The Ozark Mountain region provides beautiful landscapes, canyons, caves and people! We were so thankful that we elected to depart our family a day early. Weather did move in, as predicted, which would have made the mountain roads much more interesting (read challenging). As well, when we arrived in Branson on Sunday afternoon and were disconnecting the Toad, Jann noticed that the right side connection joint of the Blue Ox baseplate was loose. This baseplate with its two connections points are where the Toad hitches to Contessa and it is essential that these two points are solid and secure. If not, the Toad can cause major damage to people and structures!
This is the second time this joint had failed since its installation in mid-July 2017 when we acquired Contessa. Once again, we were so blessed to find good service providers. This time it was Thomas and Sons in Springfield, MO (35 miles away) that was a very knowledgeable Blue Ox distributor and service center. Bill contacted them on Monday morning and the Toad was in their service bay before noon. After a very short time, they determined that the baseplate had been installed improperly in 2017, which is what led to the initial failure in 2018 in Houston and again to the “repair” that was done at that time.
Within about an hour, we had a new baseplate assembly on order (to be received and installed the following day) and on our way in a loaner car, so that we could enjoy our time in Southern Missouri! Every single person we dealt with at Thomas & Sons was amazing – like their #1 goal was to solve any issue we might have and as though they were the owner of the business.
So, Tuesday morning, we set off to Dogwood Canyon, about 45 minutes southwest of Branson. On a hot day in southern Missouri, escaping to a 10,000 acre preserve of cool waters and luscious greenery was perfect. The preserve began with the purchase of 2,260 acres in 1990 by Johnny Morris, CEO of Bass Pro Shops. It was opened briefly to the public but was then closed for restoration and expansion. Over six years, construction of roads, bridges and infrastructure occurred that supports both the use and protection of what is now the home to long horn steer, elk and bison as well as bald and golden eagles and an amazing amount of rainbow trout.
Dogwood Canyon reopened to the public in 1996 and is now part of the Johnny Morris Foundation. There are hiking trails, bicycle paths, opportunities for both self-guided and guided trout fishing adventures, horseback riding and segway & tram tours.
It is an amazing preservation of a beautiful piece of the world. Johnny Morris has had a major impact on Southern Missouri, having founded Bass Pro Shops in 1972 in 8 square feet of space in the back of his father’s liquor store in Springfield, Missouri selling fishing tackle. He is truly an example of the “American Dream” where hard, honest work is rewarded – and is given back! That humble beginning is now a vast enterprise of destination stores, boat & ATV manufacturing, resorts & outdoor destinations and conservation projects.
We spent a delightful day at Dogwood Canyon and as soon as the two-hour tram tour completed, we headed back to Springfield to retrieve the Toad, with her shiny new baseplate. It was ready just as promised, at exactly the price they quoted – what a pleasure to do business with these people!
On Wednesday, we had the extreme pleasure of visiting the College of the Ozarks, located in Hollister, MO, just south of Branson. Their Mission is to “provide the advantages of a Christian education for the youth of both sexes, especially those found worthy, but who are without sufficient means to procure such training.” Their Vision is “to develop citizens of Christ-like character who are well-educated, hard-working and patriotic.”
Known as Hard Work University, all students at the college work, rather than pay, for their education. No full-time student pays tuition, but rather works at campus jobs. The college openly discourages debt by not participating in any kind of loans and allows students to the opportunity to graduate debt free. Additionally, they gain four years of valuable work experience.
It was founded in 1906 by Presbyterian minister Reverend James Forsythe as a high school called The School of the Ozarks. In 1956, it was renamed The College of the Ozarks as a junior college (closing the high school portion) before becoming a four-year bachelor’s program in 1965. In 2012, they re-opened the high school component and in 2015, implemented a kindergarten thru middle school component. They now offer complete K-12 and 4 year degree programs. There are over 50 majors available to students, who will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
While the Keeter Center is the largest “employer” on campus with an historic hotel, meeting facilities and dining room that serves lunch & dinner daily to the public, there are 100 work experiences from dairy to landscaping, stain glass to farming, greenhouses to candlemaking and millworks.
We had the opportunity to speak with many of the students as they worked in the various shops and dining room. It certainly renewed our faith and outlook in the “younger generation” as they spoke of their country, their commitment to their own future and their education. Our server at lunch is entering her junior year in nursing; she plans to work 2 years in ICU/Emergency Room Trauma and then return to school to pursue a degree as Nurse Practitioner.
As we mentioned, the Patriotic component of the education at College of the Ozarks is very prominent. To the left of the main entrance is Patriots Park, where Memorials are honorably presented, maintained and visited by the student body and visitors.
COVID certainly took a toll on the town of Branson, as many of the entertainment venues, as well as motels and restaurants were boarded up or closed. The draw for us to Branson was not the entertainment, but we did decide to spend a couple of our evenings supporting the local establishments. One evening was “New Jersey Nights” – a local rendition of The Jersey Boys, which was quite well done. The second evening was The Six, a group of five (originally six) brothers that have been entertaining in Branson for over twenty years. Billed as one of the best shows in Branson, we left disappointed but glad that we had supported the local economy!
Our campground was extremely convenient, located literally downtown and right on Lake Taneycomo, which looks much more like a river, which connects to Table Rock Lake, a large recreational lake of Southern Missouri. Branson Lakeside RV Park is run by the city, is well maintained and very convenient for everything we wanted to see in the region.
We thoroughly enjoyed our days in Southern Missouri – then we headed back east toward our much-anticipated Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Over the next several days, we were in campgrounds that did not have wifi services of any type, so this blog entry is much delayed. We are currently “on the Trail” sipping Bourbon and taking many notes! You’ll hear from us again in a few days!