AWAY FROM HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
First, I want to say that I have NEVER been away from my family
on a holiday. Until now. Until Thanksgiving.
But my BFF (best friend forever) husband Charlie and I have spent
16 summer vacations in Branson
MO. and have never seen that town gussied up for the Christmas holidays. So this year,
BFF said “Let’s leave on Thanksgiving Day and come home on the following Sunday. Let’s see the Ozark Country
I was touched. Of course, I was a little less touched when I found
out that World of Outlaws Champion Danny Lasoski http://www.dannylasoski.com/ was going to be racing in Springfield Mo ( a mere 45 minutes north of Branson) on Saturday night. BFF loves
sprint cars. And he loves racing. As a matter of fact, BFF used to race stock cars in our area on a half-mile dirt track.
So he thought we might drive out to the track to see what was up. (Translate: we took our stadium seats and clothing suitable
for weather in the high 20’s.)
The trip to Branson wasn’t as eventful as our summer sojourn.
Then, we took our children and grandchildren (and our oldest daughter’s peach of a mother-in-law) thirty of us , and headed south through the worst flooding Southeast Kansas and Western
Missouri had seen in decades. We detoured and zigged and zagged over the last part of the 800 mile route. But
the Thanksgiving trip (thankfully) was uneventful.
We arrived in Branson and checked in at our motel (not the one
where we usually stay…we decided to be adventurous.) It was a Victorian-looking thing, a bit shabby and faded, but the
turbaned man who checked us in was friendly. BFF fixed the curtain
(which draped and dipped…supported by only two hooks) in
Then we headed off to The Branson Landing. We’d heard that
they were hosting a free concert Thanksgiving Day: performers from “The Legends” theater who do a phenomenal “Blues
Brothers” and another group doing a tribute to ‘The Eagles.”
The concert was great…short, but great. The wind whipped
our coats and bent the water rising from the Landing fountain display. But the faces in the crowd were warm and friendly.
People living in the apartments over the Landing lanes sat on their balconies, wrapped in blankets, and rocked out with the
We ate lunch in a Chinese fast food place…one of the few
businesses open at Branson Landing on the holiday. The menu was limited, but the line of hungry patrons laughed and visited
while waiting for their plates of chicken or…chicken.
Afterward, we set our course for our favorite Branson place: Silver
Dollar City. We expected shorter lines than usual, and smaller crowds. We were wrong on both counts. The moms and dads, grandparents
and kids queued up at the trolley stop eyed the long open trains from the parking lots to the park with avarice. Little ones
were so bundled up, they resembled “Ralphie” from “A Christmas Story.” One tiny girl had forgotten gloves and another family pulled out an extra pair they had and gave them to
City is magical any time of year, but visitors to the City during the holidays
can’t help but go through “sensory overload.” Over three million lights outline turn-of-the-century buildings
and frame pavilions. The lanes through the city glow and the stores promise warmth and whimsy, filled with holiday merchandise.
We rushed to see the “Christmas Homecoming” concert
to catch one of my favorites, Tracy Heaston, at the piano. He wasn’t at the first performance, though, so we stayed
for the show and then caught a later one, too. After the concert, we strolled past the barns and homestead and made our way
around to ride “Fire in the Hole.” Something was missing. I felt strange standing there in the cold. Then it hit
me…the toe-tapping Bluegrass they pipe through the “City” streets in the summer was
gone. The night was still. Quiet. Contemplative.
We bypassed the holiday saloon show…so many people lined
up in the cold wind that we despaired of getting in. Next, on our itinerary, was the live performance of “A Christmas
Carol.” It was delightful. So many talented musicians in one place…and eye-popping special effects. We laughed
at the FUNNY (not just amusing) lines and cried during Tiny Tim’s solo. And in another building there was a live nativity,
too…more music and wonderful narration in a beautiful replica of Bethlehem
We sat quietly in the Wilderness
Church, in the glow of a gorgeous Christmas tree, thinking about that most famous
of Silent Nights. Coming out, we were just in time for a another tree: this one, three stories tall dressed in lights that
pulse to holiday music. After the last notes of the music died away and the tree lights settled down to a steady gleam, the
parade came past…lighted floats and costumed characters and, of course, Old Saint Nick himself.
The next morning, we shopped…filled the car with bags and
boxes and checked off our Christmas list. That night was free. No obligations. So we booked a show. (In Branson? How innovative!)
BFF and I had seen Pierce Arrow on the Branson Showcase TV program. Like the song says, “They had us from ‘hello.”
They do a bang-up job of country and gospel, specializing in the kind of harmonies
that made the Eagles famous. And the show comedian is “laugh-‘til-your-gut-splits” funny. He pokes a bit
of fun at preachers without making fun of faith. “Open up your Bibles to
anywhere. I’ll be there directly.” And if you get offended? “Wah, wah, wah. Get over it,” is his response.
“Denominations didn’t get you where you are, and they sure
won’t get you where you want to go.”
Afterward, we drove
through Branson’s Festival of Lights. There is enough wattage on that back street to light up a Little Jimmy Dickens
wardrobe. (Look him up. He wore rhinestones.)
Checking out of our motel Saturday morning, we told the nice man
in the turban that we hadn’t signed anything for our charges. His smile stretched half way to Nashville.
“Yase,” he said. I Know. I Know. Thenk yew. Good bye.
In Springfield , we
met some of our “kids,” Cindy and Brandon Beck ( KY3’s weatherman) for lunch. Then we did the “race
Lasoski was great, we didn’t freeze our…anythings
off. A win-win proposition for me and BFF.
When we Beyonders were in grade school, the first essay of the
new school year was often “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” Well,
I’ve had lots of practice at essays in the meantime, but not many nicer vacations. If you’ve never seen the Ozarks,
you should go. If you’ve never seen them at Christmas, you need to go. Your holiday spirit will thank you.
see the link at the bottom of this page.
A TRIP THROUGH A NATIVE AMERICAN WONDERLAND
you ever seen a lava field? Well…have you? I have. I mean, the lava was cold. In fact it was stone cold. It flanked
the highway in obsidian black mounds that looked as if you could pick up pieces for souvenirs. (You can’t. It’s
have you ever been to a pueblo celebration? One where you can see how Native Americans actually live on the reservations?
I have. It was one of the coolest trips of my life.
been to the oldest continually inhabited city in America. It’s on top
of a mesa and the buildings are almost a thousand years old. YOU CAN TOUCH THEM!
All of these things are located NW of Albuquerque,
NM, near the small town of Grants, off I 40. Grants
is an old Route 66 town.
This is the area made famous by the animated
The lava was laid down fairly recently
as those things go (15,000 years ago to about 800 years ago) and you can drive through a place in the El Malpais National
Monument where the natural sandstone abuts the lava. There is still an active volcano in the area which you can drive to.
Going off-road is impossible through the
lava fields unless you go on foot. Then it’s just dangerous. It is easy to lose your direction if you leave the few
paths across the land. There are legends of Spanish gold buried, and lost, in the Malpais, and local stories of a father and
son murder pact back along the lonely road that meanders through the area.
There are also sandstone formations like
La Ventana (Spanish for “the window”) along the way. Check out the
URL below for info on El Malpais (the badlands.)
The oldest continually inhabited city in
the US is called Sky
City. It sits on top of a mesa, commanding a great view of the surrounding countryside
(which was the idea for the original inhabitants.) The people who built Sky City are called Acoma ( emphasis on first syllable.)
They were remarkably advanced for their
day. The ancient civilization has been explored by the Discovery Channel along with Chaco Canyon.
City has no naturally occurring dirt. IT IS BUILT ON SOLID ROCK. The Native Americans
who built Sky City had to bring dirt
up the side of the cliff by the buckets-full to build their cemetery.
Visitors make the short trip up to the
mesa in a van. (They have John Wayne to thank for the road…if you go, be
sure to ask about it.) They are encouraged to buy bottled water to take up with them…that’s right—no water
( at least for tourists)up there either. But there is a lot of history. There are ancient buildings with tiny doors you would
have to stoop low to enter. (The guide tells us it was so that invaders would have to bend down to enter the Sky
City homes. The ancient city dwellers would stand inside, by their doorways, and
conk their stooped trespassers on the head as they entered.)
City church is magnificent…and since it is built on rock, your feet walk
literally walk in the paths of the ancients.
The woman mayor who serves as tour guide
(the society was, and is, matriarchal) has fascinating stories to tell, and the Sky
City inhabitants sell beautiful pottery in front of their ancient homes.
Check out more about Sky
City at this URL:
And view some AWESOME pics of the area
And traveling back toward Albuquerque,
you can exit and drive parts of old Route 66.
and Grants, there are several casinos owned by Native Americans. They all feature great buffets and low priced gas (a definite
draw.) But one, in particular will appeal to car racing fans. The Hollywood Casino (owned by the San Felipe tribe) features
a wonderful race track originally intended to attract the Big Names in racing. It has struggled, but the new management is
working to upgrade and bring in stellar races.
(As a side bar, when we were at the racetrack
in September, 2007, they were shooting footage for a new Kevin Costner film at the café near the gas station.)
And once each year, the San Felipe tribe
opens their pueblo to outsiders to attend their crafts festival. IT IS FASCINATING!
San Felipe URL: http://www.sanfelipecasino.com/pages04/pueblo.html
The weather is gorgeous for a fall vacation,
and accommodations are not high priced. That’s a bonus if you’re traveling with kids. But to get the most out
of this trip, go to the websites and let the kids be impressed by the history before you go.
Be sure to try some of the WONDERFUL NM
cuisine…especially at the casino buffets. Especially the fry bread. YUM!