Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Branson, Missouri: Bargains and Special Gifts

As RVentures continues north, we encountered a hilly and slightly "white knuckle" ride in the Wildebeest as we climbed the Ozark Mountains. Doug doesn't recall the drive being quite as challenging on the way south, but a few months in "flat" Florida must have changed our opinions of hills. Glad we could stop for a few days to explore and enjoy the scenery that these hills produce. We are at Table Rock State Park near Branson, Missouri this week along the shores of Table Rock Lake. 

Now, if you follow the link that I provided for Branson, you will probably have the same first impression that I had ... that this destination could be a huge tourist-trap. It looks like there is lots to do provided you are willing to dish out a bit of money. 

I hoped that there would be other low cost ways to enjoy the beauty of this area. Using the suggestions of past visitors to the area and Tripadvisor reviews, I developed a strategy to enjoy the area without spending a fortune.

As we settled into our home for this week, we discovered a serene campsite on the shores of Table Rock Lake and nice walking paths along the lakeshore and through the adjacent woods. One walk took us to the Table Rock Dam that created this recreational area. It produces hydroelectric power as well as provides flood control for the area. The Dewey Short Visitor Center gave us a great view of the dam and lesson on the importance of the Army Corp of Engineer's dam system along the White River.

Down the road in the shadow of the dam is the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery. Cost: free unless you want to feed some of the 500,000 trout. Cost a whole quarter to get a handful of food, but the young fish sure appreciated it! Because trout are not native to Missouri, they need to be spawned at the hatchery. When the trout reach a length of 11 inches, they are released into the nearby Lake Taneycomo where many eager fishermen try their luck at securing a trout dinner. It was a beautiful walk along the lake edge.

Another "bargain" activity was a visit to the beautiful College of the Ozarks campus just south of downtown Branson. 

When I read about this college, its uniqueness grabbed my attention. Nicknamed "Hard Work U", the college does not charge tuition. Rather, the students pay their way by working 15 hours a week at various places around campus. This appeared to be a win-win situation in that the college and students both benefit from the work experience. Students were seen maintaining the beautiful gardens, working in the museum, making the baked goods and jams sold in the restaurant, serving as cheerful waiters and receptionists, and doing many other jobs that financially help the college. The work experience combined with their studies teach students skills that will increase their marketability as they enter the workforce ... and they graduate virtually debt free.

I was in "fragrance heaven" as we walked up to the campus visitor center. The lilacs are in bloom ... Spring has arrived in southern Missouri! The Keeter Center is where the information desk, conference center, hotel, and restaurant are located. We learned about all the sites to see on our self-guided campus tour and promised to return as another heavenly fragrance, the smell of fresh baked goods, filled the hall.

In addition to academics and work ethics, the college teaches its students to value God and our country.  Streams of patriotism could be felt all around campus, and nowhere was that more evident than in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Garden.

 Our walking tour took us to the Star Schoolhouse. Built in 1900, the school reflected the era of one-room schoolhouses complete with chalk boards, primer readers, and a coal burning stove in the center of the room.

One of the student workers was diligently studying in the teacher's desk as finals are less than two week away. We found that he was a music education major. We were able to enjoy his talents a little later when we walked into the Williams Memorial Chapel when he was practicing the organ. 

Enjoy 3 minutes of his lovely concert!

We heard good reviews of the Ralph Foster Museum located on the campus. For a $6 admission price, we were able to explore three floors of various collections.  The museum's most popular claim to fame is as the final parking spot for this famous jalopy from a famous 1960's sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies!

We also saw lions, and tigers, and bears ...

And our friend, the Wildebeest!

Since going through my own personal downsizing, I am always amazed at all the "things" that people collect through the years and eventually donate to museums. This museum had large displays of just about everything from dolls to trains to Native American artifacts to birds to butterflies to seashells to ... well, you get the idea!

I had to point out to Doug that I wasn't quite as an extensive collector as some ... never felt the need to collect oyster plates!

Continuing our walk, we found the campus beautifully landscaped ... and a perfect place to get some of our "10,000 daily walking steps" in as we enjoyed a view of the Ozark Mountains at Point Lookout.

Having worked up an appetite, we returned to the Keeter Center for lunch at the four star Dobyns Dining Room.

Our student waiter, Christian, was attentive and efficient. Eventually wanting to go into teaching, he truly seemed to enjoy his interactions with his customers. After talking to him, we found out that it is as hard to gain admission into the College of the Ozarks as it is to get into many Ivy League schools. Only 15% of those applying advance to the interview stage, and only 8% overall are accepted. It was evident from the smiles and talents of the young people that we encountered, that they are choosing the "cream of the crop".

Oh, and did I mention that the food was ... Divine! From the fresh hot rolls to the homemade apple butter to the fresh-made pasta to the "too big for Doug's mouth" burger ... it was a "made from scratch" meal that left us delightfully satisfied ... all for around $30. The only downside is that we had no room for any of the homemade ice cream that was for sale as we left the dining area.

Shopping is big in Branson, as we found out when we went to the Branson Landing in the Historic Downtown. Along with many stores, there are also beautiful fountains and walkways. Although the musical water fountain was down for repairs, we enjoyed the 1.5 mile boardwalk stroll along the waterfront.

The main strip was filled with many businesses hoping to lure in the tourist dollar. Intrigued by the "50% off Branson Show Tickets" sign, I struck up a conversation with the salesperson inside. Yes, he would gladly get us tickets to two top notch shows ... all we had to do is attend a "free" breakfast to learn about their business. He assured me he is not trying to sell me any vacation timeshares, but when he found out that we are full-time RVers, the deal was suddenly off ...

Walking and window shopping can be fun, but I also dragged Doug into a few stores. The sheer quantity of "stuff" at Dick's 5 & 10 was enough to turn Doug into a crazy man! Or maybe this expression occurred when he found out that despite all of Branson's shows, shops and restaurants, there is not one brewery ... Shocking!

He found some reprieve in the outdoor furniture department of Pro Bass Shop. 

After our "50% off Show Tickets" fell through, we still wanted to splurge on one special gift. We decided to attend a Branson show to complete our Branson experience. "Moses", playing at the Sight and Sound Theater was our first choice. 

Often described as "Christian Broadway", the production company promised to surround us with an epic experience with a meaningful message ... and they really delivered! The spectacular music, special effects and live animals brought the story of Moses to life, and left us with a beautiful message ... Christ wants to give us a life of freedom regardless of the desperate situations we may find ourselves in. The show was an uplifting message of hope, and a fun reason to dress up and enjoy the gift of each other.

Until next time ... appreciate the gifts around you ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

 PS ... Stone Hill Winery (transitioning to Curling Vine Winery) offered a "free" tour and wine tasting, but who are we kidding??? Who would ever taste an incredibly smooth cream sherry and not walk out with a bottle or two?? 

                   Not Me!  

Looking forward to sharing the "gift" of a glass of wine with my Minnesota pals in a week or two!

PSS ... Doug just processed some pictures he took of the sunset and a full moon rising over Table Rock Lake tonight. Enjoy this "gift" of God's natural glory!

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  1. Gorgeous sunset photos, Doug! And how interesting was the work-study program at College of the Ozarks! Amazing that there's no tuition fee. Looks like you two had fun finding the "cheap" sights in Branson. Safe travels!

    1. It's not a sunset over the ocean, but God's end-of-the-day artistry is amazing anywhere! We are getting lots of inexpensive exercise this week at Lake of the Ozarks SP ... many beautiful hiking trails around the park. Safe and happy travels!