The summer before my freshman year of high school, I went to sleep away camp in a tiny town next to Taum Sauk Mountain in southern Missouri’s Arcadia Valley. I didn’t appreciate nature as much then, so the highlight of my summer was winning a free trip to the local McDonalds and eating a double cheeseburger.
Now, I go on hikes for fun. I saw a picture of Taum Sauk Mountain on Instagram and it reminded me of the natural beauty there. On Saturday, I decided to drive two hours through backwoods Missouri to go to the mountain.
My favorite part about driving to southern Missouri is how the landscape changes. Rolling hills dip into steep valleys and suddenly, you see mountains in the distance. Right when you think you’re going up, you’re down again. Then, you turn a corner and you’re high above trees and rocky cliffs. It’s thrilling and unsettling at the same time.
Taum Sauk Mountain is not an easy hike, even for someone like me who considers herself in decent shape. The path is rocky and uneven, and if it rains that week (which, during spring in Missouri, it probably will), there are flooded patches where you have to pick your way over moss-covered stones.
If you persist, though, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views. The first time I rounded a corner and looked out over a cliff, I almost started crying. Okay…I did. I couldn’t help it. The mountain has the kind of beauty that takes your breath away and humbles you.
At one point, I got lost trying to find the “highest point in Missouri.” There’s a part of the trail that cuts up the mountain and takes you to this milestone, but I kept thinking that it was in the opposite direction. I circled around a couple times before I found the right path. Somehow, I finally made it.
On the way to Taum Sauk, I saw a sign by the side of the road that said “Homemade Ice Cream.” “That’s happening,” I said to myself. I think the prospect of ice cream got me through the last part of the hike.
I pulled off the side of the road on the way home when I saw the sign. I walked up to a building that looked part B&B, part church. When I went through the front door, I realized that it was an abbey.
Thee Abbey Kitchen makes their own bread. And, as if that weren’t enough, they also run their own frozen custard shop. I was a little skeptical of how good the food would be, but when my waitress brought the BLT sandwich that I ordered, I was floored.
The bread was buttery, soft, and fresh. I could tell that it was homemade. The bacon struck the perfect balance between chewy and crispy, and the mayo to toppings ratio was on point. I almost ordered a second one but I wanted to save room for ice cream.
To the side of the abbey is an old school ice cream parlor. When you walk inside it feels a little like stepping back in time. There are antiques plastered against the walls and the most modern appliance is gleaming frozen custard machine, which churns out about a dozen flavors daily.
I wanted to order the black raspberry but the girl behind the counter told me that it just came out of the machine so it was still soft. I ended up getting the espresso and I was not disappointed. The custard cooled me down after the hike and the caffeine revived me so I felt ready to drive the two hours back to St. Louis.
Right before I left, I walked around the abbey grounds. It was so peaceful. At one point, I saw a duck sitting in its nest next to a pond. It stared at me without moving. I almost thought that it was one of those fake animals that they use for decoration in movies.
ANYWAY. I guess there are a couple morals to this story. One is to always keep going, even when you hike in circles, temporarily black out, and almost fall down a waterfall chute. Another is to always keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to take the detour. I’m glad that I saw the sign for the abbey and that I decided to stop for lunch there. It was an experience I wouldn’t have anywhere else.
On a semi-related note, I just started listening to Natalia Lafourcade and I am OBSESSED with her music. Here’s one of my favorite songs. It’s good for times when you’re stuck in Monday morning traffic and you don’t want to go to work.