PLATE 1. 12/16/08, These Old Hills. Photo credit: Joshua Heston. Location: Drury-Mincy Conservation Area, Taney County, MO.

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 a’hold of your heart.

— Originally written APRIL 26, 2009

PLATE 2. 09/19/08. Sassafras Sunset. Photo credit: Joshua Heston. Location: Branson, MO.

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

Natural Heritage Stories

Shades of Spring

Shades of Spring by Joshua Heston Fleeting moments of astounding beauty. A landscape of browns and grays changed, seemingly overnight, into an artist’s palette of transcending color. The warm gust of a southern breeze. Duck fluff of white oaks, actually small blooms and tender new leaves, suddenly dapple the forest floor in tentative shade. And…


Sarvisberry by Joshua Heston EDITOR’S NOTE: The small, unassuming sarvisberry tree has a rich history in the Ozark hills, a history which details the important, at-times poetic, relationship between man and nature. The article below is a reprint, permitted from the College of the Ozarks’ Ralph Foster Museum and for that, I am quite grateful.…


Dogwoods by Joshua Heston The flowering dogwood has come to symbolize the Ozarks — as well as the Upper South — which isn’t really a surprise. There are few scenes prettier than an Ozark mountainside in April. The dogwoods — white, pink, and red — mingle with the redbud and wild plum beneath the white…

…winter skies

by Joshua Heston

It is that time of year. Time to look at the cold blues, the browns, the grays, and hope for spring. Still, and yet, there’s beauty in a world stripped of brightness. A world tinged with frost. A world at times etched with shadow.

The burnt sienna grass in the grader ditches; dark cedar glades. And oaks painted an almost luminous red-brown. It’s beautiful stuff. But, like much of the Ozarks, it is a beauty you just have to slow down for a moment to appreciate it.

It is not postcard perfect beauty… no, it is a beauty that — to appreciate — you must get out of the house, out of the car and out of familiar comforts.

And then stop for a moment to see the world around us.

—from January 23, 2011, StateoftheOzarks Weekly, Issue 167


“That all with one consent praise new-born gawds, Tho they are made and moulded of things past, And give to dust that is a little gilt More laud than gilt o’er-dusted.”

— Troilus and Cressida. Act 3; Sc. 3.