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

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