. Granted, most of the Ozarks were clear-cut twice for timber over the past 150 years, but you can still drive for long stretches of highway and see thousands of acres of unbroken forest beauty.”

“What the Ozarks could use, however,” I added, “is a little topsoil. It apparently washed away centuries ago. Rock-strewn fields and thin, porous soils have made farming difficult. Being the poorest land in the state to farm, these hills were settled by less ambitious immigrants. Wealthier and better-educated people settled on more fertile lands further north of the Ozarks. As a result the Ozarks built a reputation for being a little wild and quirky.”

“For much of the past century, the Ozarks is where you went if you wanted to escape from the law, or if you wanted to hunt and fish for two weeks without seeing another human being. But, stream lovers still flock to the Ozarks today for its abundance of clear-water streams wrestling among the rocks. Kayakers and canoeists can still plunge through exciting and challenging rapids, while the less adventurous floaters can float down a gently flowing river. Smallmouth bass and rainbow trout entice hoards of wading anglers along the shallow riverbanks like nowhere else in the country.”

“With acres of man-made lakes and natural wonders across the Ozarks, it has become a tourist Mecca unmatched anywhere. The Ozarks host the world’s largest collection of natural underground caves with their stalactites and stalagmites. Every tourist commission in the country envies the many fresh-water springs scattered across the Ozarks. Big Springs State Park near Van Buren produces enough water everyday alone to supply the greater Kansas City area.”

“Natural wonders like the Johnson’s Shut-Ins,” I said, “Elephant Rocks and Taum Sauk Mountain, just to name a few, are well worth a weekend trip, or a two-week vacation.

At that point John chimed in.

“Or if you still prefer civilization, the once-sleepy town of Branson has mushroomed into a country music epicenter with as many, if not more yodelers, than Nashville.”

“Yes!” I said. “The Ozarks of today has changed a bit without a doubt, but they still boast an odd mix of Hillbilly natives, and have now added many retirees, show people, and tourists – who are also a little wild and quirky themselves.”

To reach Ted W. Stillwell send e-mail to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.