In 2010 after I had thought through my character design of Crystal Brave, I began thinking about a setting for her adventures. Egypt? Naw, that’s overdone. South America? Asia? Interesting, but could I capture the essence of that setting without an extended visit there? Maybe somewhere closer to home like the Rocky Mountains?
I pondered this for several weeks as I started thinking through the central plot of the story. I wanted to sprinkle into the story history, geology, and archaeology. I wanted Crystal to explore caves and rappel cliffs. I had decided to include a natural disaster (kids love that). Tornado? Sunami? Earthquake?
And then it hit me…New Madrid. Why not somewhere really close to home? I was already familiar with Missouri and the Ozarks and the rich history in the region. Almost convinced, I perused the Internet and before I could say, “Mark Twain!!” I had detailed Crystal’s trek from St. Louis to the Taum Sauk.
From St. Louis, where I could feature Cahokia, to Mastodon State Historic Site, to Elephant Rocks and on to the Taum Sauk (the highest elevation point in Missouri), I knew my state had the potential to charm readers everywhere. I hadn’t known about the tallest waterfall in Missouri, Mina Sauk Falls, or the legend behind its name. I hadn't heard of the Piankashaw tribe that lived in the Arcadia Valley.
Elephant Rocks State Park
By the time I had planned out Crystal’s trek, I had also planned MY trek--a summer vacation!
In 2013, two years after the release of Crystal Brave: Earthquake at the Taum Sauk, Missouri was named the “Best Trails State” by a the national non-profit organization “American Trails.” Missouri boasts “almost 1,000 miles of managed trails and more than 500 miles of National Recreation Trails,” according to their web site. Among those trails are famous trails such as the Lewis and Clark Trail, Trail of Tears and the Pony Express route. Possibly the most uniquely developed trail is the 240-mile Katy Trail which covers the pathway of the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.
View from Mina Sauk Trail
The vast networks of the Ozark Trail cover over 350 miles across Southeastern Missouri. The Ozark Trail Association has a handy Trip Planner to assist hikers, bikers, floaters and equestrians plan a well-thought-out trek through the diverse landscapes of the Ozark Mountains. These trails flow past majestic bluffs, shut-ins, waterfalls, lakes and streams. They include wilderness hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails. The Current River and its tributaries provide watery “trails” for those who prefer to float.
My dad, Andy, had camped and ridden his ATV in the Eminence area and told me about the band of wild horses that lived there. I went on a float trip there to look for them. Although diappointed I couldn’t get a first-hand look at the horses, I kayaked the Jack’s Fork and Current rivers and went on a trail ride at Cold Water Ranch. I fell in love with the beauty of the area.
Missouri's Wild Horses
I had found the setting of my sequel, Crystal Brave: Treasures of the Current.
When I visit schools, horse camps and talk to readers, I am simultaneously shocked and thrilled that so many people have not heard of most of the places of Crystal Brave; shocked because they are in Missouri—close by—and they are free to visit, and thrilled because maybe my books would inspire them to visit, and furthermore appreciate, these natural treasures.
Missouri isn't just the place of ficticious adventures, it is the place of real adventures. So, grab your hiking boots, bike or canoe and try Missouri’s trails and parks. They will not disappoint!
Mina Sauk Falls