The second half of our Ozark travels was all play and no work. We were ready for a little down time after working hard at camp in the over 90 degree heat and off the chart humidity. We rolled into Stage Coach RV Park in Branson at about 1:00 pm and joined our friends Carla & Jim and Ron & Penny. I could have sworn that Carla, who made the reservations, told me the name of the park was “Chuck Wagon” but a quick text to her verifying we were in the right place put us back on track.
Stage Coach was a pretty nice place to stay; the sites were not all that spacious, but they had the cutest pool that looked like it was made out of big boulders from the side of a mountain. We were hardly ever there during the day anyway – we were out and about partaking in Branson’s fun activities.
Branson seems to be a cross between Las Vegas and a western flavored Disney World. It’s land of big pickup trucks, huge steaks, and all you can eat catfish dinners. Nearby beautiful Table Rock Lake was a welcome contrast to all the bill boards and giant signs lining the streets. Before we went, everyone said we wouldn’t see anyone under retirement age, but while we were there, we saw tons of kids and young families.
The best meal we had during our four day stay was at Lambert’s which is actually just outside of Branson in the town of Ozark. It’s claim to fame is huge portions of country cooking and waiters that throw rolls at the patrons. Other restaurants around also do the “throw a roll” thing, but no one else’s food was as tasty. I enjoyed my chicken fried steak so much, I posted a copycat recipe on my food blog Yates Yummies.
During our first full day in Branson, we decided to take a Duck Boat tour of the city. The driver probably was a comedian at night because he told one corny joke after another. We got a good idea of the lay out of the city and the best part was when the vehicle became a boat on Table Rock Lake. As we were cruising on the lake, he let anyone who wanted to take a turn at steering the boat. Carla and Jim were game and then they egged me on to do it.
Fishing is a huge sport in the Ozarks and the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery keeps the lakes and rivers around Branson stocked with rainbow and brown trout. The hatchery had a film that explained the birds and the bees fish style. The film room walls looked like a taxidermy museum – every local fowl, fish, and animal seemed to be represented in stuffed form. We bought a handful of fish food for a quarter and had a lot of fun feeding trout.
We also enjoyed going to the Dewey Short Visitor’s Center that explains the history of Table Rock Dam. Before the dam was built, the area suffered from terrible flooding. The center has a wonderful nature display that includes the pelts of many animals such as possum, fox, mink, beaver, etc. A guide was leading a group of small children in a game of “guess which animal this fur is from”. One unruly little three year old kept hitting the interpreter with his pelt of choice until the embarrassed mom ran up and grabbed him. I found it amusing, but the mom did not.
The best show we went to was The Six, a group of six brothers with amazing voices. The Liverpool Legends was alright, and Comedy and Meatballs and Murder Mystery Dinner (which was a spoof on the old western Gunsmoke) were fair. If we ever go to Branson again, I will definitely research a bit more before I book.
We left Branson, traveled about an hour and a half over the boarder, and went to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. This quirky, arty, charming town was like a breath of fresh air.
In Victorian times, this was a vacation destination for folks wishing to partake in the healing springs the area is known for. Today it’s full of cute little restaurants, shops, and tourists.
Around the town there are places planted with beautiful gardens where springs bubble up.
Trolleys run through out the town and you can buy an all day ticket that allows you to hop on and off. We visited the 1886 Crescent Hotel that is said to be haunted and we had a great lunch at the Mud Street Cafe. I couldn’t help laugh when a sign in the window of a shop said, “We close to honor the Sabbath Day” while another window in the same shop featured a black leather bustier.
The highlight of our trip to Eureka Springs was visiting with our dear friend Meg Dendler and her family. Meg is an award winning author of a series of children’s books. She and her husband gave up high pressure jobs in the real world to come to Arkansas and run a guest house, Serenity Hilltop Retreat. Nestled in the Ozark hills, the view from their property is absolutely breathtaking. Besides writing and maintaining the guest house, Meg is also a docent at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, a rest home for exotic animals (mostly BIG cats) that were once family pets.
We visited the refuge at feeding time which was fascinating. One bear was so excited he was hollering and running all over the place. The animals eat an average of 10 pounds of food a day and many have health problems. The way the staff interacted with the animals was amazing – they definitely take safety precautions. The experience was both heartbreaking but mesmerizing.
While we were in Eureka Springs, we stayed at Wanderlust RV Park. The view was great, the pool was nice, but the sites were ridiculously small. If we had wanted to cook out and sit at the picnic table that was situated on just a ribbon of grass, we would have been looking right into our neighbors sewer hookups. Ewww! I guess the idea is that you would be busy in town, and not spend too much time at the site.
Our next stop was to head back into Missouri to Bennett Springs State Park where fly fishing is king.
I really regret I did not get a photo of our site here, because it was one of the nicest we have ever stayed out. It was huge with a picnic table, fire pit, and even a tall metal pole to hang waders out to dry. Because the main focus here is on fishing, we found the hiking trails weren’t well marked or maintained. We still enjoyed them, even though both Roy and I got a ton of chigger bites.
Every time I think about our experience renting canoes here, I chuckle. We got to the camp store at 11:32 and rental stops at 11:30. While Roy was convincing the guy to let us rent one even though we were two minutes late, I noticed this lady about my age holding a cute little animal. I thought it was a dog until I saw its long bushy tail. She told me it was an arctic fox and she had bought it from a breeder she found on line. It was kind of surreal after just visiting the refuge in Arkansas for animals that were once exotic pets. I also thought about the fact that an animal that thrives in a cold environment was now living in a place where many days are in the 90’s. We hurried over to the area where they put the canoes in the water and the lady with her fox was there again. It turns out that she and her husband have a contract with the park to provide canoes and pick people up at the ending point. She explained the route to us with such detail (“you’ll come to a rock on your left, but go right, if you reach the tree with three limbs, you have gone too far”) that we had no idea what she said. Roy muttered that it couldn’t be that hard. We climbed in the canoe and as she pushed us off she said, “See you in 4 1/2 or 5 1/2 hours”. I was marveling at the fact that I had just realized that the lady didn’t have teeth while Roy was saying, “Oh my God – four to five hours!”. We started paddling that canoe like nobody’s business. We went past drunk college kids, Amish girls in long dresses who were watching their boyfriends having a refreshing swim, and families who were just floating, munching on sandwiches – actually enjoying themselves. We crashed in trees and went backwards over rapids. My feet kept falling asleep in their cramped little space and I kept wondering what was wrong when I realized we were sitting backwards in the canoe. We pulled over and righted our sitting positions. Eventually we got to the stopping point and the lady with her fox! She and her husband were shocked that we had done the route so quickly and said they had never seen anyone take it that fast. We were too embarrassed to say we just wanted to get it over with so we could eat lunch!
On our way home we made one last stop at Meramec Caverns. Besides touring the cave were Jessie James hid out, there is also a zip line and a few other touristy attractions.
The tour was interesting. Back in the day local people would hold dances and picnics right in the biggest “room” of the cave. The guide was entertaining and had lots of cave lore stories to tell. It was worth stopping for especially since Roy loves Westerns and the Jessie James artifacts were fun to look at.
Biggest lesson learned from this trip? Go north in the heat of summer! Next stop: Michigan!
Just for fun, here are some links to some other Yates social media sites: