“God put us here, on this carnival ride.
We close our eyes never knowing where it'll take us next.” Carrie Underwood
State 5: Missouri - June 24, 2017
We woke up in Salem, MO, and happy to see the cattle car of sheep had already departed. We were off to Branson to see the Titanic Museum, but first we had a stop to make on the way to visit our road side attraction for the state of Missouri. We stopped in Springfield to see the world largest stainless steel fork! At 35 feet tall and weighing in at 11 tons, and stabbed into the earth, this fork is a site to behold. Who owns this massive utensil, and for what reason? The fork used to be outside of a local restaurant in town, and was erected to attract customers. When the restaurant went out of business, the fork was purchased by an advertising company specializing in marketing for restaurants. The fork, which is the envy of all others, was moved from the defunct restaurant, and erected in its current location back in 1998. Of course Nate and I posed for a selfie!
After departing the fork to end all forks, we continued on to Branson, MO to see the Titanic Museum. That was the plan, but Branson had a few big surprises in store that neither one of us could have ever imagined. Even as I type this post, I find it difficult to accurately describe Branson, MO. I can only describe it as if the Las Vegas Strip, got hitched to Universal Studios, set down roots in the mid-west, and then had a youngin’, it would be Branson, Missouri. The drive from Springfield to Branson was one steep, I mean steep hill after another, after another, and after another. Nate had to really gun it to get Rosie to the top, and we both had our stomachs in our throats as we went down the other side. Just when we were about throw in the towel, and throw up our lunches, we finally arrived in Branson. The main road, or “the strip”, is lined with hotels, dinners shows, buffets, water parks and other imaginable and even some unimaginable attractions. If you want to see Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, Dick Clark's American Bandstand, King Kong climbing a sky scrapper, or a Happy Hee Haw’s Supreme County Buffet complete with a 4 story rooster to greet you at the door, then hop on the next flight to Branson, MO!
You need to understand for the past 4 hours we had just driven through cow pastures, corn fields, and nothingness, and the spectacle unfolding before our eyes left us with our mouths hanging wide open. We didn’t know what to say or even what to make of our surroundings. It was the most unexpected town we had visited in our entire trip. After 3 miles of cheesy commercialism we just drove through, we began to worry that the Titanic Museum might end up being just another tourist trap. However, the museum was founded by the person who originally discovered the Titanic shipwreck in 1986, and featured over 400 artifacts from the vessels doomed maiden voyage. The Branson Museum was the single largest Titanic collection in the entire world, and the reviews were equally impressive.
We pushed on through 3 more miles of tourist traps on the strip, until we finally arrived at the Titanic Museum. We knew we had arrived because the entire exterior of the 5 story building was designed in the Titanic’s likeness. It was a site to behold! Admission was steep at $28.00 each, but this was a budgeted "can’t miss" attraction. Upon being welcomed aboard, we were each given a boarding pass with the name and brief bio of an actual Titanic passenger whose identity we assumed while at the museum. We were encouraged to learn more about our new identity while at the museum, and at the end we would learn if we lived or died. We are sorry to say that there was no photography allowed in the museum. Some of the original relics on display include a titanic deck chair of which only 1 of 6 six still exist and is valued at $125,000! They also had actual menus for the first, second, and third class passengers on the titanic valued between $35,000- $75,000 each! It was interesting to see what food was served, and how it differed depending what class you were in.
There was also a portion of the museum displaying the only known photographs of the Titanic to exist while at sea. The Titanic was built in Ireland, and traveled to England before crossing the Atlantic and sinking on the way to New York. The Catholic priest who took the photos boarded the Titanic in Ireland, and then got off in England! After he died in his 90’s, his family discovered the pictures and donated them to the museum for study and display. My favorite part of the museum was the room that depicted the weather conditions the night the Titanic sank. One minute you are inside of a ships cabin at a comfortable room 70 degree temperature, and then you open the door, and you’re standing in a room that is modeled as the outside of the ship. The temperature in that room had to be around 30 degrees with fans blowing creating the sensation of wind. They also had a fountain of free flowing seawater set to 28 degrees to put our hand in, which was the temperature of the ocean waters on the night the Titanic sank. It was so cold and unexpected, just as it must have been for the passengers who lost their lives that fateful night. Message received! BRRRRRR! In case you were wondering, the passengers Nate and I were assigned survived the shipwreck, and went on to live long lives.
After leaving the museum, we were ready to ready to leave Branson, MO, but we would soon discover Branson still had a few more unexpected surprises in store. While exiting the Titanic museum, we over heard a couple talking about a nice boardwalk along the river near the center of town. Lori said we should check it out because it sounds romantic, and we both love exploring the town centers. After what I had just experienced on the Branson, MO strip, I could only image the surprises this boardwalk had in store. The first obstacle was getting across town to the boardwalk with bumper to bumper traffic which took 45 minutes to go 1.5 miles. The next obstacle was find a parking spot which took another 30 minutes. We were investing a lot of time in this boardwalk, and it better be something special.
The river flanked the right side of the board walk, and the adjacent side consisted of a park with lush green grass, tall mighty trees providing ample shade, and dozens of happy families picnicking on the warm summer evening of our visit. Lori and I walked hand in hand taking our peaceful surroundings. We took some beautiful pictures of the lake, the towering trees and a friendly and fearless duck, who came so close we could almost pet him. It was a memorable moment of our trip, and a peaceful reprieve from life on the road. It was hard to believe that 1.5 miles away from newly discovered outdoor oasis was commercialism central. However, we were not as far removed for it as we believed. As we continued down the boardwalk, we saw in the near distance what appeared to be a tall building and thousands of people. Clearly, Branson, MO still had a one more treasure to bestow upon these two venturing vagabonds.
As we got closer the huge buildings we saw them rising into the sky on either side of the road with a large cobblestone street passing between them. The street was open to pedestrian traffic only with at least 5000 people walking its length. I can only describe what I was seeing as an outdoor mall, but this description does not accurately describe what we were witnessing. The tall buildings turned out to be hotels from every national franchise imaginable, which explains where all of the people in the streets came from. The ground floor of these hotels consisted of bars, restaurants, and any and every type of specialty shop you could imagine. There was a chocolate store, moonshine bar, outdoor sporting goods store, and every clothing designer you have ever heard of, and even some you haven’t, had a retail store present. Do you wanna buy a quilt? Well there was a quilt store in Branson, which is located right next to the Gucci Store. Want to buy a 40-million-year old fossil of a Russian bear for the bargain price of $40,000, it can be yours and so much more in Downtown Branson! This went on and on for 3 miles!
Of course we had to walk the entire length of the cobblestone road to take it all in. On our way back to Rosie, we saw a huge gathering of people, and I heard what sounded like Beethoven's 5th being played over the loud speaker system. The people surrounding me clearly were not connoisseurs of classical music, so we inched closer to investigate further. What we saw can only be described as Branson’s answer to the Bellagio Fountains of Las Vegas. There was a huge oval shaped pool, and there were fountains in the pool the ejected water into the sky with each note played of Beethoven’s 5th as if the water was singing. At the parts of the song that hit a certain base note, pillars of fire would shoot up from within the pool. It took me a couple of tries but I eventually got a picture of the fire and water erupting from the pool of water simultaneously. Keep in mind Branson, MO is a town not a city, and it located in the middle of farmland from 3 hours on all sides. We were once again left dumbfounded at what was unfolding before our very eyes!
We finally made it back to Rosie and found a Walmart in Lees Summit, MO to sleep for the night.