Sunday, October 11, 2009

A trip to Branson, Missouri

I grew up in a small town in Illinois...honest, it wasn't my idea, I was just born there! As a child, it seemed we were constantly bombarded with television ads promoting some place in Wisconsin called "The Dells". What a "Dell" was, happened to be beyond my comprehension at the time, but the thought of some of the things in the ads had me curious to see them. "Ride the Ducks" the ads shouted, and "don't miss the Tommy Bartlett Water Show"! I remained curious as I got older, and found that a "duck" was an amphibious WWII vehicle.

Over the years, I learned that the "Dells" was basically a tourist trap, with all manner of ways to take your money. Not quite the romantic notion of "Beautiful Lake Delton" the ads conjured up. We never got to see "The Dells" as children, and even now, I can say I've never been there.

The same is true for Las Vegas. Another place conceived to separate tourists from their money. Though it looked interesting in the photos I had seen, I never had any desire to see it, and most likely never will. Money's too hard to come by, and just throwing it away on gambling seems just wasteful .

We've lived in the Ozark Mountains now for nearly 5 years, and the most famous place in the Ozarks just happens to be Branson Missouri, about an hour from here. Every time we turn on the TV, we see ads for "The Baldknobbers", or "Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede", and a number of other shows and attractions. From the sound if it, Branson seemed to be the biggest tourist trap of all! Each time an ad would come on, I would imagine just what Branson must look like. Huge theatres set back in the hills, with dedicated roads to get to them, I thought. I could imagine Andy Williams driving down "Andy Williams Way" to get to his Moon River Theatre, while the other entertainers had theatres scattered throughout the city, each with their own drives named after them. We knew that a day in Branson was beyond affordable for two of us, so we never even considered going there.

That changed yesterday, when we took a trip to Jasper Arkansas in the beautiful Boston Mountains. the fall colors were just beginning to blaze as we drove scenic route 7 down from Harrison. On the way back, we stopped for lunch, and thought "we're on highway 65, just down from Branson, why not go up and take a look?"

In a short while, we turned off Hwy 65, and onto Hwy 76, Branson's main street. I felt like someone who's never seen a city before, a red necked rube from the sticks, awed by all the traffic and buildings. So, what's wrong with that? This was not what I imagined.

Just the traffic was amazing! It snaked down the highway, a single lane in each direction, as far as the eye could see. On each side of the road, all manner of shows, T-Shirt shops, eateries ,and souvenir shops crowded the road. I can't even recall seeing a sidewalk, the buildings were so close. Jammed shoulder to shoulder, they tried to lure cars from those long lines of traffic. It was an amazing thing to see! How people ever got back out into the ever present traffic line after a show was beyond me. We crawled along like bumpkins, pointing at things along the way.

"There's Dick Clark's Theatre", or "there's Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede" we'd yell. "Look, they've got DUCKS!!!!" I was in awe, yet felt so silly for all my enthusiasm. By the time we got to the Titanic museum (housed in a replica of the front half of the ship, including the infamous iceberg, $18.82 per adult, plus tax!) we were ready to crawl in traffic back towards the old part of town, and the lake.

Historic Branson is a bit less shiny than the strip, but with a huge waterfront development called Branson Landings, it's gaining fast. Yet, just a couple of blocks away, there are old mobile homes on overgrown lots, boarded up homes, and other signs of the way life really is. For all it's glitz, Branson is just another American city, and life still isn't easy for many of it's residents.

I'm thankful I had to see it, and even more thankful we didn't give in and spend the grocery money doing it!

For what it's worth, the real beauty of the Ozarks can be seen in nature, and in it's people. The vast expanses of forest, and clear lakes and streams are the only entertainment I need.

However, I can say I was there, and I sure can't say that for too many other places!

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