Last week was spring break...at least it was spring break for Josh. His school schedule and the kid's school schedule pretty much never matches up which is annoying, but we live with it. Anyway, we decided to head out on a new adventure while Josh was off of school so the kids (poor little dears) had to miss a couple days of school (Their spring break started on Thursday of that week....they were so so sad to miss school. Um, no, they actually weren't. That was a lie.).
Anyway, thanks to my AmAzInG parents who were willing to share their time share with us, we pulled off an exchange to a place we had never been before...Branson, Missouri.
Friday, after a dentist appointment (oral hygiene is very important, kids) and a day of school we all piled into our Suburban and started the nearly 20 hour drive to our condo in Branson.
Thank you to all the amazing people who build and maintain rest stops along the highway. We love you and so do our children who need regular potty breaks and chances to stretch their legs and act like weirdos without the restraint required in a car crammed with eight people.
We drove, and we drove and we drove some more. And then we stopped for the night in Nebraska and then we did it all again the next day...only a little bit less.
Josh did the bulk of the driving. He does better in that role and I am better in the role of snack-hander-outer and fight-breaker-upper and boredom-manager.
Most of the drive offered loads of fields and empty expanses as our view. But we did see prong horn sheep, pheasants, deer, antelope, wild turkeys, rabbits, squirrels galore and some other oddities as we drove. The kids were excited about these for about the first 10 seconds...and then they didn't care anymore. Sigh.
We also passed the "Sandhill Crane Capital of the World" (for real...the sign said so) and yup, they sure did have masses of cranes in every field and all over in the sky. Guess everyone needs a claim to fame.
We also took a little detour in Kansas City, Missouri, to get a glimpse of the LDS temple there. We got some strange looks from patrons as we weren't really dressed to go IN the temple, but we did enjoy a quick trip around the grounds.
Finally, we made it to our resort.
It is nice to NOT be trapped in a car for ten plus hours a day.
And off we went to begin the fun!
We arrived in Branson on Saturday night, so Sunday morning we headed to church. It was a little bit hard to find the building but I am so glad Josh didn't give up because the Branson West ward was incredibly friendly and kind. We felt very at home and very welcome there. It was great to start the day by feeling the spirit of that meeting.
We headed back to the room for lunch (we always stay in places where we can do our own cooking which greatly decreases the cost of our trips) and then drove to the city of Carthage just west of Branson.
Our first stop was the Precious Moments Chapel. I have liked Precious Moments pictures and figurines since I was little so this sounded like a cute little stop to me.
But I was wrong. It was FAR from cute, and was much more incredible than I could have imagined.
Unbeknownst to me, the artist who created Precious Moments is a VERY religious man who loves to help people feel the love of the Savior in their lives in any way he can. He created this chapel as an homage to the Lord and man oh man can you feel that when you walk through the doors.
|The walls are littered with depictions of biblical stories and the feeling in this room is incredible.|
|Even the ceiling is lovely.|
|The outside hallways are decorated with immaculate stained glass windows showing prophets and disciples of Christ. Seriously, WOW!|
I really can't describe this place in a way that is fair. Just believe me when I tell you it is amazing and if you are ever in the area you really should take the opportunity to go.
Next, we drove down the road to a place called Red Oak II.
This place was created by a man who grew up in the town of Red Oak (the first one, so Red Oak I, I guess). He loved his home town. When he learned that a couple of the buildings were going to be torn down, he decided to buy them instead and move them to his new home outside of Carthage. One by one he continued to purchase the original buildings and to create some of his own and his property transformed into Red Oak II -- the rebirth of his home town.
|Some of the locals wandering the streets (pretend I didn't tell you that our|
oldest daughter was scared of these two hoodlums and avoided them at all costs).
|Logan performing on the bandstand.|
It was a quaint and eclectic collection of buildings with an amazing small town spirit which was fabulous.
Back in Branson that night, we packed everyone up and headed to Branson Landing (kind of like the town square) for their fire and water show. Due to some issues, we ended up seeing this show over the course of two nights but it was really cool. They do something different each hour starting at 7 pm and Josh and I saw two of the different shows. Pretty awesome.
The next morning, Monday, the kids had fun dropping some parachute guys that I got at the dollar store from the top level of our condo and then trying to catch them in the near empty parking lot below. This entertained them off and on several times throughout the week. Silly kids.
Our excursion for the day took us to Table Rock Dam and the surrounding areas. We made a stop at the Shepherd of the Hills fish Hatchery just East of the dam. Super fun, kids loved it and those trout were HUGE!!
|Feeding the fish.|
Then we scuttled over to the Dewey Short Visitor Center on the other side of the dam. This facility was really family friendly with lots of hands on displays, a video about the dam and an observation deck overlooking the reservoir.
|Seriously, any time you can get your two oldest boys to voluntarily play a game of "Go Fish" is a good day.|
And we topped it all off with a little fun in the water. We waded and skipped rocks and just had fun on the shores of this beautiful area.
The following morning, Tuesday, we drove to nearby Springfield and one of the places I was most excited to visit, the Pythian Castle. I do love a good castle. As an added bonus, this castle is historic...and supposedly haunted.
Sounds like fun!
But I'll never know if it is fun or not because when we drove into the parking lot, it was empty. A little bit of exploring revealed to us that the entire place was closed for the whole week for "filming."
What the heck!
So, we had to punt and come up with something for the kids to do for the day.
Enter Bass Pro Shops.
Bass Pro Shops, Springfield is described and "the granddaddy" of all of their shops...and they aren't kidding. This place was IMMENSE and well worth a visit...even if it isn't haunted (stupid castle!!).
There was soooooo much to see here including a gun museum and an archery museum and animal displays upon animal displays upon animal displays. Just wow.
|Logan meets his first alligator gar.|
|Not haunted...but maybe still a bit scary.|
Once I had curbed my disappointment, and after Bass Pro helped us all recover a bit, we decided to make a stop at the Springfield conservation nature center. This area houses a cute little building with nature displays and maps and all kinds of kid friendly, touchable fun and then leads out into several trails which traipse through the forest and river areas nearby.
So, we went for a walk (the kids called it a hike -- which made them grouchy -- but it really wasn't).
|This is the prairie king snake we found along the trail. Ugh, snakes.|
|One of many frogs we saw, probably baseball sized -- we don't see tons of big frogs in Utah so the kids were enamored.|
|And here is one little crew of turtles...but they were EVERYWHERE! and that we definitely don't see much in Utah.|
|We also saw cardinals-a-plenty, several osprey (two of which were fighting and nearly took Parker out as they dove at each other right in front of him), lots of white tail deer and a couple of wild turkeys. It was a good day.|
And then it was Wednesday, which was also April fools day.
And so, of course, I cooked bugs into my children's pancakes.
But Josh ratted me out before the kids started eating so they de-bugified their food prior to my getting a good laugh out of it. Oh well, I still think I'm funny.
|Some of these little monsters ended up down the garbage|
disposal and then I had to fish them out so I guess the joke was on me too.
Later that day, we called all the kids out onto the front porch for a picture and then Josh doused them all in silly string and that was funny for all of us and the neighbors as well (we ended up with a whole crew of laughing observers...that's how we roll).
So, after the hilarity, we wound our way over to the Butterfly Palace. Now, normally this place would be waaaaaay out of my available price range, but we found a Groupon that let us get in for less than half the regular price so we chose this as our splurge activity (normally when we travel we focus on free or very low cost things and believe me there are plenty of free and low cost things to do so it isn't normally as problem).
Before we even got in to meet the butterflies we had a blast. This "palace" touts a mirror maze and a bamboo jungle and a mini-zoo with rain forest creatures. The ladies that work here was amazing and were so willing to help and advise and give insight -- they were fabulous!
During our visit, the center was scheduled to release new butterflies into the room (they do this twice a day and if you come during those times you get to play along). Our crew got to release fresh stock from their plastic containers and that was pretty cool for them.
That afternoon we had planned to hike a local trail, but it started raining....and raining and raining and raining. It turned out that night that the storm bloomed into a tornado which touched down just outside of Carthage right along a road we had driven two days before while we explored the countryside. That really made the storm real to us as we watched the storm trackers on tv. It was an interesting and powerful experience.
Anyway, since we couldn't hike, we decided to drive to Arkansas, which was only about fifteen miles south of us.
So, we drove into Arkansas, bought a slurpee at the local gas station, and went back to our condo. Now we can say we've been to Arkansas. Good times.
Next day, Thursday, we took the soggy afore mentioned hike on the Lakeside Forest Trail. It was wet after the previous day's storms, but it wasn't cold. In fact, it was VERY humid and as the sun came out of the clouds it got pretty warm. This particular trail boasts a downward climb via 300+ stairs and then a fairly level trek along the side of Lake Taneycomo (which was foggy and eerie and awesome).
At the bottom of the stairs, along the trail, there are three small caves which people can explore and we did! Well, most of us did. Some of us were a bit too nervous to venture inside (cough, cough, Aubrey) but that was fine. People are allowed to like or dislike things and that is ok.
|Fun in the caves.|
|Notice how we are soggy from trees that dripped on us and muggy, hot conditions.|
That afternoon we again ventured to Springfield for an afternoon dedicated to history. Which is important to me. Which Josh loves. Which the kids were not thrilled about. But they grew into it and the day turned out to be fabulous.
Our first, and probably most important, stop was to the National Cemetery. When I was researching things to do for this trip I stumbled across the fact that there was a national cemetery here and I knew it was something we WOULD NOT miss.
It is difficult to describe the feeling that tucks itself into a place like this. It is beautiful and sacred and I am grateful that my children had the chance to experience it. That's pretty much how the whole afternoon went. It was unforgettable.
After the cemetery, we continued our historic tour of the area with a visit to Wilson's Creek National Battlefield. It was on this site that the first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River took place.
We watched a video depicting the events surrounding the battle and then drove the loop around the battlefield. There were marked sites to stop and explore each of which boasted a piece of these historic events.
Seriously, it was amazing!
|This is the site of a family homestead used as a make-shift hospital following|
the battle. They treated the injured from both sides of the lines.
And when we got to the battlefield itself. There was an awe that hung over it. We could see where the events really took place and the story took on a life of its own. It's hard to describe, there is something about standing on those grounds that can't be described. I am forever grateful that we chose to bring our family here.
On the way back to our condo we took a little detour to a local park.
And then we were tired, and we went home.
Friday was our last day in Branson and I left the planning of activities up to Josh. We had a list of local attractions and he scheduled the day (normally I am the bossy one and I drag everyone from place to place but this time around he got in on the action).
Josh took us to the College of the Ozarks Table Rock campus (which, incidentally, was a beautiful campus) and we stopped in to the Ralph Foster Museum. This museum was three floors of stuff to see an explore.
|Meet the original car from the Beverly Hillbillies TV show.|
|The kids had fun together wandering their way through the memorabilia.|
|Bryce's favorite piece of art. Interesting perspective. I like it too.|
|Guns. So many guns. The second floor was FULL of guns. The boys and their dad were thrilled about that.|
|Gavin kissing a zebra.|
|I think he got one.|
Also on the campus was an exquisite chapel (Williams Memorial Chapel) and we took some time to walk through it.
The building is dedicated to four clergy men who were on a military carrier in the ocean when it was attacked and crippled leaving it to sink and the men aboard to die. These four brave men of God, representing three different religions, decided together to give their live preservers to the soldiers around them because they felt those fighting for the country needed to be saved before they did.
Next, Josh took us to another local trail, this one touting a 40 foot tall lookout tower with a view of the city.
|Due to the continued storms the trails were a bit of a mess so we cleared the small branches as we walked along. There really was a lot of damage.|
|Most of our kids enjoyed climbing the tower and looking out over the city from the highest point around, but some felt better just keeping their feet on the ground.|
And Dad finished off his day by taking everyone to a local shop for some frozen custard. Really, how can you beat frozen custard. Everyone agreed that Dad should get to plan our activities a little more often (he really did do a great job).
That night we packed up and spent the next two days driving back home. Saturday night, coming into Denver, brought us our first view of mountains in more than a week (oh, how we missed them).
|Pretend like you don't notice our bug splattered wind shield and just focus on those lovely, rocky, cliffs in the distance.|
It had been a long day in the car and we might have rested better if we didn't end up accidentally scheduling rooms which had full sized beds instead of queen sized ones (this is one of the hazards of Hotwire).
However, after an acceptable (if snug) night's rest we finished the drive and were very happy to be home. I do love to travel, but I also really love to come home again.
All in all, this was a fantastic excursion and a beautiful chance for our family to get away and make memories together. I hope that remembering these times will give our kidlets something to anchor them when life is hard or when they don't feel like they are loved or important. I hope seeing the beauty of different parts of the world and doing it together, as a family, will really be something they can hold on to and remember with a smile throughout their lives. I hope they will remember the good times and the laughs and smiles and even the horrible times and we can laugh at those too.
I know these times are precious to me, I hope they are for my little ones as well.
So, to sum up -- Branson: good times for all!