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As with most of our family weekend trips, we were up well before the sun. The aroma of coffee filled the back of the house as I went to the kitchen to begin making sandwiches for the day. It was a broad menu to choose from, Nutella or peanut butter. Chips and snacks were put in a plastic bag and drinks were piled into a medium cooler. Everyone was looking forward to going somewhere new and the kids were looking forward to learning how to navigate using a map and compass.
For the most part, the drive was uneventful. We had had brought various snacks to munch on during the three hour drive. I ate more Reese’s Fastbreaks than I should have. This trip was not conducive to a healthy diet. The kids had Cheez-its and Gummy Bears. One benefit we have is two separate screens in the back so each kid can watch their own movie. Makes for a much quieter ride and keeps them occupied when there is nothing to see.
Columbia is a college town, home to Missouri University and our destination, Rock Bridge State Park. The reason we chose this state park is that they offered a 3-level orienteering course and I have wanted to teach my kids how to use a map and compass to navigate instead of depending on GPS receivers. We had bought them their own compasses last year and had not gotten around to showing them how to use them yet, so this was a perfect opportunity.
First stop was the park office, which was the second right turn. We purchased the orienteering package that included three maps and a guide that helped pick which course you want and provides details about each point to make identifying them easier. The first one was simple; it was the starting point at the picnic pavilion. The next one required a cut through the woods. I had forgotten how much fun it was to go tromping through the woods without the luxury of trails. After a few minutes of instruction, our 11-year-old daughter, Kim, used the map and compass to set us a bearing to walk.
I had missed the rustling of the leaves as the breeze blew through them and the crunch when I stepped on them. One thing I did not miss was the thorn bushes scratching my hands and snagging my jeans as we walked through the underbrush. Our 6-year-old son, Connor, took a little coaxing to get through the first part. He is not much of an outdoorsy type, which is odd considering his mother and I are.
Without any more help, Kim found the first marker all by herself. Out there in the middle of the woods and she had navigated right to it on her first try. The second marker required hiking through some rougher terrain and thicker vegetation, and she was right on target with that one as well. She nailed the next two, which took us through dried creek beds and through some small rock outcroppings. The fifth one had all of us turned around. I still do not know by how far we missed it, but we found a trail that took us back to the Jeep where we had our sandwiches and chips for lunch. Kim had impressed me and I realized that it had been a long time since I had used a compass.
The second half of the park is where most of the geological features are located. The Devil’s Icebox claimed to be the longest cave in any Missouri State Park. The entrance to the Icebox provided a couple of photographic opportunities. We were invited on a tour but it was getting late in the day and we still were looking at about a three hour drive home. The land bridge kept the kids occupied either walking in the water or exploring the rocks along the sides. One thing we all enjoyed about Rock Bridge is that you did not have to stay on the trails. You could head into the woods and explore anywhere in the park. Other than being covered by ticks, it turned out to be an educational and very enjoyable trip. We are planning another trip soon to take the cave tour and are looking forward to that. With that we decided to start heading home.
originally published in Visiting Wanderer