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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Branson, Missouri

From Springfield, MO and Lamberts (in the town of Ozark, MO) it was just a short hop on down to Branson, MO.  This was our first visit to the Ozarks and we expected it to live up to its rustic reputation.  We envisioned a small rustic town with a few theaters lining Main Street, where we could walk from place to place on the wooden sidewalks and enjoy a sarsaparilla at a local café or slip into a theater for some nostalgic Lawrence Welk or singing cowboy.   Instead we got a town full of glitz and tourists.  The population of Branson is around 10,500, but it serves a regional population of around 80,000 and hosts around 8 million visitors a year.  The result is a cosmopolitan small city that sprawls over sixteen square miles (16.2) and has shopping, restaurants, and of course premier entertainment!  It reminds one of Vegas sans casinos rather than Deadwood sans entertainment.  

Aerial view of Branson, MO

We stayed at the Treasure Lake RV Resort, itself a sprawling resort covering many acres.  Unfortunately, our campsite was situated at the far end of the park, and, therefore, it added 15 minutes to any drive … just to get out of the park.

Treasure Lake Park

For the first time since leaving on our trip in June, we really felt we were on vacation … you know, where you plan too many things to do and leave more exhausted than when you arrived.  Even with all that we did here, we only scratched the surface … there was a lot more to experience.

We started off with the classics.  A trip to see the “Sons of the Pioneers” followed by the play “Shepherd of the Hills”.  The “Shepherd of the Hills” play is based on the book by the same name by Harold Bell Wright.  The play has it all: romance, bad guys, good guys, and even a ghost.  The set is outdoors and features live animals, square dancing, gunfights, and even a burning cabin.  Wright’s book began bringing tourists to Branson well before the various and sundry theaters were built in the area.  It was the area’s original tourist attraction.

Sons of the Pioneers venue

Sons of the Pioneers on stage

Scene from "Shepherd of the Hills"

We took the train ride out of Branson, north into the hills of the Ozarks.  The forests’ trees were changing colors and it was a beautiful trip.

Getting ready to ride the train

Aerial view of fall colors in Ozarks - (borrowed from the net)

Fall in the Ozarks (borrowed from the Internet)

We each ended up with a favorite show.  I liked “Always Patsy,” a cute play about Patsy Cline that featured most of her best songs wrapped within a nice story about her relationship with one of her biggest fans.  Lynda like “The Oakridge Boys.”  What can you say about the “Boys”?  Their hit, Elvira, celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2010 and they put on one heck of a show.  Their voices are just as strong as ever and they still enjoy entertaining.

Always Patsy -- Did I mention that I became part of the performance?

The Oak Ridge Boys doing "Elvira"

We attended a great dinner theater called the “Dixie Stampede.”  Owned by Dolly Parton, this theater has a huge inside arena and features horseback riders, wagon races, buffalo (bison), and longhorn cattle.  It is a really great show with a huge meal… each person gets a whole chicken.  Everything is eaten with the hands, which puts everyone at ease.  The audience is encouraged to cheer and jeer loudly and to stomp their feet …  this one was just plain fun (would make a great Thunderbirds visitation!).

Here's the meal at the Dixie Stampede (From their web site)

Carriage races at the Dixie Stampede - from their web site

We ended our visit with a trip to Silver Dollar City.  Finally we found our quaint rustic town with all sorts of crafts being made live including blacksmithing, broom making, basket weaving, knife making, candle making, and a whole lot more.  We were worn out completely by the time we left and slept very soundly for most of the following day.

Entrance to Silver Dollar City

Sand Sculpture at Silver Dollar City

Fall Festival at Silver Dollar City

All in all, our Branson experience was just great.  We had a great time and would certainly return for another few shows.

Until next time … Keep doing what you love.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Central Missouri

Well here we are at Lone Jack, MO in central Missouri.  We picked this place as a likely stopping place on our way south and really didn’t expect much from it.  One of the lessons you learn when you are on the road is that some of the most unlikely places are sometimes the best.  Our park is wonderful.  There are geese in for a stop on their migratory route to and from their breeding grounds and summer domain.  They are noisy and rambunctious and have no fear of humans here … apparently they have memorized the safe places they can stop on their long trip.

The park here is surrounded by lakes and rivers and inundated with trees … wonderful!  Lynda and I took our Segways and toured the park a couple of times.   It has putt, putt golf, a ball field, and an archery range.   Too bad we forgot our bows and arrows!  One of the trees that caught our attention was the brain fruit tree (also known as "hedge apples") ...  see pictures one and two below.

Although the park was beautiful and our rig overlooked a river, we did get out to Independence, MO for a couple of attractions.  We debated whether or not to visit the Truman Presidential Library… after all, what is there to do in a library … we have our kindles if we want to read.  We finally decided to go … nothing else much to do that day.  It was magnificent!  What were we thinking?  We learned more about the seven years he was president then we had ever imagined.  It was a wonderful experience.  We have now put all the other presidential libraries on our MUST DO list.  If you have a chance you absolutely have to see this.  Excellent!!

After four hours at the library … and we could have spent more, we were really hungry.  One of the things Lynda wanted to do most in the Kansas City area was eat KC ribs.  We found a place in a questionable neighborhood in Independence called “Gates Bar B Que”.  They had been in business around 70 years so we figured they must be good …  good?   Good?  What were we thinking?  They were great!  We split something called “4 bones” it came with 4 ribs, two sides of sliced meat (we had ham and brisket) and two sides (we had fries and baked beans) and three slices of white bread.  Total cost 25 dollars. … Total result …Yummmmmmmm!

This stop seemed too short.  It wasn’t long before we were on our way to the Missouri Ozarks.  We usually don’t stop along the way from place to place because it is too hard to find a place to park.  However, on our way south we found two places to stop.  The first was a funky cheese shop with a zillion types of cheeses to sample called Osceola Cheese.  We bought a Swiss (Kim) and a sharp cheddar (Lynda).

Another stop was at Lambert’s Café … home of the “Throwed Rolls” (I take no responsibility for the poor grammar).  We heard of this place on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives and again from some campers at Forest City.  They throw hot rolls at you here … but that is not all.   Most of what you order is “all you can eat” and even if it’s not … there are dishes called “pass arounds” (fried potatoes, tomatoes and macaroni, black eyed peas, and fried okra) that are available all of the time … eat all you want!  No one goes hungry here!  If you  are in Ozark, Missouri, this is a place not to miss!  Wow, great meal!!

Looking forward to the Ozarks!  Until next time, keep doing what you love!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Iowa's Living History Farm

We spent five days in the Des Moines, IA area, mostly shopping (they had both a Costco & a Walmart … Whoo Hoo!), drinking Starbucks (the first one we have seen in about 2 months) and doing other mundane stuff (laundry --- in our new washer/dryer and getting Cody groomed).  We also continued with our geocaching and found our first small cache in a camouflaged film canister.
 The outside of the Machine Shed Restaurant
Porch of the Shed Restaurant
 Porch of the Shed Restaurant
On our last day in the area we saw a sign for the “Living History Farm” and decided to explore.  We stopped for lunch first at the Machine Shed Restaurant that is located adjoining the Farm.  Ate some of the most delicious sandwiches we have found, with homemade potato chips, slaw, soup, and pie.  The pie was great!  Lynda had cherry and I had the banana cream … ummmm.  Instead of the standard 7 or 8 inch pie, theirs is 11 inches …  big and delicious too!
Back to the Farm … the Living History Farm has four parts, in addition to the museum:  An 1875 Town, a 1776 Ioway Indian village, an 1850’s farm, and a 1900 farm.  Each part has costumed docents that can tell you all about the time period and how people lived in central Iowa during that time.  In addition, the farms are working farms that are worked using period farm implements.
Our favorite farm was the 1900s farm and we took a lot of pictures of that period.  If you are in the area around Des Moines, this is a must see.  Enjoy the pics.
The outskirts of the historic town
 House in the town
Drug Store in the Town
Kim Outside the Town Law Office
The Bank at Walnut Hill (Name of the Town)
One of the Town's Churches
Transportation to the Farms
Lynda at the beginning of the trail to the Farms
The Barn at the 1900's Farm
The out-buildings and windmill at the 1900's Farm (Windmill is used to pump water from the well)
Draft horses are used at the farm for plowing, seeding, etc.
Back in Town at the local School -- School was required from October through May for 4 hours a day
That all for now ... Until next time ... Do what you love!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Minnesota and a Visit to Mecca

From Northern Iowa we slipped across the border (to the north) into Minnesota.  We were actually hunting for a Starbucks that we had heard was in Fairmont, MN.  We arrived looking forward to a decent cup of coffee only to be told that the Starbucks was no longer there … We really were not surprised by this as folk in this part of the country think Folgers is a rich dark brew.  Most of the coffee here is thin, coffee flavored, hot water.  We thought we would sample the local cuisine, which can be quite good and finally settled on this place advertising something called “Meatloaf Commercial.

Lynda ordered the meatloaf special and I ordered a tuna salad sandwich that came with a trip to the salad bar.  The tuna was runny and the salad bar had some wilted lettuce and an unidentified dressing … maybe ranch. 

I was feeling pretty bad about my poor choice until Lynda’s meatloaf came … It was a mass of sticky something covered with brown gravy …  The meatloaf was mainly filler and the mashed potatoes were obviously rehydrated potato flakes …  This turned out to be the worst meal we have eaten on our trip so far.  Ah well, you have to kiss some frogs to find a princess …

We are continuing our geocashing and here are a few pictures of the hikes we have taken and our finds.

We left Spirit Lake, where the campground was really spectacular (one of the best we have stayed at) and arrived in Forest City, IA …  Mecca for Winnebago owners … the location of the factory and the factory service center.  We made an appointment six weeks ago to get into this place and have some work done (install a washer/dryer, fix a water leak, fix the bedroom slide, fix the pressure gauge, install a new electrical outlet, etc.)

We were originally scheduled to be in Forest City for three days, but ended up spending five days (had to wait for a part to come in).  Let me say up front that our technician (the guy - Matt – that actually worked on our coach) was wonderful.  He really cared about doing a great job, listened carefully to my concerns, and fixed things right!  In addition, the ladies in the parts department will cheerfully take all the time necessary to find that obscure part for your coach (thanks!)

Nevertheless, I have a few suggestions to make Mecca a bit more alluring.  First, expand the parking for those that have a service appointment and provide full hookups …  At this time only 30 amp electric is provided (almost all new coaches are 50 amps … and have been for many years) and there is no water or sewer.  Once they provide full hookups, they might also consider a cafeteria, a pet sitting service, showers, and other amenities to make the service experience more pleasant.  Second, change the current philosophy in dealing with a customer’s extended warranty plan from one of reluctant accommodation, to one of active cheerful helpfulness.  Finally, Service Advisors need to take customers to their offices or another private place to discuss a customer’s bill, service agreement, or other private matters …  currently these issues are discussed in the customer waiting room … for everyone to hear.  This practice is highly unprofessional!

Our visit to Winnebago was, therefore, a mixed bag.  While our technician and the parts department were excellent, it is apparent that Winnebago’s management is not keeping pace with the service offered by other manufacturers (Tiffin, etc.).  Of course we will still return to Forest City for service, particularly for items that are either coach specific or large problems, but wouldn’t it be nice if we were a bit more comfortable when we arrived?

Until next time ... keep doing what you love.