Trail to Big Trees

My brother Robert alerted me to a place he figured Molly and I would like to see: Smith Grove near Cross Ranch State Park. Smith Grove is a wildlife management area, the major attraction being some of the largest and oldest cottonwoods on the Missouri–cottonwoods that witnessed Lewis and Clark on their journey westward.

Yep. Totally needed to see this place.

Molly and I picked a beautiful weekend and traveled several miles of dirt roads to get there. I was humored by the sign just beyond the grassy parking lot:

Sign: Trail to Big Trees

Trail to Big Trees

Need we say more? I’d be honored to shake the hand of whoever penned this.

Molly and I got on the trail with only a vague notion of what we were going to find. I was hoping these would truly be the biggest cottonwoods we’d ever seen and envisioned Molly and me lost in some sort of other-worldly North Dakotan Lothlorien. My expectations demanded nothing less.

The first panorama was promisingly beautiful: A meadow finally turning green after a long winter and a late spring. The relatively small and gnarled trees here were burr oak, on the verge of producing leaves.

Meadow, Smith Grove

The next scene, shortly after we entered the woods, was less promising. The path ended abruptly in a mass of fallen timber and tangled branches. The path vanished beneath the rubble. Not one to be easily dissuaded, I pushed and probed for a route through the obstacle. And then I saw …

Flooded path

The path was flooded. I was stymied. It hadn’t even been raining recently. The surrounding forest floor was dry, but the trail itself was swimming. We had hiked only a few hundred yards, and we had already reached trail’s end. THAT was a let-down.

To one of us. Someone else neglected to see the sorrow in our situation.

Molly wading


Molly wading down a flooded trail

Molly shaking her fur


After the first muddy paw, I figured the rest didn’t matter anymore.

As for the ancient cottonwoods–yes, I did get to see three or four, and yes, they were pretty big. I just didn’t expect to find myself walking on one of them. (Still hopeful I could work my way past the flooded path and find dry land somewhere beyond.)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from hiking with Molly it’s how to make lemonade out of lemons. Frequently, my forays into the outdoors don’t turn out as planned. But Molly never has a plan. She just makes the best out of whatever happens. Hiking? Wading? Mud bathing? It’s all good!

Muddy dog

Really muddy dog

Bath time

2 thoughts on “Trail to Big Trees

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *