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Laughing waters: A hike to where Ha Ha Tonka got its name

In a karst landscape, mildly acidic groundwater moves through soluble bedrock, dissolving the limestone and dolomite into a subterranean maze of caves and fissures. Much of the Missouri Ozarks is karst, earning its nickname as the Cave State.

The first stop on a tour of the park led by Webb, the naturalist, was a natural bridge, where the trail led under a massive arch in the woods. He explained that the formation was caused by the collapse of a cave roof.

“Basically, that’s a sinkhole here and that’s a portion of the cave that did not collapse,” he said.

A trail of 316 wooden stairs led down to the spring bubbling below. Ha Ha Tonka is believed to be an Indian word that translates to “land of the laughing water.”

Another trail went through the Colosseum, a deep sinkhole. Webb also led the way to the Devil’s Kitchen, a sinkhole containing a small cave shelter, and to the Devil’s Promenade, a steep concave bluff wall.

We finished up on a mile-long loop called the Acorn Trail, through the woods to an open glade. The glade was first burned in 1983, and has had at least a dozen prescribed burns since. More than 300 plant species grow on that 40 acres, Webb said.

“During the growing season, there’s always something blooming,” he said. “You get a little something different every time you visit.”