Branson, Missouri (a lot like Vegas, just with more Jesus and less gambling)
I don't remember who brought up the idea but somehow as we looked at a road map of Missouri, this iconic family destination was added to our travel route.
So, after a grueling five hour drive, we pulled into our campground at Branson Stagecoach RV Park. This park was dated, but clean and located just outside of town. Our spot was a little hard to back into but with the benefit of solicited --and much unsolicited-- advice we managed to wiggle into our spot.
There are about two dozen RV parks around Branson so there are plenty to choose from.
[BUT WORD OF WARNING: We stayed here, pre-COVID. The RV industry has boomed recently with most manufacturers already out of stock for all of 2021. Last month alone, sales of new RV's hit an industry high of 50,000 rigs. With demand for RV sites out-stripping supply, it is imperative that you make your reservations as early as possible!]
After setting up camp we took a drive into town to get a general feel for the area.
It was a bit more garish than expected and reminded me of what the old Route 66 must have looked like in its heyday. We did find a welcome center but it was closed for the evening so we added it to our itinerary for the following day.
On the way back to our RV park we stopped for dinner at a fun little tavern named the Cheeky Monkey. Friendly staff and friendly patrons. While chatting with the bartender, he asked if we wanted to know the history behind the name of the bar.
Always wanting to hear a good story, we nodded eagerly. He said his father was in the navy in the late 90's. On one particular cruise, while en route to Panama, his ship ran into rough seas. His father, Craig, had been standing deck watch when he was washed overboard. Because of the rough seas, all search efforts were unsuccessful. After spending hours treading water, Craig lost consciousness.
The next morning he awoke alone and on a deserted beach, or so he thought. As he coughed the remnants of seawater from his lungs, he felt something poking at his back. He turned to find a monkey holding a branch from a coconut tree. He was surrounded by about a dozen more of his kind but they all kept their distance except this one cheeky little fellow. A kinship formed between the two and when rescuers finally arrived, Craig insisted that the monkey be rescued as well. He became a part of Craig's family. And in his honor, the bar was named. While the tale was tall, the drinks were cold and the food was good. It was a nice ending to a stressful day.
[Word of warning. At the time of our visit (2018), Branson allowed smoking in its bars. Fortunately, it wasn't crowded this night otherwise we would have turned around and left]
The next morning we made our way to the Visitor Center. We usually seek out these centers whenever we arrive in a new location. They can be a treasure trove of useful information. Unfortunately, this visit turned out to be a TOTAL bust. We fell for the oldest trick in the book: a "Visitor Center" that was actually a front for a time-share operation!
With the promise of a free full-breakfast, and show tickets at half off, we agreed to sit through a "half-hour" presentation that (I am embarrassed to admit) stretched into three hours. The free breakfast turned out to be a plate of mini-donuts and lukewarm coffee (when I pressed our salesman for our scrambled eggs and bacon, he acted surprised it hadn't arrived yet.. it NEVER arrived!). I don't think I've ever said the word "NO" so many times since I was a two-year old. But the catch was, we couldn't get our discount tickets until after the conclusion of the presentation (which also included a bus ride out to the community so we could see how beautiful the condos were). We felt dirty afterwards, but, what the heck, we had half-priced tickets to three different venues. However, we will NEVER do that again!
With the afternoon receding into evening, we decided to drive out to Table Rock Lake Park to do some hiking. This is a beautiful park sits on the edge of this artificial lake in the Ozarks region.
Photo courtesy of Tablerockshores.com
As we strolled the tree-lined pathway, we passed Table Rock State Park campground. This looked like a really nice state park that offered everything from primitive to full hook-up camping. As we passed, we spotted a Grand Design RV (the same manufacturer as ours). Back in the day when Grand Design was a fledgling manufacturing company, there was always an instant bond between rig owners. We loved to compare notes about our RVs, our adoration of the company, and our travels. This encounter turned out to be no different. We had the pleasure of sharing stories with Eric and Sue. They were vacationing here from their home state of Texas.
Although they call Texas home, they have traveled all over the country. Eric takes wonderful photographs of flora and fauna.
Over the next four days, not only did we sight-see the area, but we also attended four different Las-Vegas-style shows.
Legends In Concert: Legends is a cast of accomplished tribute artists, singers and dancers that look and sound like the stars they portray. They are accompanied by a full orchestra, laser lights, and other stage effects. The performers were very talented making for a fun evening.
The Haygoods: A talented family of performers playing a wide variety of music.
They had a really cool special-effect where they would turn down all the lights in the theater and their instruments would project different images.
Dolly Parton's Stampede dinner show: A four course meal and fire hoops, what's not to love?!
And the food was surprisingly good.
Liverpool Legends: This was the most disappointing of all the shows we attended. The show takes you from the Beatles early days to their final memorable roof-top performance. While musically sounding like the original Fab Four, they were unenthusiastic in their execution.
I suppose after performing the same act over, and over, and over, it does become dry and monotonous.
OTHER THOUGHTS ON BRANSON:
FAMILY FRIENDLY: Branson is very family friendly. There are plenty of fun activities and shows for children of all ages.
(photo courtesy of Track Family Fun Park)
GOSPEL MUSIC: If gospel music is what you seek, you don’t have to look far to find it in Branson. We found over a dozen gospel-themed shows (musicals and plays) when we were there, including "Noah" at the Sight And Sound theater.
(photo courtesy of Sight And Sound Theater)
SHOW TICKETS: Each show ticket was about $60/person, unless of course, you're willing to sit through a 3 hour time-share presentation, then you can get them for about half off! There are also a lot of discount coupons floating around the town.
TRAFFIC: Branson is a magnet for the elderly. Which means you encounter a lot of this:
Drivers so laser-focused on the cars ahead of them they never see the cars trying to merge. If you try to pull out of a parking lot into traffic during "rush hour", better bring a sandwich because NOBODY is letting you in. In fact, you and your "blinking" turn-signal are invisible to them.
BRANSON LANDING: If you are looking for a nice afternoon getaway. Check this place out. It's a beautiful outdoor mall with over 30 unique shops and restaurants. They also have an outdoor fountain show that takes place every hour. The display is coordinated with plumes of fire, colorful lights and music. It also has a waterfront boardwalk so you can take a casual stroll along beautiful Lake Taneycomo.
photo courtesy of BransonLanding.com
photo courtesy of BransonLanding.com
There is also a large Bass Pro Shop should you need any outdoor gear. We spent an enjoyable and relaxing Saturday afternoon here.
WORLD'S LARGEST FORK!
As we've traveled the country, we've sought out many "off-beat" sights. Attractions such as the world's largest pair of cowboy boots (San Antonio, TX), the world's largest steam shovel (West Mineral, KS), world's largest shuttlecock (Kansas City, MO), world's largest Holstein cow statue (New Salem, ND), and world's largest potato chip (Blackfoot, ID) draw us in like flies to a bug zapper. And today attraction was no different. When we learned that the world's largest fork was nearby, we barely had time to put our shoes on!
That's right. This 35' tall piece of pronged artwork once sat in front of a restaurant. When the restaurant closed down, the statue was rescued by the Noble & Asso. advertising agency who now proudly display it in front of their office.
Here are some other interesting things we saw while in Springfield:
BIRTHPLACE OF ROUTE 66: We didn't realize it, but Springfield has a very large past. It was the sight of the first Civil War battle west of the Mississippi (Battle of Wilson's Creek) and it was also the Birth Place of Route 66!
In the early days of American roadways, a cross-country (all weather) highway was needed. In 1926, a group of public and private individuals gathered here in Springfield to designate the routes and the corresponding numbering system for these transcontinental roads. It was decided that all directional routes were to be given an odd route number if they ran north to south and an even number if they ran east to west. Initially, a roadway from Chicago to Los Angeles was proposed and assigned a route number of 62. For some reason, this number did not sit well with some of the attendees and it was later changed to Route 66. And the rest is history.
AN ENDURING SADNESS: On a more heart-wrenching note, we found this plaque honoring three African-Americans that were lynched by a white mob in 1906. The racial and economic tensions were so high in the city at the time that most blacks fled for fear of their personal safety. We've found many poignant plaques like this throughout America reminding us that fear takes a terrible hold on someone's mind. It can distort our reality to the point that we commit acts that we might otherwise have considered unthinkable. People who happily shopped in stores owned by blacks, were also the ones who probably burned down those stores during the racial riots. Senseless acts of violence with no undoing. Sadly, the human psyche has not changed. We need to remember the words of James, the brother of Jesus, when he wrote:
"Know this, my beloved: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger"
Trying to empathize and understand those that look or think differently than us is not just a suggestion, its a command.
FIRST REAL OLD WEST SHOOTOUT: One last item of historical significance happened here in July 21, 1865, "Wild" Bill Hickok killed Davis Tutt in what's become known as the "first real shootout in the Old West".
The argument was over a pocket-watch taken by Tutt as collateral for a gambling debt he was owed from Hickok. Tutt then proceeded to wear the watch in public to humiliate Hickok. After numerous warnings to put the watch away, Hickok found him at 6:00pm on July 21st, again displaying the watch. Words were exchanged. Guns were produced. Shots were fired. When the smoke cleared, Tutt (who witnesses said drew first) laid dead and Hickok's debt was cleared.
Here are a few other photos we took while we strolled around the city.
We enjoyed our time in Branson but found that its reputation exceeded its delivery. While the surrounding countryside overflows with natural beauty, the city itself was a bit too tawdry for us.