I guess you could say that the main road into McDonald County, fondly referred to as “Mac” County by those of us who live here, is simply the highway.
US-71 cuts a wide swath from Joplin down to Fayetteville, Arkansas. It slices through the rocky hills of Mac County, where the Ozarks truly starts, but from the view of the pavement it’s hard to see things that way. All you see are scattered, sad farms and ramshackle barns. Dry, rocky creeks. Mean valleys. It’s tough country.
Rawhiders, that’s what Jon calls people who live out here. You have to be so tough, so persistent, so stubborn to make it.
Coming in from the backroads the view looks somehow more welcoming, as though by paying the cost of time to make the journey you’re rewarded with a bit more hospitality. Nearly every true county road, those that are unpainted and unsigned, that crosses from the surrounding county into Mac County is marked by the abrupt halt of pavement. In a hard line, the road transforms into red dirt and rocky white gravel. There are washouts. Dogs chase you down the lanes, and the occasional cow may be standing on the wrong side of the fence, wondering where it went wrong.
Just south of Stella is my favorite McDonald County sign. It’s on Highway D, just coming off McDonald Road, which I assume is the county line road. At the intersection looking south, there’s the plain and simple sign, and beyond that, the caution sign to watch for the Amish and their buggies. I love it, love everything about that intersection. There’s something sweet about that low pocket of land, as though the people who passed through it marked it with their goodness, thought to put a sign there simply to say, This is where we begin.