Sunday, October 14, 2007

Past Shmoos and into Moose

Still very early, I headed north on Hi-7 past little Jasper. Dad taught school there for a bit, though we lived in Harrison at that time. Considered stopping in at the Mystic Caverns gift shop even though I wasn't thinking about the cave (been there, done that, several times). But not only was it too early, it was closed on Tuesdays according to the sign I whipped by. So I nodded mournfully at Dogpatch and went on to Harrison.
Dogpatch USA at one time was the Disneyland of the South; quite something in the sixties. It was still The Place in the early seventies, with relatively expensive tickets into the theme park, a cool tram ride down the mountain complete with Al Capp's cartoon characters come-to-life, lots of rides of the latest theme-parkly sort as well as animal- and water-based ones...paddleboats and boat tours and trains and rollercoasters and mules and what-all. Animal shows (even seals!) and petting zoos and a thriving trout farm (the latter being the last to go, actually...noted that part still going a few years ago), infinite gift shops, roaming Li'l Abner characters, musical reviews, silly skits (ever the train robbery) and always a tribute to Sadie Hawkins Day and a few other Capp standards, craft exhibiters and hillbilly houses, razorback vacuum-sucking trash containers, foods and interesting things to explore. I really got into my onyx-collecting habit from a shop there, which was connected to a geological exhibit on local crystalline rocks and the like, next to a working mill...Anyway it was a neat place for a while, chockful of resorts and restaurants and it even had its own post office/postal code. But after some time, a competitor, Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO, popped up (also in cahoots with a cave, Marvel), and Dogpatch started spiralling into a slow death. Soon it was open only during summers, when kids could be hired to work the place; many of the previous attractions closed down, the animals were shipped off, fewer water things, the razorback trashcans got blocked up and not fixed, etc. What had been a great place for budding actors and musicians and the like to get their starts dwindled into a summer carnival with trout farm. And after Al Capp died, little was left besides a couple of gift shops, a picnic spot and echoes of Shmoos. I think the last time I could go into the place was around '95, give or take a year, when entry was free and there were a couple of gift shops open (with a lot of clearance sale items) and the train still ran. Apparently a few other things operated on weekends in the summer.
Now you can't even get into the area as a picnic stop, so Dogpatch is finally totally history. Sniff.
I drove around Harrison. Half my clan lives in this area but I didn't want to spend time trying to roust anyone only to say I hadda go, immediately. I walked around Hudson's grocery and drove about a few houses and old haunts, noting that so many changes had taken place it was just a whole new town, even to me (I've run through the place every few years). Some people were setting up a little farmer's market of sorts along the Square, and I wanted to stop at the library to see if I could borrow a computer and check out my motel/hotel options for the evening, but I didn't want to just wait around (still not hungry). So on I went up 65 into Missouri. Nice enough morning drive, though some of the Ozarks were still adrift in fog near the border. Figured I'd get gas in Missouri; usually much cheaper than it is around Harrison. Passed the slew of entertainer-signs around Branson, another area that has changed dramatically over the past few decades (poor Lake Taneycomo!). Ran on to Springfield and pulled off to check out the tourist center.
It's a tiny one and I rarely go there, but I was dead-tired (for some reason) and they did have free coffee. So I looked at the booklets and brochures, sipped some java, looked at a few stuffed birds in display cases, and stumbled back out. Debated napping, but the light and temperature weren't conducive to that, so I drove on and got gas, and finally decided to hit Bass Pro to try to walk around and wake up. We have Bass Pro shops where I live, but my cousin showed me this one long ago so it's become a semi-regular stop when I'm in the area, if just for the nice restrooms. I tried to eat a cookie I still had that Nancy C. gave me at Armadillocon, and some of my old carrots...I think the carrots were near-death themselves and the cookie just gave me heartburn. But I parked and went in the store.
Bass Pro is a big hunter supply store, but the decor is teeming with the art of the taxidermist and some living exhibits. So it's kind of fun, in a slightly morbid way, to tour the place and take pictures. There are also interesting gadgets, furnishings, arcades and restaurants at these places. You never know what you'll bump into around the next corner.

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