December 08, 2018

Branson, Missouri, Here We Come! (National Parks Trip #2)

This post represents another installment in the series detailing the second of our three cross country National Parks camping trips with travel trailer in tow.  At the time of this trip in 2010, our son, Ryan, was 16 and our daughter, Kyra, was 11.  When I looked back, I found that the last installment had been posted nearly three months ago!  I’m not sure where those three months went, but it looks like I’d better get back on the ball!

As we left Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, the rising sun was at our back and our wheels were pointed west toward Missouri.  While the focus of this trip was definitely our National Parks, our itinerary included stops at places other than the Parks because our family enjoys a wide variety of travel experiences.  Indoor, outdoor, educational, just for fun – you name it and we’ll consider it.  My husband, Alan, and I decided a long time ago that it was important for our children to learn there was more to life than the small town in which they were growing up.  Our travels throughout the years have provided opportunities for all of us to explore different regions, foods and customs in this magnificent country of ours and I can only hope that our kids’ varied experiences have served to broaden their knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of life.  In my heart, I sincerely hope that the two of them will remain explorers forever.  The next National Park on our trip list was Gateway Arch in St. Louis, but our next destination was Branson, Missouri.  Because, after all, who could pass up Branson, home to the Silver Dollar City amusement park and many notable musical and variety show venues?!

Because our preference is to stay at State, Federal or National Park campgrounds whenever possible, Table Rock State Park would be our home for the next few days as we enjoyed the attractions Branson had to offer.

As you might imagine, there are a lot of campground choices in this popular vacation area with many being rated “Good” or “Excellent” on (link HERE).  Table Rock met our needs – it was a short ten mile drive outside the hustle and bustle of Branson, our site was perfectly fine (if not as wooded as we like) and camping on Table Rock Lake offered many recreational opportunities.  As I write this, Table Rock State Park is enjoying an 8.3 rating (Good) on

More trees, please!

During our three days at Table Rock, we took in one show in Branson, spent a full day at Silver Dollar City (or “Take Your Dollar City” as it is, apparently, known to locals) and enjoyed relaxing around our campsite and swimming in the lake.  Particularly when we we’re on an extended journey – and this one was a full four weeks – we try to keep an eye on the kids, watching for fatigue and flagging interest.  Being on the road with an ambitious itinerary is exciting, but it can also be exhausting (even for the adults or, maybe, especially for the adults!), so we build downtime into the schedule on a regular basis.  For our family, choosing the quieter, more natural campgrounds makes it easier to do this since our kids enjoy simple activities like skipping stones at the water’s edge and toasting marshmallows while hanging around a campfire on a quiet evening.  Considering the fact that some days include hours upon hours of drive time while others include hours upon hours of active exploration, the balance between on-the-go and chillin’ out is sometimes difficult to nail.  Frequent stops, healthy snacks, favorite meals and lots of communication all make a huge difference in how our days play out.  And then, there’s ice cream.  In our experience, ice cream is a salve that can heal a wide variety of “injuries.”
"Pain relief" that never fails

Since our schedule would only allow time to attend one show while in Branson, we had a difficult decision to make.  (Difficult decisions are extra difficult in families with an even number of members since there is no one to break a tie.)  The Baldknobbers looked like a lot of fun while Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater was definitely calling my name and Alan’s.  In the end, we picked the show at Yakov Smirnoff’s Theater and it really wasn’t that difficult a decision after all.  Why was that, you ask?  Well, Yakov Smirnoff is a Russian-born comedian, actor and entertainer.  And, as it turns out, Kyra is a Russian-born adoptee.  So, Yakov’s Theater won hands down.  We all agreed it was an entertaining show, but a little disappointing for our crowd because the man himself was not in town.  It would have been much more fun to have seen him in person – that would have made the connection for Kyra a little more meaningful, too - but, as the saying goes, a good time was had by all.

The day we spent at Silver Dollar City proved to be a delightful one, full of water fun, a few rides and a number of musical performances.  The one we enjoyed the most was a trio of three women who called themselves Pure Heart.  As far as I’m concerned, they could have called themselves Pure Harmony because their clear, sweet voices blended so beautifully.  We stayed after to compliment their performance and purchase two of their music CDs as souvenirs of our spectacular day at Silver Dollar City.

My boys and their toys

I must admit that, while I’m quite pleased we were able to visit Branson and enjoy some of its attractions, the Pigeon Forge area of Tennessee (which also has an amusement park and show venues) remains my favorite.  The Table Rock Lake area of southwestern Missouri is absolutely lovely, but Great Smoky Mountains National Park is just out the back door in Pigeon Forge.  Plus, honestly, my heart belongs to Dollywood.  I really like the fact that Dollywood is an exciting and fun-filled amusement park with the added benefit of an educational component.  Life in the Appalachian Mountains is highlighted through a series of exhibits and demonstrations in Craftsman’s Valley which include wood carving, leather working, glass blowing, and blacksmithing.  Of course, there are items for sale, but you don’t have to buy to watch and learn.  While I’m not a fan of Dolly Parton’s musical talents, there is no end to my admiration for her because she memorialized the ways of mountain life and guaranteed that the residents of the Pigeon Forge area reaped the rewards of her success.  During a visit to Dollywood when Ryan was little, he picked up a nasty splinter from a wood railing.  The medical staff at the First Aid office could not have been sweeter to him and their kindness will not be forgotten by this Mom, not ever.  So, it would be pretty tough to knock Dollywood out of first place on my list of amusement parks.  I’m sure the cynics among you would be quick to point out that the First Aid staff is the first line of defense in reference to a liability lawsuit and, being exceptionally cynical myself, I would have to agree with you.  But, really, how many people would sue over a splinter?  Wait, let’s think about that . . .
You're welcome!  We had a great visit!

With our sojourn in Branson coming to a close, we set our sights on the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.  Until I began researching this trip, I never knew that you could actually ride in a tiny elevator to the top of the Arch for a magnificent view of St. Louis and the surrounding area!  That story is coming up in the next installment of this series – which I promise will NOT be three months from now!

Do you have a favorite amusement park or a particular show you like in either Branson or Pigeon Forge?  If so, feel free to share in the comment section below.  And thank you for stopping by today!

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