Last week I took my family on a vacation to Missouri, we spent a few days in St. Louis and then headed off to Branson. Having bought into a vacation club a few years ago we've visited places that were never really on my radar as a place to visit, some better than others but every place has some interesting sites.
We began the trip in St. Louis, a town that has tons to offer for tourists. Most of the museums and parks have free admission and the parking is fairly reasonable. During our stay we visited the Budweiser brewery, Forest Park (home of a World's Fair), the arch, and a really ornate church that features a ton of mosaics. I really wish we had more to explore the city as it seems like there's a ton we missed.
The next leg of our trip encompassed traveling across the state into the Ozark Mountains. Along the way we visited the Merramac Caverns, a cave system which held the hide out of Jesse James. The I-44 also follows along Route 66 and many of the towns along the route have landmarks that were popular during the heyday of "America's Mainstreet," we visited a few of them but most were saved for our return trip.
Arriving in Branson it was painfully obvious why it's referred to as the "Vegas of the Bible Belt," there are numerous theaters and oddities along the strip all of them competing to be the gaudiest, flashiest on the strip. The town is a mishmash of buildings trying to squeeze into the limited space on the mountainside/valley. This results in an area that is hard to navigate and heavily congested during busy periods. There is also no real walking area or public transportation so you have to drive everywhere. The exception is the downtown (which is a bunch of "Hallmark" and 5&10 Stores) which was somewhat disappointing, the bright spot is the new mall complex that runs along the lake and offers a nice walk and fountain show. We didn't visit the outlet malls which are another big attraction for the area, but driving past them they seemed to be the same as other outlets.
Being close to the Arkansas border, we decided to make a trip to Eureka Springs. This is a really cool little town, built in the Victorian style into the side of a mountain, it's entire downtown is on the national historic registry. It's church was featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not, because you enter through the bell tower. There is also a hotel that has every one of it's nine floors at ground level. The highlight was however the Crescent Hotel which was featured on Ghost Hunters, during the investigation they captured a full body apparition on the thermal imaging. We didn't stay for the ghost tour but did talk to the activities director who gave a quick run-down of the places to visit. Supposedly if you snap photos with you flash in the hotel you'll catch orbs and other oddities. We gave this a shot and did capture a few "orbs," I don't know if they're paranormal or just dust but it was fun to go over them looking for weird stuff.
On our return trip we visited several of the landmarks along Old Route 66, including the world's biggest rocking chair, a town with murals on most of the businesses, and the diner that invented the corn dog.
As with any trip I take to new areas I took plenty of photos of interesting buildings, cave and other things that will inspire some future terrain projects. The town of Eureka Springs was particularly inspirational and I plan on using some of the things I same there on my next big terrain project.