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Plucky 2006

About The Trip

Day 1
New Orleans to Natchitoches

Day 2
Natchitoches to Hot Springs

Day 3
Hot Springs to Branson

Day 4
Branson to Little Rock

Day 5
Little Rock to Memphis

Day 6
Memphis to Tupelo

Day 7
Tupelo to Birmingham

Day 8
Birmingham to Montgomery

Day 9
Montgomery to New Orleans

overview | accommodations | journal
September 3, 2006: Day Three Overview
Start: Hot Springs, Arkansas
Click Image For Full Size
End: Branson, Missouri
Miles Traveled: 261
  • New Holy Land Tour; Eureka Springs, Arkansas
  • Giant Ball of Twine; Branson, Missouri
  • Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede; Branson, Missouri
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    Branson Accommodations
    Grand Plaza Hotel
    245 N. Wildwood Dr.
    Branson, Missouri 65616
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    Daily Journal

    Mary distracted by something shiny

    The Arkansas scenery looks much prettier than our crappy photography skills indicates.

    This is a straight part of the road

    Mary insists that this is not a commentary.

    Another lousy photo of the main drag of Eureka Springs. We'll try to do better, we promise.

    At the Christ of the Ozarks Natural History Museum, this wall asks if the flood really happened in a rather gruesomely pictoral way.


    The view from Christ of the Ozarks is heavenly.

    Not so Welcome

    The "road" through Dinosaur World

    Those are King Kong's legs. It makes more sense than the kangaroo.

    We broke the law to get this picture - appreciate it

    A replica of the Roman Colosseum made out of playing cards. Believe it or not!



      So here’s the deal, we had a long day and Rick is old now, officially. And we had to be up at Insane-o’clock to go to a Labor Day Parade in a small Missouri town. As a result, last night’s edition of Plucky Survivors See America was the Reader’s Digest Edition, but now we’ve updated it with more information and more pictures. But we’re still a little sleep deprived so don’t expect it to make much sense.

      Rick woke up on the morn of his 40th birthday in a depressing Rodeway Inn in Arkansas with a suspicious stain on the wall, which in many ways was exactly how he always thought it would be. But then things looked up when he took PluckyMobile to get a bath and it involved bubbles and a light show.

      When you pull up to a car wash and your options are $5 for the regular wash, $6 for the super wash, $7 for the ultra wash, and $8 for the ultra wash plus a light show the choice is obvious in our humble opinion. Wacky music, bubbles floating out of the thing before you even drive in, multi-colored foam, and chaser lights in the shape of a 57 Chevy turn car washing into entertainment. Now that Rick is 40, he gets to say thing like this: “I remember when I was a kid and we had to make due with soap and brushes for our car wash fun.”

      Rick made it over to Mary’s hotel so she could do a little pre-road work only to discover that the wireless Internet connection, which had worked fine the night before, was not so much with the working. We immediately began banging our heads on walls since this was now day three of big Internet fun.

      It all started in New Orleans. Mary’s wireless is not working but no worries, Nettie and Diana (who own the other side of the double shotgun house) are able to access the neighbor’s wireless all day long. So Rick tries and it doesn’t work.

      “We’ve got a cable modem, just hook up to that,” Mary says cheerily, “It works great!”

      Except when we try to use it, nothing.

      So we go back to the 20th century and decide to use dial-up since the land line is working again, a mere year after Katrina. Except that doesn’t connect either. Meanwhile, Mary goes over to Diana’s computer, which is humming along on the Internet (you know, the wireless connection that won’t work on the other side of the wall) and it stops as soon as she touches the keyboard.

      A friend volunteers her wireless connection, which she insists is working fine and she invites us over to use it. Laptop in tow, we merrily jaunt over and it stops working the second we walk in the door. Seriously.

      We finally get a very tenuous dial-up connection back at Mary’s house and are able to upload a brief update.

      In Natchitoches, the wireless at Mary’s hotel isn’t working with Rick’s computer so it’s back to a very spotty dial-up at Rick’s hotel, which seems to work best when Mary isn’t around.

      In Hot Springs, the wireless at Mary’s hotel works when we get there in the afternoon but of course Rick is in another hotel, so she uses the public computer and he uses the dial-up while nervously eyeing the stain on the wall.

      That brings us back to this morning in Hot Springs where the wireless isn’t working. We call the front desk to have them check their router, and they say, “Oh, it’s not the router…it’s the cable line. The internet is down, all over the city.”

      We may be overestimating our power here but we’re pretty convinced that we broke the entire Internet somehow, at least in the entire town of Hot Springs and residents: we apologize. We are hoping the “you break it, you buy it” policy does not apply here.

      We left in a timely manner and Mary promptly threw us off schedule by insisting that we stop at a quartz mine where you can mine your own crystals, thereby proving that she is easily distracted by shiny things. Not so much because she cares about crystals but it was an opportunity to talk like a grizzled 1890s prospector, consarnit! Rick was a big baby about the whole thing, starting from the point when the nice ladies said “Do you have anything to dig with?” in a delightful Arkansas twang.

      “Golly, I left my good diggin’ tools in my other suitcase,” was Rick’s mostly mental reply, having thought that “mine your own crystals” meant a sassy hard hat and a few whacks at a wall with a rubber mallet. He didn’t realize it meant digging in piles of red dirt in the hot Arkansas sun with a bent piece of rebar and a burlap sack. Not to mention what it did to his shoes!

      Rick insists now that this is all just comic exaggeration and that he really did enjoy it. Whether you believe him is up to you. The good news is that Mary did find some cool crystals, we think, but they’re coated in dirt so they pretty much look like grimy rocks in a burlap sack.

      Observant readers will remember that yesterday, Mary bought about half of a small bookstore and today she got a bag of rocks. Rick has already informed her that he is not carrying her suitcase. Girls wants books and rocks, girl carries books and rocks.

      From there it was just a lot of driving on really twisty mountain roads (complete with signs often that said “Road is Crooked and Steep Next 15 Miles,” which is not something that inspires you with a great deal of confidence or gets you very far very fast). So we amused ourselves with Day Three of Cow, which became in many ways a metaphor for the vagaries of existence.

      For example, Mary got the (so-far) All-Time High Score in Cow of 163 only to have it wiped out a moment later by a small pioneer cemetery that probably had less than half that number of headstones. That’s the thing about Cow and what keeps it so thrilling: death lurks around every corner.

      Rick got to 47 before similarly wiping out, Mary rebounded to 51 and crashed in flames. We’re getting ahead of ourselves here but we know you’re dying of anticipation so the final score for the day was Mary 111, Rick 42. Rick vows revenge.

      Lunch was at Feltner’s Whatta-Burger, highly recommended by various road food websites and some readers of this very website who said we must, must, must stop and get one. We did and we found it to be more of a Eh-Burger, which isn’t to say it was bad, just not living up to it’s Whatta-Potential. Mary totally dug the chocolate shake. To our chagrin there were many small barbeque shacks along our route that we found after we ate and we rued our choice.

      But keep sending in those suggestions. We’re easily swayed, food, like shiny things distracts us.

      Our second Excellent Road Side Stop was the Christ of the Ozarks complex, which has a lot of different attractions including a bible museum, a giant statue of Christ, and recreations of Biblical scenes known as the New Holy Land Tour, which is what we were planning to do. Instead of folk art it turns out to be a massive, slick operation, more theme park than devotional pilgrimage stop, with a nightly Passion Play dinner theater (too horrifying to contemplate eating a buffet before watching the suffering of Jesus), a large parking lot, and no sense of humor whatsoever.

      We were dismayed to learn that one does not do the New Holy Land Tour on foot, but in a tram and that it lasts two and a half hours. Unfortunately that timing didn’t work for us as we had a date with dinos and Dolly, we told the ticket lady, who said “Oh, I hate to bad mouth anyone, but you can skip Dinosaur World. It’s just a bunch of concrete dinosaurs scattered on the hillside.” What she didn’t realize is that is exactly what we hoped it would be (one man’s crappy concrete dinosaur is another man’s bliss we always say) and so we still declined to take the tour. An hour of models of Exodus and whatnot would be plenty; two and a half is too much, which was also our reaction to their Museum of Natural History, which we toured instead

      This facility claims to demonstrate how science and Genesis can be reconciled but instead turns out to be a shrine to creationism and dedicated to pooh-poohing science and its pesky, “impossible to prove” theories. After listening to an audio program dismissing Carbon 14 dating, all of archaeology and anthropology as giant mistakes, and toting the “facts” of Genesis, you could find us in the fetal position, sobbing. Mary, a theology grad student, is regularly surrounded by devout theists who are also equally devout evolutionists and she imagined them joining us.

      The drive through Eureka Springs revealed the opposite of our recent small town experiences, in that it is picture postcard preserved and thriving. Except that virtually every shop we could see is devoted to knick-knicks, geegaws and other tourist-related crap, set within a series of ticky-tacky motels and decent hotels. What usually happens with places like this is that there is a core of some substance and a tourist industry springs up around it, which is precisely what happened here, but it seems that over time that core has dissolved as we couldn’t not tell (admittedly, not that we spent much significant time looking) what was the heart of the place to begin with. Don’t get us wrong; we are delighted it is preserved and doing so well, and thanks to years spent on family road trips, we have a decided sentimental nearly irony-free love for tourist-centric destinations such as this, but there was something unsatisfying about it.

      It's as though the town sold its soul to remain forever youthful, or at least, for immortality.

    So we drive and we drive, and we can’t really find Dinosaur World, and we wonder why there aren’t any signs for it when there are signs welcoming us to the friendly and perhaps poorly named Beaver, Arkansas, and we reorient ourselves on the map and we try again, and we finally find the place…and it’s closed. Very, very closed. As in, it doesn’t look like anyone’s been around in, oh, a month of Sundays, give or take a couple of years. Grass is growing over the gravel you take into the place, pieces of the kangaroo statue (no, we don’t know why) near the entrance are falling off, and the whole place is reeking with the stench of neglect.

    Remember that scene in the Chevy Chase museum “Vacation” where they travel halfway across the country in the Family Truckster to visit Wally World and it’s closed? We’re pretty sure that the expression on their faces is similar to the expression on ours when we saw abandoned Dinosaur World. Only ours was accompanied by an “Oh, hell no!” as we affirmed that we had come all this way to see crappy concrete dinosaur bliss and damn it we’re going to see crappy concrete dinosaur bliss!

    And we weren’t going to let a little thing like a chain across the road and the camera ready staging for a new version of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” stop us.

    So we look around for guys with shotguns and then slip under the chain and hike in.

    There’s a couple of concrete cavemen looking not at all inviting, a big King Kong (nope, still don’t know why) and there, waaay off in the distance, is what looks like a T Rex. Problem is, to get there, we have to cross one of those swaying rope bridges like on Tom Sawyer’s island or pretty much every “Indiana Jones” movie. It crosses an actual (okay, small, but actual) creek gorge and did we mention it sways when you walk across it and that Rick doesn’t like heights?

    Parenthetically, Rick is suddenly realizing that he is coming off as a fussy, whiny crybaby in some of these stories and insists that those who know him will say that most of the time he isn’t like that. Much.

    Rick almost chickened out but wound up going first across the stupid thing without embarrassing himself too much by screaming like a nine-year-old girl, but that was only because he didn’t want to further draw attention to the whole trespassing thing. We had no idea if the thing would hold or not, though we did feel better when we realized it was held up by steel cables not rope

    Anyway, note the photo of Rick with the T-Rex. We risked life and limb and our record of no misdemeanor trespassing citations to get it, so enjoy it.

    And it’s back to driving through the Ozarks, which by the way? Really pretty.

    And so’s the whole dang state of Arkansas or at least what we saw of it, which felt like the whole state. Big mountains, lotsa trees, scenic vistas galore; it’s really pretty.

    But of course we had better things to do than appreciate the wonder of God’s green earth, otherwise known as Branson.

    We crossed into Missouri and noted yet another topographical shift, more rocky, less-forested, and with a return flatter plains. Our pleasure at being still on schedule (this because our time at Dino World was necessarily truncated) was abruptly brought to a halt when we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic heading into Branson, which as we understand it is a fairly regular occurrence on the two-lane highway running through the heart of things.

    Before we go any further, we should note that we are fans of Vegas. We like the glitz and we are continually both astonished and amused by the turns taken by the rapid development there. But there is a big difference between kicking a few scorpions off a few acres of desert scrub brush to build a giant casino and clear cutting a swath of forest to put up and over-sized mini-mall hosting a dinner theater (yes, we know about the water and ecology issues, but we are rolling here, so never mind that for now). And that is the entirety of Branson; strip mall looking theater after strip mall, after strip mall looking theater, after museum shaped like the Titanic crashing into an iceberg. “Wow,” was our reaction and not in an appreciative way.

    Lest you think we are total snobs, our own entertainment option this evening was Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, which is sort of Medieval Times recast as a way to settle, “once and for all,” the cheery host tells us, that icky unpleasantness known as the Civil War, or, as they put it “the time when folks who had a different ideas of patriotism” apparently had words over it.

    And how does one go about doing that? By dividing the roughly 1,000-seat amphitheater into north and south sides and having them cheer on contestants in pig, chicken, and ostrich races. Ah, if only all wars could be settled that way.

    Now, Mary never got over horse-crazy phase and the show had plenty of pretty horsies, excellent trick riding and the like, plus real buffalo, so she was happy.

    The rest of the show—all singing! All dancing!—was earnestly performed, and if the songs were blah and forgettable, the energy was high. We were particularly amused at the recasting of antebellum South as a place of fun barbeques and parties and the North as—well, we aren’t sure, since it’s hard to write catchy tunes about NYC intellectuals and the Transcendentalists, so they settled for some kind of aerialist circus act duet with a man on horseback. It had something to do with Yankee ingenuity, but we never got the connection.

    And there were pig races! And ostrich races! And if you’re able to let go of the fact that a big portion of the show reduces a tragic part of American history into an episode of “Hee-Haw” it can be a great deal of fun. And it was a good value especially when you consider that your $49 gets you the show and food!

    Oh right, the food! A garlicky biscuit, soup that was mostly half-and-half, a whole and unexpectedly moist small chicken, a piece of pork, buttery corn, puff pastry apple turnover, and unlimited Pepsi or iced tea. It was much better than any meal prepared a thousand at a time has a right to be.

    And then, finally, it was off to the catalyst for the trip; Ripley’s Believe or Not, and the Big Ball of Twine. The ticket gal warned us that the gift shop would close before we were done with the museum, and we didn’t really care, but just in case, Mary asked “Do you sell something like a small ball of twine? Like the world’s smallest big ball of twine?” No, she said, “But we do have a two headed bobble calf.” And now, so do we. And so do a few of our friends. Sorry to ruin the surprise.

    And the ball itself? What do we say except…we are in awe. Our accomplishments are so minor, in comparison.

    And yes, yes, we know there are many places that claim to have the Biggest Ball of Twine but this is the only one on our route so leave us alone.

    By the way, our hotel for the evening (The Grand Plaza) was a very friendly, fancy version of a family hotel, which, by coincidence Rick’s parents had stayed at a month before. Our room was spacious, but we weren’t there long enough to take advantage of the hotel’s other amenities like a continental breakfast with donuts.

    However we were there long enough to discover the wireless doesn’t work in our room. It has something to do with the cabins built across the street and how their wireless interferes with the hotel’s wireless. We’re not exactly sure because at some point the explanation was drowned out by our sobbing. Mary is now sure she is giving off negative ions.

    But that’s okay, we got our work done and even had a little time to study the map for the next day’s worth of driving. Looks easy.

    Cue dramatic foreshadowing music here.

    Thanks for your continued e-mails, readership, and concerns about our waistline. Really, people, what we’ve been eating is basically a warm up. It’s like carbo-loading.

    See you tomorrow!

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