Branson, Missouri is not an unusual vacation destination for people in the center of the country. We spent part of our honeymoon there MANY years ago, and we traveled to Silver Dollar City several times when our children were young. But it had been probably 30+ years since we’d been there when we went recently.
What a change! Super highways, heavy traffic, Las Vegas-type shows, big hotels, shopping malls… It was quite a shock to compare to our memories.
We stayed at Big Cedar Lodge, ten miles south of Branson, in a condo, and the accommodations couldn’t have been more ideal. Big Cedar was originally begun in the 1920s as a 300-acre private estate. It changed hands a couple of times following the Great Depression before being purchased by Bass Pro Shops’ owner Johnny Morris in 1987.
It has been expanded and now is truly a resort, with pools, a spa, stables, a marina, restaurants, a shop, and numerous lodge rooms, condos, and cabins. The Ozark Mountains location exposes the guests to nature and beauty.
Branson also boasts Tanger Mall for premium discount shopping, an main attraction for some of the visitors.
Many tourists travel to Branson, though, for the shows. The variety of shows covers the gamut — country, rock n’ roll, magic, comedy, and other musical acts. There are many large theatres, including Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, Baldknobbers Theater, Andy Williams’ Moon River Theater, and many more.
We enjoyed Legends in Concert at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater, where Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Shania Twain, Barry White, and the Blue Brothers entertained. The star impersonators were very good, as were the dancers and back-up singers.
Dinner at restaurants overlooking Table Rock Lake affords the opportunity to watch a $7.5 million water fountain spectacular, synchronized to light, sound, music and fire. There were many sightseers enjoying it and the lovely evening at the Boardwalk.
We will need to schedule a return visit to Branson some day, because we ran out of time. We toured one winery but there are more to explore; and we never made it to Silver Dollar City, to see how it has undoubtedly changed in the last 30 years. And we’d definitely like to enjoy some time on the water at Table Rock Lake, boating or fishing or just enjoying the beautiful scenery.
It seems we just barely skimmed the surface of Branson, Missouri!
Hi! My name is Flat Stanley, and I hail from Nashua, New Hampshire. I was sent special delivery from New Hampshire to Oklahoma so I could see new places and learn new things. I am really lucky, because I got to go on a long trip, and I got to do and see things I would never have seen back East!
I was a stowaway in Gigi’s backpack, which gave me a chance to ride on a big jet, stay in hotels, and see special places from Phoenix, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada. I was on my best behavior and never complained or interrupted or caused any problems.
Next we went to Sedona, Arizona; but on the way we stopped at Montezuma’s Castle and at Jerome, Arizona, where we ate at the Mile High Grill. I saw lots of cactus and nearly got caught in the cactus needles! I really liked Sedona and all the odd-shaped red rock formations, but Gigi got so busy taking pictures of them, she forgot to include me. She did manage to get a picture of me at Sky Ranch Lodge where we spent a couple of nights.
Our next destination was the Grand Canyon, and it was really GRAND! It’s so huge, it sure made me feel tiny. I loved all the colors in the canyon, particularly at sunrise and sunset.
Our last destination was Las Vegas, Nevada. On the way there we stopped in Seligman, Arizona, which is on Route 66. There were lots of antique cars there and I sat on a police car and on a really old pickup truck.
We also drove over the Hoover Dam spillway before we got to Las Vegas. I thought it was pretty interesting that the time changes right in the middle from Arizona time to Nevada time.
Our final stop was Las Vegas. We stayed at The Mirage Hotel, which was really big and fancy, with a big aquarium in the lobby. We walked around a lot, and I saw the Forum at Caesar’s Palace. There were an awful lot of people shopping and dining and people-watching.
After a couple of days in Las Vegas, it was time to fly back to Oklahoma. Before long, I’ll be headed back to New Hampshire; but for now, I’m an Okie!
The final destination on our journey was Las Vegas, Nevada, but the drive from Grand Canyon National Park to Las Vegas included several interesting guidebook stops.
One stop we made was in Seligman, AZ. Signs indicate that Seligman is the birthplace of Route 66; in reality, Springfield, Missouri is recognized as the birthplace of “The Mother Road.” It was dedicated to Will Rogers and gained fame in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” Seligman is an interesting tourist stop, though, with many classic and historic automobiles parked along the stretch of Route 66 that goes through town.
We also drove through the Hoover Dam tourist area. It is impressive, though didn’t seem as large as the pictures we had always seen of it. We didn’t take the time for a tour, however, so we will need to make a repeat visit in the future.
We turned in our rental car at McCarran International Airport and left the rest of the driving to taxi drivers, a wise move in Las Vegas with its overload of traffic on The Strip. We checked in at The Mirage Hotel and prepared to enjoy the totally commercialized atmosphere of the Las Vegas Strip.
It would be easy to get the impression that there are just as many slot machines as hotel rooms in Las Vegas, since every hotel seems to have a large casino area that you have to navigate to get to the elevators.
We wanted to see a few other places, so we took a taxi further south along The Strip. We timed it perfectly to stop and observe the lovely fountain show at The Bellagio. This large display of fountains “dance” to music, and it is a popular stop for thousands each evening.
We also enjoyed walking through Caesar’s Palace and the Forum shopping mall. There is hourly entertainment in the mall, in the form of a mechanized show about the gods and goddesses, and numerous restaurants and shops. The Mirage also had some shops and restaurants, and we enjoyed dinner there both nights, at Samba Brazilian Steakhouse the first night and The Stack the second night.
The highlight of our time in Las Vegas was the Cirque du Soleil show “The Beatles LOVE.” For anyone who has seen a Cirque du Soleil presentation, it isn’t surprising to hear that it was great. This was the fifth such show we’ve seen, however, and it was undoubtedly the most exceptional. Much history was depicted using The Beatles’ many hit songs along with the outstanding performers, and there were some interactive moments to keep the audience engaged.
Las Vegas has various nicknames and is famous for the line “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” It should be said, however, that Las Vegas offers a plethora of activities and events 24/7 and can be a fun family vacation or honeymoon destination or just a great place for a long, relaxing weekend.
As one of the great Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon has been photographed and described and videoed and written about endlessly. It is still quite breathtaking when seen from the South Rim the first time.
The drive into the Grand Canyon National Park really gives no ‘preview’ of the canyon itself. Anxious to get our first glimpse, we immediately went to the Grand Canyon Visitors’ Center at Mather Point. After watching an informative video at the center, we walked the short distance to the South Rim and saw exactly what all the excitement is about.
The Grand Canyon spans as much as a mile in some places and is a mile deep. From some of the viewpoints the visitor can catch glimpses of the Colorado River below, and a few trails can be seen below the rim. For those hardier than I, there are backpacking trips, mule rides to Phantom Ranch, or river rafting trips on the Colorado. Actually, when we returned to Oklahoma, we found out a friend is getting ready to take the six-day rafting trip. His view will certainly be different than ours!
We stayed at Maswik Lodge within the national park. There are also two historic hotels, El Tovar and Bright Angel. Reservations for these must be secured well in advance.
It is easy to get a variety of perspectives of the canyon by boarding one of the park’s free shuttle buses. These buses run a regular schedule daily that includes half a dozen or so stops along the South Rim. The shifts in light from sunrise to sunset emphasize the depth of the canyon and the geologic variations of the rocks. We made it a point to be there one morning for sunrise, to take the shuttle during the day, and to return for sunset. Each event was equally impressive.
While the Grand Canyon may be marked off my bucket list, I took advantage of many photo opportunities, and the pictures will be wonderful reminders.
Driving north from Phoenix, we headed for Sedona. That could have been a straight drive up Highway I-17 to Highway 179. We chose to take a couple of interesting side trips on the way, though, and saw so much more.
Near Lake Montezuma, we sidetracked to Montezuma’s Castle. This is actually a dwelling built by Sinagua Indians into the cliffs. It is the equivalent of an 800-year old high-rise apartment building. The Indians accessed their apartments on ladders along the side of the cliffs of limestone.
Our next stop was Jerome, AZ. Jerome was founded in 1876 as a copper mining community. The need for copper during WWII kept Jerome alive, but following the war, the dwindling demand eventually brought about the closing of the mine in 1953. The town then became promoted as a ghost town. Today, however, Jerome is a bustling tourist attraction, with a thriving artist community and many shops. It is built on the 30-degree slope of the mountainside, with each street “above” the street below it.
We finally arrived at Sedona, where the beautiful red sandstone layered with strata of white limestone makes it live up to its name of Red Rock Country. We stayed at the Sky Ranch Lodge on Airport Road. The lodge is above the valley of downtown Sedona and afforded unimpeded views of the gorgeous rock formations. Some of these rock structures have descriptive names like Cathedral, Charlie Brown, Kissing Cousins, and Coffeepot.
Sedona provides a rich heritage of native arts against the backdrop of amazing natural vistas of red sandstone and white limestone.
I guess most of us have a “bucket list” of things we’d like to do, places we’d like to see, before we’re too old. One of the things on my bucket list has been to visit the Grand Canyon. Well, now I can cross that off the list. We made a trip this spring to the Grand Canyon and it more than fulfilled my expectations.
It really isn’t all that easy to get to the Grand Canyon, though. It’s not as if it is that close to a major city or has an airport that is easily accessible from Oklahoma; so planning this trip became an exercise in “how much can we see” in addition to the Grand Canyon! In the process of getting there and getting home, I managed to add a few more destinations to my favorites.
We flew to Phoenix, AZ and rented a car for the remainder of our week. This gave us great flexibility, which proved to be a good thing as we took several recommended side trips that we wouldn’t otherwise have seen.
In Phoenix we took an afternoon to visit Taliesin West. This was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and school. It now houses the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. It is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is a U.S. National Historic Landmark.
After having seen Wright’s impact on Oak Park in Chicago and his novel design of the Price Tower in Bartlesville, I was interested to see how the desert might influence his design. I had also recently read The Women by T.C. Boyle, about Wright and his wives, and found its descriptions of Wright’s love of Asian art and attention to detail in his living quarters to be true to what I observed at Taliesin West.
Phoenix has many sights and places to entice the visitor, but Taliesin West was the only one we had time for on this trip. Guess we’ll just have to make a return visit there one of these days.