A trip down Highway 8 offers summer fun
| Travis Mowers,
an employee of Crawford Electric, rides his mountain bike on the
Berryman Trail. Bikes are a relatively recent means of transportation
on the rugged trail built in the ’30s. Mountain biking is
just one of many adventures that await travelers on Highway 8 between
St. James and Potosi.
For years I have
been driving down Missouri’s Highway 8, always
bound for somewhere else, never able to stop and enjoy all the attractions
the road has to offer. With the long winter behind me, I set off in search
of adventure on the 75 miles of twisting turns and scenery.
is a National Scenic Auto Tour that stretches from St. James to Desloge.
It closely follows the Trail of Tears, the route used on the forced march when
Cherokee Indians were relocated to Oklahoma.
A better name for
the scenic route might be “Adventure Alley.” There
are more summertime activities available on Highway 8 than possibly anywhere
else in the state.
I strapped my mountain bike to the roof, stashed camping gear and fishing
equipment in the back of the van and pointed the “helm” to the
east and St. James.
Highway 8 has its
western beginnings when you cross Interstate 44 and the road sign changes
from 68 to 8. Just before the busy interstate, the Highway 8 adventurer
will want to stop at the St. James Visitor’s
Center to plan the trip.
Inside I found Myra
Ortbals, the town’s enthusiastic
tourism director, punctuating her conversations with brochures she snatches
from the center’s
one of the main things here in St. James,” Myra
told me. “We are working on growing that more, getting people
says a MoDOT detour that used Highway 8 to bypass I-44 construction
made people more aware of what St. James and other towns on the scenic
drive have to offer.
You could drive all
of Highway 8 in a couple of hours. But to really appreciate all it
has to offer takes at least three days. St. James is a good place to
get started. Here you can choose from roughing it in area campgrounds
or more luxurious surroundings at motels or one of the four bed-and-breakfast
The town is home
to four wineries, including Missouri’s
largest, St. James Winery. They all give tours and samples. The downtown
area has recently been renovated to appeal to visitors. Unique shops
like Buffalo Stone, which offers American Indian art, The Book Addict
(home to more than 25,000 used books) and two flag stores make this
a fun place to shop. Part of Route 66 goes through St. James, which
can boast one of the few divided sections of the Mother Road.
|Jane Cape introduces
visitors to the Midwest Antique Mall in Steelville to her cat,
Holstein. The flea market in a former Brown Shoe factory also features
east, Highway 8 takes on its character as a tightly coiled snake
of a road. Or maybe it’s more like a puppy chasing its tail and
never quite catching it. Nearby the city’s municipal golf course,
one of two links on the road, scenic stands of shortleaf pine add
to the character you will see from beginning to end.
St. James grew
out of an iron works located a few miles east at Maramec Spring.
The Maramec Iron Works kept the furnaces working from 1826 until
they closed in 1876. But the fortune made from Missouri pig iron
was put into a trust by heiress Lucy Wortham James, who wrote, “As
this is considered to be the most beautiful spot in Missouri, it
is my great hope that you will arrange that it may ever be in private,
considerate control, and ever open to the enjoyment of the people.”
Maramec Spring, a friendly lady called me honey as she took my
$6 — half
to enter the park and the other half to fish for (but not
necessarily catch) trout. The spring pours cold and clear from
the base of a bluff, with an average flow of 100 million gallons
a day. Downstream from the deep blue pool, I found Hoot Daugherty
and his son, C.B., slaying the fish while anglers around him
The crystal clear water of Huzzah Creek creates an exciting float
stream. Highway 8 takes adventurers within reach of the Courtois,
Meramec and Big float streams.
Their secret: a homemade
dough bait and gossamer strands of sewing thread instead of fishing
It’s hard to
leave a setting as peaceful and beautiful as Maramec Spring. But there
were more adventures in store. Leaving the park, it’s not unusual
to see entire herds of deer grazing in the hayfields
along the Meramec River (can someone tell me why the park spells the
name differently?). At the Woodson K. Woods Conservation Area access,
floaters outfitted by Green’s canoe
rental hit the water. This is the first of four float
streams that can be reached by Highway 8.
As the road winds
toward Steelville, you pass the aptly named Peaceful Bend Winery. A
hound resembling a small cinnamon-colored bear blissfully sleeps on
the porch. You don’t get in a hurry here. A turtle crossing the
parking lot makes me wait for a parking spot. Often this winery holds
special events with live music.
|Golfers tee off at Fourché Valley Golf Club, an 18-hole
course that is often referred to as the “jewel of the Ozarks” due
to its spring-fed streams, towering pines and natural rock formations.
Just before you reach
Steelville proper, a sign points to the Midwest Antique Mall and Circle
C Restaurant. In what was once the Brown Shoe factory I meet Holstein,
the greeter cat, and Jane Cape, whose enthusiasm transformed
the factory into a most unusual antique mall.
On display or for
sale is everything from a stuffed horse once used to teach manners
at a women’s
finishing school to a rare Playboy magazine car with retractable
hardtop. The restaurant, decorated in Buster Brown theme, offers all-you-can-eat
crab legs on Friday night.
Steelville is variously
known as the “Home
of Hospitality” or “The
Float Capital of Missouri.” On weekends
its 1,400 population swells dramatically. Since
the 1920s, vacationers have come to Steelville
to stay at one of the many resorts or to listen
to music at venues like the Meramec Music Theater.
Hoot Daugherty and his son, C.B., slay the trout at Maramec Spring
Park near St. James. The 100-million gallon daily flow of spring
water once powered an iron furnace here.
come for the floating. With easy access to
the Meramec and its clearwater tributaries, the Huzzah
and Courtois creeks, it’s small wonder
so many outfitters have sprung up here. My destination
this evening is Huzzah Valley Resort, founded
28 years ago by “Huzzah” Bob and
Karen Cottrell and managed today by sons Cory
I asked Cory what brings people to the area. “The clear water,” he
answers quickly. “People feel comfortable
when they get in because they can see the bottom.”
also the excellent fishing. Cory boasts of
a recent fishing trip he guided where the
anglers landed 20 fish over 12 inches long. The catch
included one 18-inch largemouth bass and
a 17-1/2-inch smallmouth.
Typical of the many
Huzzah resorts, this one offers primitive camping, cabins, canoe,
raft and kayak rentals, horseback riding
and more. A Huzzah float is unlike any other
in Missouri. The water is shallow, sometimes
just a few inches deep. It moves fast and
is so clear you can see every rock — and fish — on
the bottom. Yet it isn’t ice cold
like the spring-fed rivers farther south.
Courtois is similar but even smaller. “When
it grows up it wants to be Current River,” Barb
Jones says of the creek she crosses to
get home. Barb and her partner, Donny
Allen, operate No Hard Feelings Paintball,
another area attraction.
|For the ultimate in excitement, partners Barb Jones and Don Allen
created No Hard Feelings paintball field. The two designed a challenging
course that can handle up to hundreds of players in a variety of
scenario games. Veteran players will appreciate the unique bunkers
and Vietnamese-style huts while novices can rent equipment.
The field was
designed as a tribute to Vietnam veterans. “They
were my heroes,” Don says. Set
deep in the woods, it is eerily similar
to a Vietnamese village. The two have
designed a variety of scenario games
where paintball fanatics can match
wits from dawn to dusk.
The field can
accommodate groups from six to 600,
with rental equipment available.
The emphasis, as the name implies, is on
having fun. During breaks in the action,
players are welcome to cool off in the creek
or rent a canoe.
The terrain here
closely resembles my next stop, the Berryman Trail. A sign points the
way to what was once a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. The “CCC
the trail, which today is used
by backpackers, horseback riders and, more recently, mountain bikers.
trail is not for the faint of heart. It winds up and down steep
switchbacks for 24 miles, coming
close to civilization only at the
Brazil Creek Campground.
The Berryman is a
trail many use to test their mettle. Once a year the St. Louis Ultrarunners
Group adds two miles to the trail and hosts a grueling marathon.
The Berryman left me gasping for breath and ready for the easier
adventure to come.
When Highway 8 reaches Park Hills, a slight detour leads to St.
Joe State Park. While you can fish, swim, hike, camp and ride bikes
at the park, the main attraction at this former lead mine complex
is ATV riding.
Still heading east,
Highway 8 reaches a wide spot in the road called Shirley. A sign points
the way to two more attractions, the YMCA of the Ozarks Trout Lodge
and Sayersbrook Bison Ranch.
Trout Lodge is an
elegant setting for family adventure. Set on the bank of Sunnen Lake,
the lodge offers a variety of summer recreation opportunities. Nearby
is one of Missouri’s most
beautiful golf courses, Fourché Valley Golf
Club. Nestled in the pines,
with fast-flowing spring creeks and natural rock outcroppings, this course
will challenge the most experienced golfer.
Within spitting distance
is the working bison (don’t call them buffalo)
ranch owned by Skip and
Connie Sayers. “This is adventure central,” Skip
says of the ranch. “Talk
about adventure — you
can’t get any
more than on these 3,000
well-heeled, Skip can
set up anything from
a bison hunt, fly-fishing
in Fourché Renault Creek, a computer-operated sporting clay range or
a chance to fire a World
War II vintage .30-caliber machine gun. The ranch boasts an off-road driving
school and 21 different off-road trails.
|Adventure abounds at Sayersbrook Bison Ranch where visitors can
see owner Skip Sayers feed his herd. The well-heeled can even hunt
the shaggy bison while the Average Joe might just stop by for bison
steak to cook over a campfire.
The Average Joe will
want to stop by on Saturday
mornings for a guided
tour of the bison herds
and a lecture on how
the ranch was carved
out of the wilderness.
Campers can choose from 118 cuts
of bison meat at the country
store, which is open seven days
As the road winds
farther east, Potosi comes into view. History buffs will want to spend
some time here learning about one of Missouri’s oldest settlements.
Moses Austin moved
here in 1796 and sunk the first mine shaft. He donated land for the courthouse
and is known as the father of Potosi, as well as one of the individuals
who “invented” Texas.
His grave, almost robbed by Texans who wanted their hero moved, sits across
the street from a new restaurant called Bo’s Market, which is a fun
place to relax.
Potosi also features
an increasingly rare
drive-in movie theater
located just north of
town on Highway 21.
Leaving Potosi, Highway
8 gets straighter but just as scenic as it crosses deep cuts in the
rocky hills. You are now officially in the old Mineral Area, one of
most productive mining sites in its day. You can learn more about Missouri
mining at Park Hills, home to Missouri Mines State Historic site and St.
Joe State Park.
8 passes a picnic area with a curved stone wall built by the
Civilian Conservation Corps.
A tour of the
collection of minerals, is
fascinating. But the quest
for adventure leads to nearby
St. Joe Park. Once mine tailings
were pumped to this area and allowed to settle
in the valley. Today it makes a perfect spot
for ATV riding. The 8,238-acre park is Missouri’s
state park, with approximately 2,000 acres set aside for the off-road vehicle
the valley, and on
any given day, the
angry whine of motorcycles
reverberates from the hills. The
park also offers camping, swimming,
fishing and a paved trail for bikes.
There are trails for horses and hikers,
Highway 8 officially
ends at Desloge, another old mining company town built by Firmin Desloge.
Here the adventure
could end — but I recommend turning around
and heading back west to see what you missed. Highway 8 has a lot to
offer, and chances are you won’t see it all on one trip.