Let's start by stating the obvious: gas prices are high and people are trying to limit the mileage they cover on a day-to-day basis. This Memorial Day weekend, it might not be a bad idea to stick closer to home than you might have in past years. The cover story in the May 1-7 issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly focused on travel in Oklahoma. Katharine Kelly's "Out There" article (find it online at urbantulsa.com) offered a lengthy list of Oklahoma landmarks and natural wonders for the avid traveler.
Now, we want to offer you a list of hotspots that exceed Oklahoma borders. This list only offers a brief glimpse of the many treasures our neighbors bear. And these places are as varied as the types of people who visit them. If you have a good sense of humor and get a kick out of life's simpler things, we would like to think they really do offer a little something for everyone.
Christ of the Ozarks-- Imagine that statue of Christ overlooking Rio de Janeiro and then imagine how it might be done if, instead of a bustling and vibrant world-renowned capital, Christ overlooked the Eureka Springs area of Arkansas. This huge, ill-proportioned, plaster-white statue of Jesus stands with arms outstretched atop an Ozarks hill surrounded by manicured lawns and shrubbery. The nearby Great Passion Play is usually the primary attraction for visitors, but the statue has earned a grudging affection from locals and tourists alike embodied in such monikers as "Our Milk Carton with Arms," "Stumpy" and "Gumby Jesus." Eureka Springs, AR.
Original Wal-Mart-- Driving through Bentonville, AR one gets the sense that this is the dark future of suburbia with Wal-Mart corporate offices located on every corner. The city center, however, reaches back to the past with an actual town square, complete with a center statue and rows of neat little shops surrounding it. One of those shops is Walton's original five-and-dime, which houses a corporate museum detailing the life of Sam Walton and Wal-Mart itself. If nothing else, you can enjoy that sense of irony that comes with the realization that Wal-Mart is actually preserving a small-town, main street business. 105 S Main St, Bentonville, AR. Free and Open. Tue-Sat, 9am-5pm. Call (479) 273-1329
Hot Springs-- People used to flock to Hot Springs for the allegedly medicinal properties of the waters bubbling up out of the velvet green of the Ouachita Mountains. Now it's an eclectic collection of antique shops, wax museums, Nineteenth-century architecture, and a National Park. Though peaceful and inviting, the Park and its famed springs are more of a place to stop for a quiet moment than a real attraction. Bathhouse Row, situated just below the Park, is where all the action is. It's one long tourist trap where visitors get over-enthused about secondhand oddities and young townies hang out to feign disinterest at it all. Keep your eyes open.
You might run into former residents President Bill Clinton or Billy Bob Thornton. Take that as an added enticement or a warning, whichever way you wish to see it.
Far from Misery
Precious Moments Inspirational Park-- Those saccharine-sweet figurines of cute, puppy-eyed children find their home at the Precious Moments Park and Cathedral. Entering the park is like stepping into a strange sub-culture somewhere between flirting with joining a cult and submersing oneself in pop culture art. The water show is 'interesting' and the Sistine Chapel styled cathedral is impressive with its intricately carved doors and the sheer extent to which some people will go to celebrate sentimentalism in cartoon paintings. Come enjoy the eerie feeling of standing next to Timmy, the blonde dead baby angel mascot, who wanders around the park's campus. No kidding. 4105 S Chapel Rd, Carthage, MO. Daily 9am-5pm. Call (417) 358-0684 for more.
Missouri Wineries-- It's not just for Napa anymore. Wine touring has long been a part of Missouri's list of things to do, but there's no doubt it's getting to be a bigger deal every year. With a nice spread of quality wineries around Springfield, including Spring Hill and Whispering Oaks, and a veritable collection near St. Louis, such as Sugar Creek and Villa Antonio, Missouri's wineries make for a great day-trip destination. Our favorite thing to do is to wait for the vintners to tell you how wonderful the wine tastes and then hit them with that favorite Missouri quip, "Show me." Several wineries along I-44 or along the Missouri River Valley west of St. Louis.
Ralph Foster Museum-- Trying to find a central theme for this museum is something of a challenge. You could make the argument it's got something to do with the Old West with the huge collection of guns, the one-room schoolhouse display, and the chair made of cattle horns. Or you could claim the theme is one of local interest due to the collection of tree stumps from the surrounding Ozarks and mounted wildlife and butterflies. No matter what label you try, it's doomed to certain failure. Something will always resist classification here, whether it's the stuffed polar bear, the reconstructed oval office or the centerpiece of the collection, the actual car Jed Clampett and family drove in "The Beverly Hillbillies." Make sure you get a photo of yourself behind the wheel. College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, MO. Mon-Sat, 9am-4:30pm. Admission is $4.50 for adults, $3.50 for seniors with kids High School aged or younger free. Call (417) 334-6411 ext. 3407 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more.
Wave the Wheat
Dalton Defenders Museum-- Few things bring a town together like gunning down outlaws, especially outlaws trying to rob two of the city's banks at once. The big day occurred in Coffeyville, KS in 1892 and is memorialized in this museum, which features the safe from one of the banks and a horse-drawn hearse, presumably for carrying dead bank-robbers. The old city jail has been restored as well, complete with dummies to represent the Dalton's corpses. If, however, lifeless exhibits don't interest you, keep in mind October 5-6 are Dalton Defender Days in Coffeyville during which the 12-minute gun battle is reenacted and there is a 5k run (from a hail of bullets?). There's also a chili cook-off because vigilante justice is hungry work. 113 E 8th St, Coffeyville, KS. 9am-5pm. Call (620) 251-2550 for more.
Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center-- How a town the size of Hutchison, KS came to be the repository of one of the largest collections of space flight technology and memorabilia in the world is beyond us. Even more impressive is how well the Cosmosphere details the historic rivalry that fueled the Cold War space effort with the largest collection of Russian space artifacts outside of the former Soviet Union. Moon rocks, spy planes, space suits, and the ill-fated Apollo 13 capsule are on display here alongside an IMAX theater with more unique exhibits on the way. There's probably something lame here to poke fun at, but we haven't found it yet. Cool stuff, really well done. Guess we'll have to resort to a snide comment about the Kansas scenery that nearly lulls you to sleep on the drive up. 1100 N Plum, Hutchison, KS. Mon-Thu 9am-5pm, Fri-Sat 9am-8pm, and Sunday Noon-5pm. Adults $15, Seniors $13, Children 3-12 are $13. 2 and under are free. Call 800-397-0330 for more.
Museum of World Treasures-- For every thousand lunatics creating roadside attractions by displaying their collection of Argentine beer bottles or sculpting of Da Vinci's Last Supper from rusted Studebaker parts there's one person actually gathering important and interesting artifacts. When such a rare phenomenon occurs it gets turned into a museum. Yes, the result is a rather incongruous mish-mash of themes and exhibits, but, in the case of a couple of guys from Wichita, it's also an amazing breadth and impressive list of items. Dinosaurs, Civil War artifacts, Egyptian mummies, a lock of George Washington's hair and jewelry belonging to British royalty are just a few of the items on display in this massive, three-story museum. Or, maybe you'd prefer the largest ball of twine a bit further north, in Cawker, KS. 835 E 1st St, in Old Town, Wichita, KS 67202. Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sunday Noon-5pm. Admission is $8.95 for adults, $7.95 for seniors, $6.95 for kids 4-12, and children under 4 are free. Call (316) 263-1311 for more.
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