Frost comes down Bear Mountain, Mincy Conservation Area

Where are the Ozarks?

by Joshua Heston

Some would argue the Ozarks aren’t a region at all, but a state of mind.

That may not be far from the truth. The Ozark Mountains are best defined two ways: geographically and culturally.

Geographically the Ozarks are a series of plateaus. Highlands. The largest is the Salem Plateau, which encompasses Branson, Rolla, Hardy, and stretches all the way to Sedalia, Jefferson City and St. Louis.

Far to the east, nearly to Illinois, the St. Francois Mountains rise to the south of Farmington, Missouri.

The Springfield Plateau includes Springfield, Missouri, stretches up to Warsaw and Stockton Lake, reaches over to Joplin, and then leans way over into Oklahoma to include Tahlequah.

In the south, the rugged Boston Mountains define northwest Arkansas. And even further south — across the Arkansas River — the Ouachitas rise.

All together, these highlands make up what can be called the Ozarks.

The term highland can be a bit of a relative concept.

Geologists tell us the Ozarks are mighty old. Older than the Rockies or the Appalachians. So old, in fact, that they’ve been worn down to a nub.

On the north side of these hills, you don't climb into the mountains as much as you wander around...and then fall into them.

From the south, however, the Ozarks can be seen clearly as they rise from the Arkansas River valley.

Just pull off Interstate-40 around Ozark, Arkansas, sometime on a hot summer night and watch the lightning play amongst the solemn old hills of the Boston Mountains.

And somewhere between the lightning flashes and the frogs’ song, the meaning of these hills may just take ahold of your heart.

— April 26, 2009

12/16/08, These Old Hills. Photo credit, Joshua Heston. Location: Mincy

White oak leaves with frost

Essentially a part of the upper South, the diverse landscape of the Ozarks contains many special habitats that resemble other regions of the country.

The sunny glades resemble the desert Southwest; the cool, spring-fed meadows resemble northern Minnesota bogs; the deep, shaded ravines of the eastern Ozarks are typical of the Appalachian Mountain forests; and the southern river flood plains are linked to the deep South.

— excerpted from the Missouri State Museum, Jefferson City, Missouri

chinkapin oak


“While still a child he was forbidden to go far into the forest, but often he went to gather brushwood at its fringes. He loved to be there when the sun sank low, and briefly its fireball brilliance was trapped beneath the canopy. No artist ever mixed colours quite like the ones he saw then.”

"Warm tendrils and tubers gleamed on fat beds of spaghnum. Opalesceent shrubs caught the sparks from swaying creepers. In dank, mulchy hollows, ochre turned to auburn, amber to copper, emerald to olive then darker into sage, until the black of night swallowed even these last shining embers.”

From Grimm’s Last Fairytale by Hadyn Middleton

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Celebrating & Preserving the Ozarks