Friday, April 29, 2011

Trip to the Ozarks and Branson, Missouri

Branson, Missouri in the Spring
Time for a Spring Vacation!  We reserved a timeshare condo in Branson, Missouri for the week of April 16-23 to share with our friends Bob and Sharon who live in Maine and were pretty sick of winter. Well, as luck would have it, April was to have the most tornadoes in history for the US Midwest and South. On April 14th, we took off for the Ozarks in Arkansas and Missouri, dodging tornadoes coming and going.  Ron and I left our home in Sandia Park, New Mexico driving 540 miles to Clinton, Oklahoma.  The very strong winds at our back got us 37 mpg in our Toyota Camry.  We stopped well behind  the tornadoes (215 miles) that were traveling east striking Tushka, OK and Arkansas that night, delivering death and destruction.  In the morning, I could barely stand still as the wind gusts of 50 mph threatened to blow me off my feet. 

We drove I-40 though Oklahoma City and northeast on I-44 to Tulsa before taking US 412 east through the Cherokee Nation in northeast Oklahoma.  We took a little side trip down to the Cherokee Nation capital of Tahlequah  and back to Siloam Springs, AR as we headed toward the Arkansas Ozarks. 

Sequoyah - Inventor of the Cherokee Alphabet
 We ended up staying in Harrison, AR at the restored historic 1929 Hotel Seville.  Harrison is the gateway to the Buffalo River area and a destination for motorcyclists wanting to tour the scenic Ozark roads.  There was covered parking at the hotel with more motorcycles than cars parked in the garage. The room we stayed in was small, but comfortable. We had an individual heating and cooling unit for our room that was quiet and efficient. The only problem was that we were right above the restaurant and bar and the noise from a band continued until 11PM until Ron went down and literally told them to shut down so we could sleep.

Bear Creek Trout Farm and DeVito's Restaurant
We dined on wonderful rainbow trout and pasta at a long time favorite restaurant in Harrison - DeVitos and the Bear Creek Trout Farm
Rainbow Trout

Boone County had just voted to go "wet" and so we were served beer and wine.  Previously, alcoholic beverages were only available through "private clubs" in Boone County.

Next day (April 16) we took a drive via scenic Route 7 through the Buffalo National River area. Although we don't have a motorcycle, this route and scenic "runs" that loop off Hwy 7 are some of the most favorite rides in America.  We drove through the forest and small towns, especially enjoying Jasper and the Boxley Valley areas.

The Buffalo River

Dogwood Blossoms

Buffalo River
After our lovely drive in the Arkansas Ozarks we drove about an hour north to Branson. I've not been to Branson since 1999 and a lot has changed.  It's quite over-developed and seemed under-utilized, but April is not yet the high season so attendance at most shows was pretty small. Indeed, we saw many closed properties.  We were told later by a musician working there that most hotels and shows had only 30% occupancy. The weather was warm and the trees were starting to green up.  Dogwoods were blooming but the Redbuds had already bloomed. We stayed in a 2 bedroom condo in Westgate Branson Woods.
Our vacation condo at Branson Woods
On Saturday night, we drove an hour north to Springfield to pick up our friends, Bob and Sharon, who were arriving by air about 10:15PM from Maine, via Chicago. The next day we drove to Dogwood Canyon Nature Park and enjoyed a  two hour tour through the limestone and creek covered forest. The ranch area had wildlife like Texas Longhorn cattle, Elk, and Buffalo.

On Monday night, we shopped a bit at Branson Landing, a new shopping mall on the lakefront, and toured the fantastic Bass Pro Shop.

Vicki and Ron in front of fresh water aquarium in Bass Pro Shop

Wildlife diorama in Bass Pro Shop

We then boarded the Princess yacht for the Branson Landing dinner cruise on Lake Taneycomo and the White River. The weather was wonderful, but that was to quickly change.

Ron, Sharon, Bob, and Vicki on the Branson Princess
Vicki and Ron enjoying the cruise on the White River
Branson Landing Fountain show
On Tuesday, we went Go Karting.  It was Ron's first go kart experience and was only 5 minutes long but it's another check off his "bucket list". We enjoyed an excellent Eagles Tribute Show on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday we went to the Yakov Smirnoff Comedy Show in the afternoon.  Grilled hamburgers for dinner at home that night while the weather was still good.  By Thursday, the weather was taking a turn for the worse.  A cold front was blowing in from the west, confronting the warm weather in Missouri and soon we were glued to the weather channel as the rain, high wind, hail and lightning storms hit Branson on Thursday.  A tornado siren went off and a loudspeaker told us to take shelter.  Where to go?  We decided that the bathrooms were the most secure, in the rear and abutting the hillside.  But no tornado hit in Branson. The fierce weather continued into Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia, killing many people over the next week. We were very lucky that the tornadoes skipped Branson.

We went to the Dolly Parton Dixie Stampede Dinner Show that evening as rain began to fall.

On Friday, it continued to rain.  We decided we couldn't leave Branson without seeing a country music show, so we went to the Jim Owen Country Music Show that morning.  Jim Owen is 70 years old now and he is a country music super star writing so many country hits for other singers.  Here he is singing Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man with Kathy Eckert at the show.  

It's these genuine country shows that please me the most about Branson.  Great music and so much heart.  Jim Owen was the real thing. He talked with us and answered our questions.  He's suffering from Meniere's Disease that has caused a hearing loss so he can't sing like he used to. Regardless, it was the one Branson show I enjoyed the most.

Kathy and Tom Eckert and Jim Owen
On Friday night, Ron and I went to the Shoji Tabuchi Show.  Shoji was a classically trained violinist in Japan who fell in love with country music, eventually immigrating to Nashville and now lives in Branson.  His violin playing was highly versatile, intermixed with numerous scenes with young singer-dancers backed up with great scenery, costuming, and lighting.  It was "top shelf", very professional and highly entertaining. The rain continued to fall. 

On Saturday, April 22, we departed Branson at 7:30 AM and took our friends to the Springfield Airport.  We heard that the St. Louis, Missouri Airport was closed due to a devastating tornado that hit it the night before. Many St. Louis neighborhoods were hit by these terrible storms.  We  headed west and made it to Amarillo, Texas that night.  We returned to our home by 11 AM on April 24, Easter Day.  Devastating waves of violent rain storms and tornadoes hit the Midwest and the South for the next several days.  Flooding was everywhere and Branson's Table Rock Lake crested at over 935 ft. causing flooding on Lake Taneycomo and Branson Landing and many homes on the lake and river front were underwater.  Dogwood Canyon was closed due to flooding.  Almost 300 people have lost their lives in the midwest and south due to the killer tornadoes.  There have been more than 600 tornadoes in April so far and May is supposed to be the worst month for tornado season. I am thankful that we avoided the worst weather.  I am very sorry about the loss of life and destruction in the midwest and the south.  Please help the victims if you can:

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