Forts, Sporks and Spelunkers

Mary & Michael sitting in the sunshine at Lexington, MO    I think we're getting good at this "traveling" thing. Last year we went to Gettysburg, P-A, and this year we went to the Ozarks. No one died either time, which makes us "two-fer-two" in the family trips category.

   We threw the trip together in a couple of days, hotel reservations and all, packed up the wagon and headed for the hills. You see, about a week before we made the trip we found ourselves with a week off (due to a change in plans) and no place to go. Unlike 1996's Gettysburg trip, we had been to the Ozarks before so we had an idea of what to expect and where to go. The hard part was the balancing act.

   Those of you with more than one child understand the difficulty in trying to plan a family trip. You know you're practically doomed before you start, because there is just no way to keep everyone happy. Too many of one type of event/attraction/distraction will result in cries of favoritism, so you need to walk an extremely fine line. Balance a battlefield visit with a shopping trip. Mix a trip to a museum with a trip to a zoo. And always, always, always make sure your hotel has a pool.

   Day one was a travel day: 500 miles broken up only by gasoline and potty stops. Everyone knows a travel day is going to be a long day in the car, so we all try to make the best of it. The kids each bring books and tapes and then just hunker down and ignore the many miles and hours that go by. My wife and I get to listen to our kind of music and talk and get caught up, which can make a travel day quite pleasant. Plus, now that we have The Wagon, it feels more like we're sitting in the living room and less like riding in a buckboard.

   We started the day with fair skies, but just south of Clear Lake, IA, the rain caught up with us. It had been stalking us for a couple hours, and now that we were caught out in the open, Cumulo Fracto grabbed his opportunity and opened up on us. Becca said it was like going through a car wash, except there's not usually hail in a car wash. We sought shelter under an overpass, but since the twenty-five cars just ahead of us had the same idea, we were only able to pull off on the shoulder behind the cars under the overpass. Luckily the hail was not large, and the rain passed and we were able to continue on our merry way, skirting Des Moines on I-35 and taking a left at Osceola.

Site of the graves of five Unknown Union Soldiers at Lexington, MO battlefield    We spent the night at my brother's home in Chariton, Ia. We hadn't been to Brian and Shannon's house before, so it was nice to be able to stay with them. We also had never visited Chariton, the home of Hy-Vee grocery stores (where there's a helpful smile in every aisle). We stayed up too late talking, as usual. After breakfast next morning we got the nickel-tour of the schools they teach at, and then back out on the road. Destination: Lexington, Mo.

   For those of you who have never heard of this Lexington, it is just east of Kansas City. They have a museum, a driving and walking tour of antebellum homes, a battlefield, and a Civil War cannonball stuck in a column at the courthouse. The museum has memorabilia about the Pony Express, which was started by several businessmen in Lexington, as well as a nice Civil War exhibit courtesy of the nearby Battle of Lexington. It also contains a slightly frazzled staff volunteer.

   You remember Adam, our Civil War son? The one who eats, sleeps and breathes Civil War minutiae? Totally blindsided her. Not so much with questions, but with corrections. (Note: if you are ever asked, slavery was not the main reason for the Civil War!)

   Actually, he was rather helpful. It was her first day, and some other tourists had asked some questions and he knew the answers. He had read up on the battles fought in the areas we were going to visit. (Why couldn't he study like that for biology during the school year?) We toured the battlefield and the town, trying not to spend too much time for Becca's taste, and trying to spend enough time to suit Adam.

Adam with a llama (named Dali?) trying to hitch a ride.    Then it was just a hop, skip and a jump over to our hotel in Higginsville. Becca swam and Adam, deciding it was too cool a night to swim, chased a couple of wild kittens around by the pool (felines, not humans!). A cat, which had apparently adopted the motel, had recently had kittens. The cat was tame, but the kittens were not. Adam tried to bribe them with lunch meat, but - just like with his teachers in school - the cats were unimpressed by his baloney.

   The next morning we set out for Springfield, Mo., which was to be our base of operations. Our hotel was just down the road from our next big tourist attraction: The Buena Vista Exotic Animal Paradise.

   This is a definite stop for families on vacation. I believe the guide book says to plan for three hours, but I suggest you plan for at least four. It is a 400-acre, nine-mile gauntlet of animal kingdom panhandlers and moochers. Emu looking for a handout. Took this just before the window rolled up! The animals make a good living off the tourists, plus they get to run around free. Goats and deer so fat they waddle. Llamas that put their heads inside the car to make sure they get more food than the overstuffed deer and goats. Emus and ostriches, donkeys, burros and zebras, elk and buffalo, all waiting for a handful of kibbles purchased at the entrance to the zoo (in addition to your admission, not included with.)

   I think we saw some new species this trip. In 1984 we saw lots of zebras. In 1997 we only saw one zebra, but we saw lots of brown donkeys with zebra markings. I think the house mother has been sleeping on the job, and the boys have been sneaking into the girls' dorm.

Mary's baboon.    We had a delightful time; everyone squealed with delight when their favorite animal came up and ate right out of their hand; everyone made retching noises when their favorite animal drooled saliva on their outstretched hand. By the end of the day Adam had decided he wants a llama for a pet, and Becca had decided she does not want an emu (their toilet habits are not up to her standards). Adam wanted to get in the cage with the tigers to rub their tummies. A spider monkey would do its tricks only for Becca. A baboon fell in love with my wife and felt threatened by me. If I beat my chest or opened my mouth widely, he would jump up on the bars of the cage, beat his head with his foot, scream and shake the cage. He wouldn't respond like that to anyone else, even when they made the same motions and faces as I did. Now if I could just get my wife to quit calling me her love-monkey. We had a great time, and I am comfortable recommending this attraction for good, clean family fun.

   Having said that, I feel my comments need to be tempered with a warning for the animal-ignorant people of the world. I can envision an inner-city family getting out of their vehicle to pose with some bears, figuring they're just like cartoon bears, and being mistaken for big kibbles by the bears and devoured. I do not want to be blamed for anyone reading this and going to the Exotic Animal Paradise and being maimed. The signs and literature say not to feed the animals from your hand; instead you should throw the food onto the ground for them to eat.

Little snack? Watusi cattle. Look a lot like Texas Longhorns. Can both stick their tongues up their noses. Neato.    What fun is that? Besides, now that the lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!) have been locked up, you have less chance of pulling back a bloody stump when you feed the animals from your hand. You DO have to use common sense, which - unfortunately - you cannot buy with your admission and kibbles. You still have to remember to hold your hand in such a way that the animal is not going to slurp it into its mouth up to your elbow and then start munching. I cringe at the thought of some little kid offering a zebra a handful of kibbles and losing his or her fingers because they didn't know the proper way to offer food to that type of animal. Don't try to get the gazelle to take a bite of food from your lips or the water buffalo to sit up and beg. These are still wild animals, folks. Through close contact they have lost much of their fear of us, but they have yet to develop the delicate finesse required for you to allow your toddler out to cavort with the animals ala Dr. Doolittle. It may not be as exciting as a trip to the Springfield Emergency Room to have your fingers sewed back on, but it also won't disrupt the rest of your vacation as much. Follow the rules, stay in your vehicle, don't tease or annoy the animals and you will have a good time.

Still to come: Branson, Pea Ridge Battlefield, the Mark Twain Cave, the Amana Colonies, and the Zim family survives a sheriff's drug search on Route 66!

Part Two



Copyright © 1997 Mike Zimmerli

I'm on Route 66! It winds from Chicago to L-A, y'know.

Past Ramblings
Between The Eyes Storms With Names Waffle House Today?
Another Winter of Discontent Coming Clean At Last Living the Dream
A Life Lived Well I Wish I Was in Dixie Constantly Yours
Stretching His Wings And We Laughed A Flag-waving Spring
The Magical Allure of the Swirl The Case of the Missing Christmas Letter The Milk Jug of Death
Potluck Into the Breach Another Discontented Winter
Free Refills A Time for Thanks Time to Catch Our Breath
June is Busting Out You're On the Air There's a Song in the Air
The Time of Firsts It's In the Basement Life's Roller-Coaster
The Picture Fishing Lessons Backward Glances
Frost Weevils A Fairy Tale Life Guilty As Charged
March Madness The Changeling Jaws of Life
I Should Have Raised Goldfish Grandma Zimmy My Million-dollar..uh Two-thousand-dollar Smile
My Grand Canyon The Young Boy and the Sea Habitually Yours

Ramblings Special Editions:
Forts, Sporks and Spelunkers
Summer Vacation 1997
[Part One] [Part Two]
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
(2800 miles In Nine Days With Two Kids in the Backseat)

Summer Vacation 1996
[Part One] [Part Two] [Part Three]

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