Conor Watkins' Ozark Mountain Experience
Article 1
Mill Creek And Kaintuck Hollow
By Conor Watkins

Mill Creek And Kaintuck Hollow

The floodplain of Mill Creek and surrounding hills are visible from
Phelps County Road 7550 soon after turning off Hwy P.

The area around Rolla may not appear to have much in terms of attractions, but the region is full of outdoor and geologic wonders.  Many of these are located within 15 or 20 miles of Rolla and make for excellent day trips or overnight camping opportunities.  There is much more to see and do in the area even though many UMR students claim there is nothing to do in Rolla.

My first focus will be on the Mill Creek/Kaintuck Hollow area of the Mark Twain National Forest.  This area offers fishing, camping, hiking, spelunking, mountain biking, hunting, and general sightseeing opportunities.  The Mill Creek Area offers an improved campground.  A flowing artesian well across the street provides naturally drinkable water.  A small cave, named Mill Creek Cave, is located 0.75 miles or so up the trail behind the artesian well.  This area also holds a picnic area.  Primitive camping is allowed in other areas of the park.

A flowing artesian well near the picnic area and campground
provides potable water.
Additional Picture

Mill Creek Cave is located a short distance up a trail from the flowing well.

The Kaintuck Trail is a well-labeled and mapped trail system available for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrian use.  It is around 15 miles long if the long loop is chosen but five shorter loops are available.  The trail is rugged and has multiple ups and downs.  Hikers should wear appropriate shoes when walking the trail.  Mountain bikers should bring a mountain bike capable of climbing/descending steep hills and built to withstand a fair amount of abuse.  Make sure your brakes are in good shape or it may be a tree or rock that stops you and the bike.  A decent bike can be bought for between $200-$300 but stay away from discount store models.  Buy a bike at an actual bike store, as they tend to be of much better quality.

A typical stretch of the Kaintuck Trail passes through shortleaf pines
and a mix of hardwood trees.

One of many spring fed creeks encountered on the Kaintuck Trail.

A portion of the Kaintuck Trail is not labeled on the official map.  It is located SSE of Wilkins Spring and labeled "Yes, This is all uphill..." on a homemade map, which is posted below the Mark Twain National Forest version.

Kaintuck Hollow is thought to have formed when a massive system of caverns collapsed long ago.  A remnant natural tunnel and caves support this theory.  As with much of Phelps County, this is a karst area where groundwater has dissolved rock to form caves, sinkholes, valleys, springs, sinking creeks, and other features associated with karst.  The Kaintuck Natural Tunnel is almost directly off one of the loops of the trail.  A small spring on the upstream end of the tunnel keeps the floor of the tunnel wet in a few places.  The tunnel is approximately 175 feet long and has a small cave in one side.  Wilkins Spring/DeWitt Pond is also on one loop of the trail.  This spring flows at an average rate of three millions gallons per day and feeds a small rise pool and a two acre lake.  This area is available for trout fishing.

The Kaintuck Natural Tunnel is thought to be a remnant of a once larger cave system.
Additional Pictures: One, Two, Three, & Four

The area surrounding Newberg was mined for isolated deposits of lead, zinc, iron, and other ores up until the early 1900's.  An exploratory mine adit is present in the dolomite just above the road (FS 1576) through Kaintuck Hollow but it hard to find even with very detailed directions.  No ores were found and the excavation was abandoned.  The tunnel is low and very short, allowing it to be explored without a flashlight.  Some small speleothems (cave formations) are being deposited by dripping water and an occasional bat, mouse or other animal may be encountered inside.

Map of the Kaintuck Hollow & Trail.

This homemade map shows a portion of the trail not marked on the official
map.  This section of trail is located SSE of Wilkins Spring
and labeled "Yes, This is all uphill..."
The exploratory mining adit is located at approximately the red M between
sections 9 and 10, T36N, R9W about 1/4 of the way up from the bottom
section corners and just north of Forest Service Road 1576.
<Click on map for larger version>

An exploratory mining adit is located in Kaintuck Hollow.
Additional Pictures: One, Two, Three, & Four

Vegetation has concealed the adit, making it hard to find,
even with detailed directions.

The contact of the Gasconade Formation (dolomites) and the Roubidoux Formation (sandstone) is also located in this area as well as much of the area around Rolla.  The Roubidoux Sandstone is particularly interesting because sand ripples are still preserved in the rock.  One can still see the cross bedding in the rock which indicates how the sand was deposited before being lithified (turned into rock).  In some places, ancient mud cracks are visible in this rock.  Many of these features can be seen on the Kaintuck Trail.  One whole section along a northern part of the trail is covered with ancient ripple marks.  As the sandstone weathers along the ridge tops, it forms huge stairs in places.  This makes for a thrilling bike ride on parts of the trail.  Both the Roubidoux and Gasconade Formations are Ordovician in geologic age but the Roubidoux is younger and located just above the Gasconade.

Kaintuck is misspelling and mispronunciation of “Kentucky” and the area is named after a small town that used to be nearby.  A nearby church is named “Kentuck” which is another misspelling.  These strange spellings/pronunciations are due to the fact that many Ozarkers lacked a formal education when these areas were settled.

While in the area, one might also want to visit Wilkins and Yelton Springs.  Wilkins Spring flows year round and has a relatively constant flow rate averaging 3 million gallons a day.  Wilkins Spring was once part of a large ranch before it was bought by the U.S. Forest Service.  The ranchers owned a large and impressive house with a stone chimney.  It was built of native sandstone and walnut timbers from the property.  The Forest Service sold the house to a private individual from Licking, MO.  This individual carefully dismantled the house and rebuilt it on a new foundation.

Wilkins Spring pours out an average of 3 million gallons of water per day.

Soon after the Forest Service bought the land along Mill Creek, a tributary of Little Piney Creek, it was found that trout could survive in the cool spring-fed waters.  The creek was stocked with trout and soon became a trout management area.  Special rules apply when fishing in and around Mill Creek.

Mill Creek provides a suitable habitat for trout is now a managed fishery.
Additional Picture

Yelton Spring is a semi-permanent spring that flows most of the time but is dry in drought periods.  Not even a drop will flow and no evidence of water can bee seen during such times.  Yelton Spring usually flows with an average flow of 3-4 million gallons per day but can have tremendous high flows after prolonged periods of heavy rain.  In recent years, rainfall has been lower and Yelton Spring has been dry most of the time.  As with Wilkins Spring, Yelton Spring was also once privately owned and had a residence nearby.  An old well casing (rusty metal pipe in the ground) and a foundation are still visible on the site.  This shallow well was installed to provide water when the spring was dry.

Conor next to Yelton Spring.  Yelton is highly intermittent and varies depending
on weather conditions.
It is flowing near its average rate in this picture.

Yelton Spring with no water flowing.
Picture of nearby foundation

Pictures of nearby well casing: One & Two
It is not the best idea to throw trash down wells as shown here.

GETTING THERE: Take I-44 west five miles to exit 179.  This exit is labeled “Newburg/Doolittle.”  Turn left on Highway T and drive through the town of Doolittle and then Newburg.  Follow all speed limits very strictly.  Newburg is a small town with a zero tolerance policy and enjoys ticket revenues.  Once through Newburg, Highway T crosses the Piney River.  Soon after, Highway P branches off to the right.  Take this road about three miles to County Road 7550, which is off to the left just before you climb a large hill.  This road is easy to miss so keep a good lookout.  Travel two miles until the next crossroads at the Mill Creek Camping/Picnic area.  The road to the left (Forest Service Road 1576) immediately crosses Mill Creek on a concrete bridge and runs up through Kaintuck Hollow to the natural bridge.  The natural bridge is marked off of another road that branches off to the right.  Many of the trailheads for the Kaintuck Trail can be accessed along this road and are off to the right.  A high clearance vehicle such as a truck is suggested but not required if the weather is dry.

The road straight ahead parallels Mill Creek and leads to Wilkins and Yelton Spring.  To get to Wilkins and Yelton Spring, one can take County Road 7550 until it ends at Hwy AA, a paved road.  Turn left and follow to a Forest Service marker on the left for DeWitt Pond.  Wilkins Spring can be reached by taking this gravel road.  Three portions of the Kaintuck Trail can also be accessed from this side of the ridge.

Scenic Hwy AA leads to Wilkins and Yelton Springs.

To get to Yelton Spring, continue on Hwy AA until it turns to gravel and forks.  Turn left at the fork on a road that may be marked as Stevenson Rd.  Follow for a short while until Yelton Spring, which is also on the left.  If the sign is gone due to vandalism or theft, the spring is the first turn off to the left.  One may also completely bypass County Road 7550 by continuing on Hwy P to Hwy AA which branches off to the left.

Looking across the floodplain of Mill Creek late in the afternoon.

A sunset in Kaintuck Hollow concludes a beautiful crisp fall day.

The above is just a small bit of information that highlights this unique area.  For more information on the area such as hunting and fishing regulations or trail maps, visit the Mark Twain National Forest Headquarters at 401 Fairgrounds Road.  Also see “Geologic Wonders And Curiosities of Missouri” which is available at the Missouri Division of Geology And Land Survey at 111 Fairgrounds Road.  Thanks to Jerry Vineyard, Retired Deputy State Geologist of Missouri, and other users of the MOCAVES listserve for much of the information here.

(C) 2006 by Conor Watkins