Big Spring, in Ozark National Scenic Riverways (2003 photo)
This is the second in a series of photo diaries about large springs in the Missouri Ozarks. In the event you missed the first one, you are encouraged to read it here: Alley Spring
One of the world's largest springs, and a long-time tourist destination, Big Spring gushes from the base of limestone cliffs near Van Buren, Missouri. Estimates of daily flow vary, even on the park's own web site. The average flow is somewhere around 280 million gallons per day, an enormous amount of water.
The churning waters of Big Spring
Coming from deep underground, the spring water maintains a year-round temperature of about 58 degrees Fahrenheit. On even the hottest summer days, shaded by bluffs and tall trees, the spring outlet is a pleasant place to be.
Pawpaw trees hug the bluff along the hiking trail
Hollow sycamore near spring branch
Normally the waters are clear and sport outstanding shades of blue. When I visited earlier this month, the first thing I noticed was the murky color. I suspected that a localized heavy thunderstorm had introduced turbid water into the underground drainage system. However, it was very dry in the area. A second theory that I had was that one of the underground caves carrying water to the spring had collapsed.
Spring branch a short distance below Big Spring
View of Big Spring from small cave
The next morning at Alley Spring, I met a Park Service employee as he took water samples there. I asked about the dingy water at Big Spring, and he confirmed my second suspicion, that a cave had collapsed somewhere deep underground. One of the dominant minerals in the karst topography is dolomite, he explained. When disturbed, dolomite breaks into very fine particles which remain suspended in water for a long time. It would likely take two or three weeks for the water to return to its clear state.
An explanation of karst topography
In order to show Big Spring in all its glory, I have reached into my photo archives. The images showing clear water were taken in September, 2003.
The history of Big Spring is similar to that of nearby Alley Spring. The spring and nearby lands were made into a state park in 1924. During the 1930s, CCC workers built cabins, a dining lodge, and trails which survive today. Every visitor to the spring reaps the benefits of a visionary jobs program from the Great Depression.
Dining lodge at Big Spring, an example of the handiwork of CCC crews
Stone trail along spring branch, built by CCC in the 1930s
Big Spring was included in the area designated as the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in 1964. And as happened at Alley Spring, the much-coveted campsites along the spring branch and the nearby Current River were moved away from the water.
Big Spring, worth visiting any time of the year
For more information about the area, browse the Park Service website for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways