Monday, July 19, 2010

Vacation in Branson

I went to Branson, Missouri, with my mom and stepdad last week. We stayed in a condo right on Table Rock Lake, so we had an amazing view. I would take walks in the morning and enjoy views like this . . .

And close encounters with weeping rock faces, like this . . .

And every evening after we came home from whatever we were doing, we got to witness glorious sunsets across the lake. (These two pictures were taken on different nights.)

At Branson Landing, every hour on the hour, they do a "fire and water" show. Fountains and fire jets are timed to shoot along with a musical selection that is played over the intercom. The angle of the sun was just right to produce a rainbow when the water jets shot high.

Of course, when one thinks of Branson, one thinks of shows. We went to only two shows, but they were both stellar. We saw Six, a group of six brothers who sing without instrumental accompaniment. All of their percussion and other sounds are produced with their own voices. They are a very talented bunch.

We also saw Cassandre' (yes, that's an apostrophe, not an acute--no, I don't know why), a singer from Nebraska (yay!). Turns out, she and my folks have some acquaintances in common from Nebraska music education circles, so they had a nice chat after the show. Cassandre' has a fantastic voice, and she was supported by an excellent ten-piece orchestra, each musician of which played two or more different instruments, depending on the needs of the song (except the pianist, because every song called for the piano). I expected a nice concert (and was not disappointed), but I did not expect the hilarious musical comedy of Cassandre's "Aunt Irma" who took the stage a couple of times. I absolutely adored Auntie's antics.

At dinner one evening at the condo clubhouse, performers from various shows came in to do brief skits or single songs, like commercials. So I suppose that counts as a show, too.

Now, I know it's a requirement that every show in Branson includes a minimum of one hymn and one patriotic tune. No problem there; that's all good. But what I don't get is why all three shows (including the thing at the clubhouse) included the song "Pretty Woman." Is that the new Branson anthem? It's probably just a coincidence, but it was just bizarre hearing three different live renditions of "Pretty Woman" in the space of one week. I could do without hearing that song again for a couple of years.

One day, Mom and I went down to Arkansas to see the Ozark Medieval Fortress and to visit some caves. On the way, we passed through Omaha, Arkansas, population 166. This was tremendously amusing to me, as I live in Omaha, Nebraska, population 454,731.

The Ozark Medieval Fortress is quite amazing, easily my favorite thing that I saw on this trip. They are building a 13th-century-style fortress from locally-quarried stone and local timber, using only 13th-century technology. (The exceptions being modern concessions required by OSHA, such as steel-toed boots and protective eyewear.) Some of the tools they are using are antiques imported from Europe. Many of these tools are no longer made. For example, they are using a stone-splitting tool that is over 700 years old. It was found inside the walls of an old castle in Europe, where apparently some stonemason back then got tired of his job and buried his tools on the site. The fortress is a new attraction, in its first year of construction. It will take them 20 years to complete it, but people are invited to visit the site, observe the progress, and talk to the workers. If I lived within an hour of the site, I'd probably go several times a year just to watch the walls grow.

And check out this medieval crane for lifting heavy stones. Looks like a lot of work for the man in the hamster wheel!

My second favorite site was the caves. We visited two caves which were located on the same grounds, Mystic Cavern and Crystal Dome. We had a fantastic tour guide who provided a lot of the history behind the caves.

The large structure in this picture is called the "Pipe Organ." The reason should be obvious.

Mystic Cavern was home to an illegal still during the Prohibition Era. Soot from the still stains the ceiling and walls of the cavern to this day. Back in the deepest room of the cave, where the bootleggers were operating, the heat from the still permanently damaged the rocks, making them brittle and stopping the growth of the formations. The cave later sustained heavy damage from vandalism, and most of the stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations were broken off. Even so, the cave remains beautiful.

I was fortunate enough to see a salamander in Mystic Cavern.

Only a few hundred feet away, but not actually connected to Mystic Cavern, is Crystal Dome, which was discovered only a few decades ago. This cavern has been protected since it was discovered, and thus it is as close to pristine as any non-geologist is likely to ever see. Some of the crystal formations are pure white, and there are delicate soda straws hanging from the ceiling.

The most stunning feature of this cavern is its namesake: the eight-story dome. Looking up from the bottom fills one with awe and wonder, and makes one just a little dizzy. The picture doesn't begin to do it justice.

And Crystal Dome also contains a funny little ribbon that, from the side, looks just like a delicious slice of bacon. Mmm, bacon. You could almost hear the sizzle.

On another day, we visited the Butterfly Palace in Branson, which is exactly what the name implies--a pretty indoor garden where you can stroll around in the company of hundreds of butterflies.

The last exhibit I visited was Ripley's Believe It Or Not Odditorium, which was a very entertaining collection of bizarre artifacts from around the world. The one that actually made me say "unbelievable" out loud was the glass case containing objects found inside the stomach of a single shark, including multiple anchors, horseshoes, large bones, bathing suits, and piles and piles of other stuff. Must have been one ginormous shark!

Something I saw in passing, and snapped a picture of as we drove by, was this herd of driftwood horses. I would have loved a closer look at those, but we just never got the chance.

Speaking of driftwood, we also stopped by the College of the Ozarks (aka Hard Work U) a couple of times. Their furniture is student-made, and it is beautiful. If you ever have the opportunity to dine at the College of the Ozarks, do. Their student-run restaurant is superb. I had trout there that I think was the most delicious meal I had on this trip, and I had quite a few delicious meals all over.

One of the other lovely meals I had was at the Altenhof Inn, a German restaurant and pizzaria overlooking Table Rock Lake. The place was difficult to find, but the view was top notch. The Jägerschnitzel was quite tasty, too.

One thing about the whole Branson/Table Rock Lake area--there are vultures. In town, out of town--almost anytime you look up, you see vultures. Good thing I like vultures.

The weather for the week was either uncomfortably hot and humid, or raining. We had quite a few thunderstorms. But sometimes they brought rainbows.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

You're Registration Form FAIL

On the wild, wild web today . . .

"You're Registration Form has Been Submitted."


You'd think a big company that makes such wonderful eyeglass lenses would be able to hire an English major to catch things like this.

Judging when to use "your" versus "you're" is so easy that it makes this error all the more grating. "You're" is a contraction of "you are." If you can't substitute "you are" in the sentence, then the word you're looking for is "your."