A One-Day Road Trip Through the Missouri Ozarks
"Hey honey, what do you think about taking a little road trip today?" I asked my lovely wife last Sunday morning. After a moment's thought, she asked: "Where did you have in mind?"
"Well, how about heading up to Strafford and going to the Wild Animal Safari there, then maybe stopping at a little place I just found online this morning called Bakersville? They've got a festival going on there today with music, food and seeds for our garden."
"Okay, that sounds good to me."
And with that, we began to get ready. Roust little britches out of bed (he is now officially a teenager of fifteen and sleeps until two in the afternoon during the summer) to get him up and going; take a quick shower and ready some road munchies with drinks; pack up and hit the road. We headed up Highway 160 from Branson West rather than tackle Highway 65 and the hills and traffic it brings, preferring the two-lane road and less traffic. But then came Springfield and a forced transit onto four lanes to I-44 and east towards Strafford.
A-a-a-n-nnd I find out how old I really am. I missed the turnoff to Strafford. Crap! Gotta go another nine miles to the next one and double back. Finally, we arrive at the Wild Animal Safari and get in free. Free you ask? Yep, one of the perks for working at SDC is we get reduced and free entry into numerous local attractions such as this. We do buy some tidbits for the animals, go back out and wander to the walkthrough area to see what there is.
This park was recently hit by a small tornado and suffered some damage. At times like these, I wonder what would happen if some of the more dangerous animals like lions, tigers, bears and such were to escape into the surrounding country? None did this time, thankfully and efforts are already underway to repair what damages were incurred.
As we walked around, we saw a mountain lion, bobcat, serval, some monkeys, a giraffe and various other animals (including a giraffe) from around the world all available to feed and enjoy.
By far the cutest little animal we saw was a lemur family complete with two adorable little babies! Mommy made sure to keep a close eye on the youngsters as they were small enough to escape their enclosure if they so desired. But she kept them close—within arm's reach—and even pulled them back a time or two from the bars of their enclosure. We tossed some goodies to them but only daddy partook of them; mommy was too engrossed in her babies to notice the offering.
We made our way over to a pond, which had a deck extending out into it, making it very easy to feed the large koi and turtles who called the pond home. These koi, relatives of the common carp, are large (approaching five pounds) and beautifully colored in orange, white and even some tending reddish. The turtles were mostly red-eared sliders, a species native to Missouri, but there was one special turtle—a snapping turtle.
Larger than the others at a good fifteen inches across the shell, it had a head as big as my fist and wanted his fair share and then some. Unfortunately for him the koi were much faster and ate virtually every single piece of food we dropped for him and his brethren.
There were also some goats in the area, including those famous fainting goats everybody loves. My wife and son had fun feeding them as they crowded around, all struggling for every single piece of food they could get.
From there, we headed out to the truck and made our way to the drive-through portion of the park. Here all the animals are free ranging and wander about as they see fit. Ostrich, burro, elk, deer, zebra, llama, water buffalo, and camel abound and most will wander up to your car in search of goodies. Make no mistake, they are not shy about asking for the goodies and will reach their heads inside your window in search of them if you have your window rolled down enough to allow them to. Several times we had a full-on camel head completely inside the truck, slobber stringing from their lips to your hand as they nibble contentedly.
Then there were the bison. Huge animals weighing half a ton at times wandering about, visiting car after car to get their goodies. Most are normal coloring but there are a few "white spike's", bison almost fully white in coloration. Their heads are too large to get inside your window but their tongues are l-o-o-n-n-n-g, reaching well inside to startle a person holding said goody.
Once we even had a group of elk stage a protest right in front of us, blocking the road and refusing to allow us to pass!
"What day is it?!"
All told, the drive-through portion was just short of a five-mile trip. The temperature was a mild 75 degrees, so no need for the air conditioning to tax the engine as we idled along. Few other people were out, so there was no stress to hurry along and virtually no waiting on other drivers either. We dawdled along and took our time, extending the drive-through portion to roughly two hours or so.
Then we headed off towards Bakersville for the festival. Having never been there, I had used Google Maps to plot the trip and had written down the key points to follow. While driving, my wife had used her phone to verify my tips. Being a man, I resented her interference with my trip as I felt I had done exactly what was required to get from point A to point B.
Thank God she did what she did!
Roads which were clearly marked on Google Maps were not marked as such in real life! I am looking for a road titled 605 and there was no such animal! If memory serves, in reality, it was called London Rd on the street signs we saw at various intersections. To top it off, while following her phone's directions we ended up on a dirt road, traveling several miles and praying the phone knew where we really were.
Somewhere in a distance, I hear banjos!
Not too long after that, we hear her phone tell us to "turn right" and as we do, we see a lovely valley, green and lush and just beautiful. A little further and we see the gate advertising Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. We turn in and immediately hear an auction going on, music playing and wonderful smells in the air. And by smells, I don't mean only food! Flowers are sending their own luscious scents to the air, adding to the already wonderful smell.
We park, and begin to wander around. Admission is free, so again, no cost on our little trip to speak of. That is, unless you count the homemade candies, some consisting of pure, smooth chocolate, others including German Chocolate Truffles. My wife absolutely LOVED the German Chocolate one while my son said, and I quote, "They sure are what they advertised!" meaning that the saying on the wrapper says "Smooth". It is so great to be able to have something homemade that tastes so dadgum wonderful!
Oh, I also purchased some cucumber seeds, a variety I haven't heard of. Delikatesse Cucumber, a rare variety from Germany which can grow to 10" and is pale green with small warts. A superb tasting pickler which can also be used as a slicer!
Yes, I'm quoting from the back of the package! So what?!
There were more varieties of seeds at this store than I had ever seen before. Hundreds, I would guess. All sorts of vegetables, flowers, herbs for the casual and serious gardener to enjoy. I highly and strongly suggest contacting them and having a free heirloom seed catalog rushed your way. And all their seeds are non-GMO!
There is also a pioneer village to wander about in and a restaurant to dine in. You want to talk about fresh garden to table? It won't get any fresher than what they have here. And to top it off, as I understand it there is no charge for the food in the restaurant! When asked, the people working there will direct one to a donation box beside the door. How amazing is that?!
Every seed sold here is grown and harvested on site or on an adjacent property. In addition, the process takes place on site complete with packaging the seeds for sale. This is one of the best-hidden treasures I have run across!
Finally it was time to head home, and here is where I made my first mistake (if you don't count the missed turnoff and not having clear and concise directions, that is). Rather than take a direct route home, I decided to take a slightly less direct route, one that led us along some roads which have no straight portions whatsoever. Left, right, left, right, right, left swerving this way and that and making my family a little green around the gills. What should have been a beautiful drive turned into a storm of epic proportions, leaving a sour taste in their mouths on an otherwise wonderful day.
Finally we made it home having discovered a few unusual things along the way, such as one road we turned off where we had been driving at a 55 mph speed limit (not that we could actually go that fast) and were struck by an electronic speed minder that flashed "You're going too fast!" in an area where we hadn't even seen a speed limit sign! A mile or two down the road we saw a sign limiting us to 35 mph. We were only traveling 40 at the time we passed that electronic speed minder!
Also, as we approached Forsyth from the East we found we were driving on a road, out in the woods mind you, that had curbs! Curbs! In the woods! I had never seen such a thing! Curbs are for cities, not the country! Yet curbs there were and after no less than four miles we entered Forsyth proper. That whole way there was almost never even a house within sight of another one, yet curbs were everywhere!
Well, we're back home now and our stomachs are settling down. It has been a wonderful day filled with fun and love. I'm glad you tagged along with us. Take care, folks.
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