Friday, December 25, 2015

Branson, Missouri

It's a miracle, my previous post loaded! Better keep on writing!
Where were we? O, yes, Chanute, let's see now ...

After our little detour we quickly went back on track and drove back into Missouri. 
Our plan was to play another round of golf in Pittsburg, KS, but when we arrived it started to rain and it looked pretty miserable, so we had lunch instead and moved on. 

In the afternoon, we arrived in Cassville, just outside the Mark Twain National Forest and parked for the night at another Walmart.
It was still raining, so we did some shopping, had dinner at a Mexican restaurant right across the street of the same shopping mall, and played some dominoes before calling it a day. 

We did play golf that next morning but for the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the course or how it looked like. I think these two pictures are from the course ...


Still a lot of pretty fall colors around Cassville ......

Next up came a stretch of road, that I'd rather forget about, since it was rather harrowing and it probably cost me 5 years of my life!
Yikes! It was narrow, without any shoulders to speak of, with a deep drop-off on my side, and it was very hilly and incredibly windy.
Note to self : 'do NOT go onto these small, windy roads with the rig!
Check and double-check beforehand on the web!'

I didn't say it wasn't pretty, it just scared the cr#@ out of me! 
There weren't any pull offs to take pictures and the trees pretty much prevented any views but every now and than we got a peak of the lakes when we had to cross a river ...

After 35 scary miles, we reached a much better divided highway and  finally drove into Branson.

Once known as a spin-off of Nashville and a country music haven, Branson is nestled in the Ozark Mountains and now boasts, at last count, 50 theaters, each with a musical and entertainment style uniquely its own - See more at:

According to plan we drove to Hollister, just a couple of miles south of town, to park at the Escapees RV Park, Turkey Creek Village.

We've been members of the Escapees RV Club since we started this RV adventure. They've been, and still are, a huge source of information and we use their mail service to redirect our mail when we're at our seasonal destinations.
They also offer members discounts at selected RV-parks and have several parks they own themselves. This park would normally charge  $24 a night but for us it was only $17.50, and especially in this area that's very cheap!
It's only about 20 minutes from the big attractions in Branson and makes a good base of operations for that venue.

Branson is best known as being a spin-off of Nashville and a country music haven, and ever since the Baldknobbers Country Music Theatre opened at Branson’s City Hall almost 50 years ago, the once sleepy town has been attracting tourist.
It's historic downtown area has over 80 unique quaint shops, businesses and restaurants.It is the home of Branson’s first theatre, Branson’s oldest commercial building, and the spot where Branson’s first show, the Baldknobbers Jamboree, “started it all."

We went for a stroll through downtown, looked through a few flea-markets and visited one of it’s biggest attractions, “Dick’s 5 & 10.” 
Dick’s is a true old time 5 & Dime store that is reminiscent of a bygone era both in terms of its interior construction and the selection and display of its merchandise. It has been said that if you can’t find what you want in Dick’s then you don’t need it.

Afterwards we golfed at the  Don Gardner par 3 Golf Course. Named after local golf professional Don Gardner, this 9-hole, par 3 course is the only affordable alternative for some golf in this area. 
There's lots of courses but they're ridiculously expensive!
With two ponds and several sand traps it kept us busy for a nice afternoon!

The next day we took a scenic drive through the area. Branson is nestled in the beautiful Ozark National Forest and lays a midst several big lakes.
The three  main Lakes in the Branson Tri-Lakes area are Table Rock Lake, Bull Shoals Lake, and Lake Taneycomo. 

 The weather was a little gloomy but at least it had stopped raining!

We sort of looped through the hills around Branson and after lunch we made our way to the true attraction of this town, the Branson 'strip'. 

Although long a popular destination for vacationers for it's beautiful surroundings, the collection of entertainment theaters along 76 Country Boulevard has increased Branson's popularity as a tourist destination and today with an average of 9 million visitors annually, Branson has grown into one of the most popular entertainment destinations in the heartland.

nce known as a spin-off of Nashville and a country music haven, Branson is nestled in the Ozark Mountains and now boasts, at last count, 50 theaters, each with a musical and entertainment style uniquely its own - See more at:

Each of the, at last count, 50 theaters, boasts a musical and entertainment style uniquely its own.

It looks like the Vegas strip but instead of casinos these are all music theaters!

Yup, even a Titanic, which also houses a Titanic-museum!

Just amazing!

I guess you can't be in Branson without at least visiting one of the shows, so we purchased tickets through the campground (a much better deal than through the annoying and pushy booking agents in town) for the Clay Cooper show.

It's a country-music and entertainment show in which his whole family participates. We liked it a lot!

OK, that was Branson. The next morning we left town and this time choose the big Highway to get out of the hills. 
Much, much better choice, believe me!

By doing so we did miss out on the beautiful drive I'd initially planned we would take, along the scenic byway (I-8) through the Arkansas Ozarks, but we were safe, and that's what matters most.
So, without much 'ado', we entered Arkansas !

A little blurry, but that happens when you forget the sign is coming up!

The scenery stayed pretty much the same throughout the day, forested hills and lots of little lakes, streams and some bigger rivers ...

De Gray Lake (I think..)
Little Red river

After an uneventful drive (yeah!) south on the I-65, we bypassed Conway and Little Rock and overnight-ed at a Walmart in Bryant, just off the I-30.

The next morning we headed further west for the second 'detour' of our trip.This time we zig-zagged into Texas to get the yearly inspection of both of our vehicles done.

We'd googled and found an inspection station in Queen City, just over the 'border', about 20 miles south of Texarkana.
It was a quick in and out (although the parking lot could have been a little larger)and within half an hour we were all set and good for another year.

Our campground of choice for the night was Amazing Grace Acres in Atlanta. 
Good enough for the night, and very reasonably priced, but the owner's barking dog sort of ruined the 'amazing grace' part ...

In case you were wondering what happened to the golf-part of our trip: yes, we skipped a day or so (gasp), with Branson being too expensive and the weather not cooperating but the next morning we were at it again. Phew, just in time ...

The next day we also finally reached or end-destination ('State-wise', I mean) ....  Louisiana! Yahoo!

And after a short drive we played 9 holes at another beautiful little municipal course!
The weather was great and the course really beautiful. What can I say ... life is good?!

Yes, that's the green down there. And no, I wasn't on it ...

                      What a nice course!


I had a little hitchhiker, that's a Monarch on my golf bag and the one on the right is a Common Buckeye.
I guess the temperatures here are (still?) warm enough for butterflies!

Yes, very beautiful indeed!

That afternoon it was only a short ride to our end-destination for the day, the  North Toledo Bend State Park just past Zwolle ...

... huh, Zwolle???? Yup,  there's a Zwolle in Louisiana and a little further south there's also a Deridder and a Leesville.

Those dutch are everywhere!

Anyhoo, we settled for the night at the beautiful Toledo Bend State Park ...

I'd hoped for a 'lakeview' but no sites had any so we had to settle for a peak through the (very) tall trees ...


This beautiful park sits on the eastern shore of one of the country's largest man-made reservoirs, the Toledo Bend Reservoir, and is an outdoors sports mecca, very popular among swimmers, boaters and fishers.


A little evening hike through the pine forest on one of the nearby trails brought us to the shore of the lake ..


At the right time of the year this is also a birding mecca, but this clearly wasn't it, not much was stirring except for what I think was an otter ...

Next day we had quite a long drive but everything went smoothly and we arrived at the Ace RV Park in Abbeville just in time for Happy Hour. 
This was another Passport America park, so we paid half price. As usual, not the prettiest park, but the site was quiet and large and you can't beat the price!

We golfed the next day at the local course, Vermillion Oaks.

Well, this was our first experience with the famous Louisiana humidity! 
It had rained that night, and a lot the previous week, and everything was steaming in the rising morning temperatures ....

We were sweating like the proverbial 'pigs' within playing just a couple of holes!
Boy, was it uncomfortable!
I couldn't play squat and gave up after 5 holes but James soldiered on while I waited for him in the blissfully air-conditioned clubhouse ...

While in the neighborhood we wanted to drive the Creole Nature Trail, a 'must-do' according to my Louisiana guide.

So the next day we drove part of the 180 mile 'loop' of this scenic Byway.
One of only 43 so designated scenic byways in the USA, and affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is called "a journey into one of America’s “Last Great Wildernesses.” 

Tall bridges are the norm in Louisiana, this one along the trail curves way high above the marshy land below. I DO NOT like these bridges!

They do give you a nice view of the marshes though (if you dare to look!)

First stop was the visitors center at the Cameron Prairie national Wildlife Refuge.
This refuge contains 9,621 acres that include fresh marsh, coastal prairie, and old rice fields (currently moist soil units). Located at the convergence of two major flyways, the refuge has an important role in management for migratory birds.

This is where we saw our very first alligator! Yes! Here gator boy ..

We toured the center and watched a very funny informative video, narrated in Creole by Tante (!)  , before heading out to the boardwalk a little further down the road.

We had it all to ourselves and really enjoyed the nice walk, just inches above the swamp, you're right in the middle of it!

Lots of beautiful water plants and lilies ...


Although this wasn't the best time for wildlife watching we started to see some shore and wading birds!

(A little Moorhen, a Snowy Egret and a Pied-Billed Grebe)
But it wasn't until we started to drive the 3 mile 'Pintail Drive' that we hit pay-dirt! 
I mean, how crazy is the next picture?

Doesn't it look like somebody staged these three?  I almost didn't believe they were real!

But they were .....

A beautiful Great Blue Heron, and a Great Egret ...

And of course the most flashy, and special, of them all, a Roseate Spoonbill!


Oh my gosh, to say I was excited was an understatement! I felt so lucky to see one!

These gorgeous birds are winter residents only at the very southern coastal areas of Florida, Texas and Louisiana.
After a declining population in the late 18th/early 19th century due to the millinery trade (hats), they're finally, and fortunately, recovering in range and numbers again!
What a bird!

But wait ... there's more!

Another Snowy Egret

And this beautiful Tricolored, sometimes called 'Louisiana', Heron. Although fairly common around here, their numbers are declining due to the loss of wetlands.

And than there was the most spectacular part of the drive ...


Sunning themselves after a cool morning, they appeared in numbers in the grasses next to the swamps ...


Because alligators can't control their temperature internally, they sunbathe when they are cold, and when they are hot, they go for a swim.

Our truck is a little on the big and loud side to 'sneak' up on wildlife and these guys were on the shy side, but I managed to get some shots before they disappeared in the water ..

OK, here's alittle about alligators:

Alligators, sometimes described as ‘living fossils’, are reptiles and, like crocodiles are part of the order ‘Crocodylia’. They are cold-blooded, can weigh over 450 kg and are carnivorous opportunists, eating fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. What they eat is largely determined by their size.

They have a powerful bite but the muscles that open the jaw are relatively weak. An adult human could hold the jaws of an alligator shut with their bare hands.
They have between 74 and 80 teeth in their jaws at any given time, and as teeth wear down or fall out they are replaced. An alligator can go through over 2,000 teeth in its lifetime. Yikes!!

And here's a creepy one: "They can use tools". Honestly!

American alligators have been observed using lures to hunt birds. They balance sticks and branches on their heads, attracting birds looking for nesting material.

Aaaaaallright, ... just what you always wanted to know, right?

We continued our drive on the Creole trail, scaled another scary bridge ...

..... do they have to be THAT high, I mean  .... really?


.... and down the other side ..

                 ... for another look at those wetlands.

The last part of the drive was cut short due to the fact that the ferry, that was supposed to bring us over yet another river, was out of order, so we had to backtrack where we came from.

This area, just before the river, must flood on a regular base (and at least during tornadoes), because all the houses we saw were build on very high stilts ...


The main source of income for the people here comes from fishing the coastal waters of the Gulf (of Mexico) for shrimp or crab.


The next day we checked a few other spots off our 'things to do' list, while we were there.
One of those was a visit to the Conrad rice mill in New Iberia.


Established in 1912, it is the oldest independently owned rice mill in the United States still in operation, and still produces the Konriko brand of rice varieties 'the old way', using the original machines.
It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

We toured the mill, watched a video and bought a bottle of delicious 'secret' hot sauce at the quaint Company store, because that's what you buy at a rice mill of course ...

For lunch we headed to the Bon Creole, a little restaurant that came highly recommended by our tour guide at the mill. It's 'where the locals go' and those are often the best, as we've  figured out.

The outside looked like nothing (except for the sign) but the inside was funky , partly made to look like an old hunting lodge in the swamps:

And the food!!! Our first of Louisiana's number one favorite food, FRIED food, and it was excellent!
We had a (fried) Crawfish Po'boy  and fried Catfish. M-m good!

A po' boy (also po-boy, po boy, or poor boy) is a traditional submarine sandwich from Louisiana. It almost always consists of meat, which is usually roast beef, fried seafood, chicken, or ham. 
The meat is served on baguette-like New Orleans French bread, known for its crisp crust and fluffy center.

There are countless stories as to the origin of the term "po' boy".
A popular local theory claims that free sandwiches were served by a New Orleans restaurant  during a four-month strike against the streetcar company. The restaurant workers jokingly referred to the strikers as "poor boys", and soon the sandwiches themselves took on the name. 
In Louisiana dialect, this is naturally shortened to "po' boy."

This sign above the service counter cracked me up!


One staple of the Louisiana restaurant scene was obvious on all the tables in this restaurant (as in most others) ...

So after lunch we made time to visit the place where ALL the Tabasco in the world is made: the Tabasco Factory on Avery Island!


The history of Tabasco is a classic American story--New Orleans banker loses everything after the Civil War, returns to his wife's family land on the Louisiana coast, experiments with sauces made from peppers grown on the property, friends and neighbors like it and encourage him to make them some, and 135 years later, the sauce is sold in 104 countries and is the definitive hot sauce practically everywhere.

After an introductory video we took a guided tour of the plant.
We stepped right into the bottling area:


What we didn't get to see was that how after the peppers are picked, they are mashed, after which the the mash is aged in wooden barrels for up to three years!


The mash ferments in the barrels, so a layer of salt is added over the wooden top which seals the juices in during the aging process.
After the mash is mixed with vinegar, it's ready to bottle.

The best part of the tour? They give you a bunch of mini-bottles of Tabasco at the end!

We also headed over to the store to sample some ... I must say ... I don't like Tabasco ... bleh!


That's Tabasco ICE-CREAM on the right! I actually DID like that. Go figure, I've such a sweet tooth!

But my favorite part of going there had to be Avery Island and Jungle Gardens. 
You see, the Tabasco Factory was built on an island that is home to North America’s first ever salt rock mine in 1862. However in the 1890’s Mr. McIlhenny decided to preserve 170 acres of the island and named it Jungle Gardens. 

Additionally exotic plants were brought in making the whole area even more lush. You can take a self-guided driving tour of the island that takes you through all of it.

Apparently numerous American alligators, Louisiana black bears, and white-tailed deer also inhabit the island, in addition to coypu, North American river otters, muskrats, snakes, and other wild animals.

We saw none .. zilch ... zero ...

No wait, we saw one Great Egret ..

This neat area was designed to house the giant Buddah statue given to Mr. McIlhenney as a gift in the 1930’s.

A few Japanese Camellias were flowering ...

One of Jungle Gardens' primary attractions is a bird sanctuary called Bird City. It provides roosts for snowy egrets and other wildfowl species.
Unfortunately there were no birds present while we were there. Not the right season. Mosquitoes were everywhere though, since it was late in the afternoon and the sun started to set!

This might have been a snapping turtle.

The next day we were supposed to move on, towards New Orleans, but it sort of started to rain ....

... and rain .. and rain ... you get the picture! 

So we decided to stay put for another day. 
James actually went golfing again (ha, not me!) during a little lull, but got soaked after a couple of holes when it started up again!

When we left the next day we noticed that the road, which continued past the campground entrance, had flooded. 
Fortunately, we were heading the other way, and we had no problems getting out of there and made it safely towards Lafayette, where we took the I-10 all the way to New Orleans.

Now, I admit, the roads in Louisiana face challenging circumstances, the whole State is practically one big swamp and it floods all the time .....

Which is why many of them are completely build on pillars ....

But jeez ... do they have to be THIS bad? It's just one wobbly, rattling, jarring ride wherever you go!

We passed through mile after mile of swamp...

quite pretty actually....

And finally reached the Bayou Segnette State Park in Westwego, about 20 minutes south of New Orleans which was going to be our home for the next 2 weeks. 

                               Do you think there's enough to do here?

Phew, we made it! 
For the next couple of weeks we used this Park as 'home-base', from where we were drove around New Orleans in a big circle to find the campground we'd like best for staying through the winter.

Time to start another post, don't you think? This one's getting a 'little' long again. See you there (if you dare)!