May 23-29 - Branson MO
We figured that Memorial Day weekend would not be a good time to be moving about the highway system trying to find a place to park the RV. Start of summer and all that. So we found a nice little family-run RV park in Branson, MO and planned to settle in for the weekend and avoid all that traffic. Gasbuddy.com found us some (relatively) cheap fuel in Burleson, so we filled up the RV and headed north. We'd planned on taking two days to drive the 485 miles from Fort Worth to Branson, figuring there would be stuff to see and do along the way. So we say farewell to Texas. You gotta love a state that puts up warning signs along the roads telling you that state law requires you to read warning signs along the roads. Not to mention the anti-littering signs that say "Don't mess with Texas".
Tue 5/23 - Upon crossing into Oklahoma, we stopped at the official Welcome Center to see what we could do as we crossed the state into Arkansas. Not much, turns out, unless you like casinos or fishing. We pressed on, and making good time, crossed into Arkansas around 3:30pm. We picked up the Arkansas map and Visitor's guide, and starting looking for someplace to park for the night without going too far out of the way. Not much available. We called the RV park in Branson to see how late they'd be open and whether we could come in a day early. Linda Smith, one of the owners, said "No Problem" if we got there before 9pm. With just 150 miles to go, we said "See you tonight" and headed up the road.
Arkansas is a beautiful state - very green and very hilly. They call those hills the Ozark Mountains, but compared to Oregon's real mountains, they're just hills. We stopped in Fayetteville for fuel and food, and then thru the hills and into Missouri, arriving in Branson in time for a beautiful sunset and for Jim & Linda Smith to welcome us and guide us to our site, tucked in under some hickory trees and almost completely shaded. It was a long day, but not a particularly hard one, and we added three states to our "been there" map.
Wed 5/24 - After breakfast, we looked over the entertainment offerings in Branson. Collectively, they can best be described as "Up With People" crossed with the "Osmond Family" with a generous flavoring of "Hee Haw". You have to be selective where there are 70 some shows happening. We chose to start with the New Shanghai Circus, a Chinese acrobatic troupe, for our first outing. As we hadn't planned on being here yet, today was a "free" day, so we mostly lazed around and explored some. Bought tickets for the Branson Scenic Railway ride, and lunched at Fuddruckers. After dinner, we went to the show. Absolutely wonderful. An all-female troupe that spends 9 months of the year in Branson and the rest back in China. Their skills and flexibility are amazing.
Thu 5/25 - Our chosen outing today was the Branson Scenic Railway, a 40-mile trainride into the Ozarks and back. It's probably the least scenic of the scenic railroads we've ridden, but it was a smooth air conditioned ride, and as the train was not at all full, a relatively peaceful one with lots of room to move around. The train runs with about 7 cars and a locomotive at each end. For the first half of the ride, the "front" of the train goes south and the locomotive at that end pulls. About 20 miles out, the train stops, the locomotive at the north end fires up, the south one shuts down, and the "front" of the train is now the north end, which heads back into Branson. Seems like a fuel-inefficient way to run a train, but maybe they have redundancy in mind.
It was very hot and humid when we got off the train, so we went back to the RV to cool off. The weather alert radio kept going off with severe thunderstorm watches, most of them north and west of us. Dinner was at a restaurant with quite good food, but their real claim to fame was "Tossed Rolls" - a guy named Rudy would periodically come out with a big tray full of dinner rolls and throw them to you. You could eat as many as you could catch. He's an amazingly good tosser - we saw very few hit the floor, even when he would throw them two or three at a time from the same hand. Back in the RV, we watched the weather radar and tracked the storms. It started raining pretty hard around 11pm, and the alert radio kept going off all night, but no damaging winds or hail or flooding at our RV park. They are still repairing the damage from a major storm in March that dropped some baseball-sized hailstones.
Fri 5/26 - Today's outing was a magic show that was a whole lot better than expected. Darren Romeo is either a singer turned magician or a magician turned singer. He does both, and very well for somebody who can't yet be 30 (he sang the "boy" part in The Fantastiks in New York in 1995 at age 18). He's polished and a pro, billed as the "only protege of Sigfried and Roy". We saw the matinee show with about 300 others in a 2300 seat theater. Hopefully the crowds will improve. We did a bit of shopping at one of the outlet malls (more shorts!), and after dinner (at a Bob Evans) went down to the old town to see what this new Branson Landing project was all about. Turns out it's a very ambitious shopping center built on the town's waterfront - and the official opening had been today. It's an upscale shopping center, in contrast to the outlet malls and flea markets elsewhere in town. About 50 stores were open, with at least that many working feverishly to get open. And lots of construction still happening - especially the condos and other living spaces above most of the retail space. It's another step in the gentrification of Branson, we guess.
Sat 5/27 - Judy did some laundry, and we went to lunch at a place called Peppercorns. It was absolutely awful. Today's show was a dinner-theater production billed as "The Magnificent Seven" - a musical tour through seven decades of music. The food was really quite good, and the show was very well done - some country, some gospel, some rock, some jazz, some Broadway, some Latin, even some yodeling. All with a "down home, family" feeling. There was a gathering of classic Chevrolet Impalas in the parking lot - about 50 cars from all over the country. Nice looking hardware.
Sun 5/28 - Branson is a town of about 6,000 people - maybe 4 miles from end to end. It took us 45 minutes to drive that 4 miles, so we arrived at the First Presbyterian Church about 15 minutes late for the 11am service. And we'd used one of the "fast" bypass routes! After church, we went back to Branson Landing for lunch at the only restaurant open - an hour's wait at Famous Dave's BBQ place, followed by a really good dinner, although the staff was obviously still learning - the place had only been open 3 days. Our final show was a "variety" show headed by an illusionist couple and a ventriloquist. Both were really quite good, although the show seemed to be aimed at a juvenile audience. Enjoyable, none the less. Back to the RV park to relax and get ready for a morning departure. About 9:15, somebody "over the ridge" staged a fireworks show. We watched the top half of it over the trees.
Mon 5/29 - Took us about an hour to drain the tanks and hook up, and by 9AM we were rolling north. We headed to Independence, MO - home town of Harry Truman and jumping off point for the Oregon Trail. Looked to be an easy 225 mile drive.
Al's Highlight - Branson itself is an experience. Of the entertainment things we did, I vote for the magic & music show - it was really very good - Vegas-style production, major illusions, and some close-up stuff that was really impressive - a table that levitated in the aisle just a few feet away and floated to the stage, a "floating" lightbulb that flew over our heads. The magician is only about 30, making it even more impressive. Foodwise, the steak house with the tossed rolls was about the best food we had, although the free samples at all the candy stores comes pretty close.
Judy's Highlight - The first show we saw was spectacular - the Chinese acrobats were amazing - the older I get, the more all that flexibility and coordination astounds me! I feel myself creaking, just thinking about it!! The promos and billboards advertising the show feature some male performers, but the only guys visible at the current show were one or two who ran props on and off stage for the women. I got a kick out of the MC, a lovely Chinese maiden who made a valiant attempt at American-style announcing, with funny quips thrown in. But it just didn't work, somehow... maybe it was the accent. She sure was cute, though
Click here to see a slideshow of some of our pictures from this leg of the trip.
Stay tuned . . .