Life was good in the Midwest where we lived for eight years. Two of our three children were born there and our family of five made a lot of pleasant memories while residing there.
And although we loved living in our suburban home, we journeyed back East to visit our families often for holidays and summer vacations. One different venture though stands out in my memories and is highlighted on our Tuesday Tour today.
Back then, we used a camcorder to capture our vacation more than a still camera. I did take some photos with an inexpensive point and shoot film camera, but most of those were of our children at each of the spots we visited. But there are a few pictures I’m sharing here.
In the summer of 1990, we traveled through Missouri with several of our stops at family-oriented places to entertain, interest, and accommodate our young children at the time. It became a show-me-more kind of vacation in the “show me” state.
We were certain our children would enjoy our first stop at Purina Farms in Gray Summit, MO (near St. Louis) and they surely did. Think Purina as in animal chow and you can imagine what the attractions are.
In the pet center, we watched dogs perform all kinds of tricks, received informative lessons on pet care and even cat grooming, visited an enclosure where kitties lived a luxurious life (now a 20-foot, multi-level cattery), and enjoyed the barn area, where farm animals – cows, horses, sheep, hogs, chickens, and rabbits – were housed. Our children loved interacting with the animals and opportunities to pet them as well. Purina Farms is still going strong today but you must make reservations to visit now.
Show me another farm. One farm wasn’t enough so we visited Grant’s Farm, a historic farm located in Grantwood Village, MO. The land here was once owned by President Ulysses S. Grant but became the property of the Busch family of the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company. One of the attractions there is the famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses plus an assortment of other animals including elephants, camels, buffalo, donkeys, kangaroos, and goats. Our suburban children liked getting up close and personal with the farm animals as well as enjoying animal performances. Grant’s Farm is still free to the public, but now there is a parking fee.
Show me more animals. On we ventured into St. Louis to visit that city’s wonderful zoo. The St. Louis Zoo is yet another free attraction then and even now, although currently you must make timed reservations to visit. This zoo, as one of the few free ones in the United States, now houses over 12,000 animals and is one of the most visited attractions in the area. I don’t know if it still exists or not, but our kids loved a play area in the zoo which featured a rope “spider’s web” to climb on.
Show me something different. Finally, we opted for another place of interest that didn’t offer animals, located a cool, air-conditioned place to visit in St. Louis, and explored another great children’s place called the Magic House. I recently searched online to see if it still existed and according to its website, I’d say this children’s museum has changed quite a lot since we visited in 1990. I recall that our youngsters were mesmerized by the hands-on exhibits back then and the big attraction for them was riding a hovercraft just a few inches off the floor.
Show me something cool. From there we traveled into the Ozark Mountains for even more show me sites we’d never seen before, and our next stop was definitely cool. The famous Meramec Caverns, the biggest commercial caverns (a 4.6-mile system), in a state also known as the “Cave State” (more than 6,000 caves) is located near Stanton, MO. We took a mile-long guided walking tour through the caverns along lighted walkways marveling at the various cave formations, claiming to be the rarest and largest in the world, on the way.
Around 150,000 people visit Meramec Caverns every year learning facts such as the caves were Underground Railroad stations, and many slaves were hidden there on their journeys to free states and the legend that the infamous criminal Jesse James and his gang used the caves as their hideout in the 1870’s.
Show me more fun. Our next stop was Branson, MO, home of Silver Dollar City, a 61-acre theme park which opened in 1960 near Table Rock Lake. Feeling like you stepped back in time to the 1880’s, Silver Dollar City consisted of mostly craftspeople and artisans enacting live demonstrations set up in authentic-looking historical building replicas when we visited the park back then. Now the park features amusement rides and attractions as well as concerts and live shows, dozens of restaurants, and a plethora of shops. Open from mid-March until late December, Silver Dollar City and surrounding attractions are a popular destination in the Midwest. We’ve actually been there three times I believe.
While in that area, we also visited Mutton Hollow Craft Village, which sadly does not exist any longer. (Photo at beginning of this blog was taken there.) It was a smaller, similar old-style themed park featuring rustic cabins where you could watch craftsmen at work and listen to tales of how settlers in that area of the Ozark Mountains lived back then.
It wasn’t as busy or popular as Silver Dollar City, but we liked visiting there and our kids relished getting pony rides. Also nearby is an area where an outdoor drama takes place annually called Shepherd of the Hills. The event is a live reenactment of an historical novel written by Christian minister Harold Bell Wright and published in 1907. We visited the site but did not attend the dramatic production.
Show me unusual nature. Since we were close to Arkansas, we decided to travel further south through the Ozarks and wound up in Eureka Springs, AR, an entire city that has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This mountainous town with its steep streets and sidewalks and no traffic lights consists of many Victorian-style homes and is a popular tourist attraction.
Of course, our young children weren’t that interested in its history nor its architectural style, so we found two aspects of the area that were more exciting for them. First was a visit to a nature trail in a park-like setting that led us to Pivot Rock and Natural Bridge.
Unusual natural rock formations, which became tourist attractions over a hundred years ago, entice visitors to view a 12-foot high, gigantic rock that looks like an inverted pyramid. It does astound your mind that it stays upright, and it makes for a fun photo opportunity. Natural Bridge is exactly what it sounds like, a naturally occurring stone bridge that was carved out of the rocky cliffs by nature’s weathering.
Show me the end. Our last stop was a ride on the Eureka Springs and North Arkansas Railway. Our train was pulled along by a steam locomotive to the end of the line where we disembarked and watched the engine turn around on a historic turntable.
The train ride was fun for our kids and Papa, the railroad enthusiast, enjoyed every minute. Today visitors can take rides on an excursion train or in a dining car pulled along by a 1940-era diesel engine and watch the engines turn around on the turntable, but the steam locomotives appear to have been retired into exhibits.
Our show-me vacation proved to be one I haven’t forgotten even after all of these years. The photos I captured of our three youngsters enjoying our vacation and the few I exhibit here today show me we made great memories.
“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.” ~ Confucius