We had a four-hour drive ahead of us and wanted to get to Branson early in the afternoon in order to set up camp at Branson KOA, our home for the next four nights. We were curious as to what we would find in this town, known as a popular destination for vacationers from Missouri and neighboring states. The collection of entertainment theaters along 76 Country Boulevard (and to a lesser extent along Shepherd of the Hills Expressway), including Dolly Parton’s Stampede, and Legends in Concert, has increased Branson’s popularity as a tourist destination.
Given our breakfast experience of the morning before, we skipped the Best Western offering and instead went straight to the Original Fried Pie Shop, where we split two pies, one a bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast and the other an apple fruit.
If you have the time they make yours fresh which gave us a chance to watch the process and chat with the staff. With an added cup of coffee, this would be one of the better breakfasts of the trip.
The drive to Branson went smoothly and once checked in at the KOA we set up camp and pondered our next move. They would turn out not as expected as somewhere along the line I had contracted a particularly nasty stomach virus (I’d had a similar one earlier in the year) that for three days kept me at all times within a short walk of the campground restroom and would plague me for a total of more than a week.
But back to our story; that first night we went to the market and picked up a bagged salad, bread and some kind of protein to mix in for a simple dinner in camp. Up the next morning and not yet aware I was in for it (the trots so to speak), we made our way out to the Table Rock Dam. Constructed between 1954 and 1958 on the White River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, its namesake lake up river and the one downstream (Lake Taneycomo) are popular recreation destinations.
A fish hatchery sits just past the discharge section of the dam whose cold water produces a favorable environment for trout. The hatchery was closed that day so we stopped in at the fairly new visitor center which featured displays on the construction of the dam, a state-of-the-art interactive map of Table Rock Lake, and an informative water safety exhibit.
A twenty-minute film on the construction of the dam was very enlightening as it highlighted the unique challenges to be overcome in spanning the very wide gap to be dammed (6,423 feet long overall consisting of a concrete section 1,602-foot-long and two earth embankment sections with a length of 4,821 feet).
We finished up at the dam and drove around the area for a bit checking out the scenery before entering the outskirts of town to visit the College of the Ozarks. Founded in 1907 and affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, it has an enrollment of 1,433 students and charges no tuition for full-time students due to its student work program and donations.
The program requires students to work 15 hours a week at an on-campus work station and two 40-hour work weeks during breaks, referring to itself as “Hard Work U”, it places emphasis on a character education. It is a lovely campus, larger in scope than its enrollment of less than 2,000 students would seem to warrant. As we finished driving around, we parked outside the Keeter Center, site of the campus hotel, restaurant, and famous Keeter Center Creamery for a couple of scoops of the good stuff.
It was tasty, although in all honesty not the best type of food to be consuming when one has intestinal distress. But if I was going to be miserable, I might as well enjoy something good to eat. And that would be it for me for a couple of days, hanging out at the campground, reading, blogging and watching what seemed to be an endless stream of Weather Channel disaster related shows on the flat panel in the indoor recreation room.
By the end of the day on Tuesday I felt well enough to venture out to a nearby Panera for a bowl of their chicken noodle soup, which would plague me later that night, but it was worth it to have a bit of good protein in my system. The need to stay close to a restroom diminished enough by the next day that we felt it safe to take in a movie, particularly as thunderstorms were forecast for the afternoon.
We found the theater and watched the latest Avengers offering (I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t seen it) and exited the venue to a monsoon level rain, soaking us as we ran for the car. We stopped in at a Taco Bell for the safest thing I could think of to eat, their infamous seven-layer burrito. And that wrapped up Branson for us as we would leave the next morning for the four-hour drive to my sister Bev’s place in Kansas.
So, our desire to check out Branson was short circuited by my stomach virus, which wouldn’t finally leave me for another 3-4 days. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as the attractions of the city for many are its plethora of Las Vegas type show options, primarily focused on classic rock, country music, or golden oldies reviews with a few comedians tossed in for good measure.
After having just come from Nashville where we could take in good live music for the price of a drink at a bar, the prospect of paying $35 and up apiece to see recycled versions of the Eagles, Beatles, or Four Seasons wasn’t something we were inclined to do. And as far as we could tell, there wasn’t any kind of free or low-cost entertainment to be found. Let alone a brewery. That’s right. No breweries.
But for those who find this type of entertainment of value, this is a great place to visit. Beautiful rolling hills lushly carpeted with native foliage, blue skies for most of our visit, and a compact enough footprint to make navigation easy to master. We won’t be back anytime soon, but others will and will enjoy their time there. And that is really all that matters.
Branson KOA: https://koa.com/campgrounds/branson/
The Original Fried Pie Shop: http://theoriginalfriedpieshop.com/
College of the Ozarks: https://www.cofo.edu/
Keeter Center Creamery: https://www.keetercenter.edu/Creamery.aspx