My family and I just returned from our annual summer vacation to Branson, Missouri. For those that are not familiar with Branson, it is a tourist community cuddled into the Ozark mountain region in the Southwest corner of Missouri, not very far to the Arkansas border. They completed the Table Rock Dam on the White River in 1963 which allowed the formation of Table Rock Lake. Branson is a combination of Nashville, Disneyland without the characters and a family friendly Las Vegas. The city has over 50 theaters and a selection of over 100 live shows to choose from. There are numerous outlet malls, museums, golf courses (from championship links to mini-golf), and restaurants. There are other local attractions that include Celebration City, Dixie Stampede, White Water, an IMAX Theater, Big Cedar Lodge, Titanic Museum, Showboat Branson Belle, The Shepherd of the Hills, Stone Hill Winery, Ride the Ducks, the Branson Landing, Liverpool Legends and of course, no visit to Branson would be complete without spending a day or two at Silver Dollar City.
Silver Dollar City opened in 1960 as an above ground attraction at Marvel Cave. It was made up of a recreated frontier town of five shops, a church, a log cabin with actors playing out the feud between Hatfields and McCoys. In those days, SDC was free but tourists had to pay to tour the cave. Now you pay to enter SDC but the tour through Marvel Cave is free. Over the years, SDC has added numerous rides and attractions but the best experience at SDC is to watch craftsmen work their trade much the way it was done several generations ago. I enjoy watching them make items out of blown glass, or shaving wood to make a basket, or cooking down lye to make soap. The kids, of course, love to visit the taffy shop to fill a small bucket with their favorite flavors of freshly made candy. My personal favorite experience is to watch master craftsman Raymond Johnson literally forge and hammer out a knife blade out of raw stock material on his big steel anvil as he tells stories and saturates the air with his endless “encyclopedia of useless knowledge” as he calls it . . . but I say it is earthly wisdom to a generation that cannot hear it because they have their i-pod buzzing in their ears. Ray is ‘old school’ all the way and just a delight to watch and listen to. His knives are hard enough to punch a hole in a 55 gallon steel drum, strong enough to stand up in a vice and take a punch from a 5 pound sledge and sharp enough to cleanly cut through a piece of twisted manila rope with a simple downward stroke.
Like most vacation destinations, the cost of a season pass is slightly more than paying for two individual day tickets so we always opt out for the season pass. Our family has found we enjoy SDC more by visiting when they first open at 9:30am and staying until mid afternoon. We prefer to visit four (4) ½ days then for one or two long ones. This is one advantage that the season pass option allows us. It is always our goal to try to get down to SDC between Thanksgiving and Christmas for their holiday celebration which is a totally different experience.
My first trip to Branson occurred in the mid 1970’s. My dad was a heavy equipment mechanic and worked on Euclid earthmoving scrapers and dump trucks before they sold out to GM (who then sold out to Hitachi). He spent a few months working in the area and since it was summer, he took his family down to stay with him. I do not recall more than swimming in the motel pool and visiting Silver Dollar City. In those days, they only had one ride called “Fire in the Hole”. Remarkably, this ride is still in operation to this day!!
Twenty years later I would start my own family tradition by taking my wife and son to the Ozark vacation week-end get-a-way . Now we have two sons and make our annual pilgrimage as soon as the boys get out of school. Sadly, our vacation ended a few short days ago but we are building memories that we know will last a lifetime.