Be careful what you wish for. We had planned to head to Albuquerque from Branson, Missouri, for two reasons: to shorten the remaining distance to our planned stops in Arizona and to get to higher elevation for cooler weather.
Wanting to make the 868-mile drive in two days, we hit the road. Near the Oklahoma-Texas border, we started searching for an overnight stop near Amarillo and made a reservation. The warm weather prevented us from our original aim of spending the night at a rest area. We needed an electric hookup to run our air conditioner.
A few minutes later, our invaluable tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) started beeping, alerting us to a fast leak on one of the trailer tires — our fourth such instance this year. Not near any freeway exits, Bob safely pulled us to the side of Interstate 40. Fortunately, the leak was on the passenger side, and we had gotten really good at changing tires.
Vehicles whizzed by, shaking the trailer side to side. The faulty tire gave no clear evidence of the leak source. It didn’t appear to be the stem, and no obvious screw or nail caught our eyes. We secured the flat under the trailer where the spare normally goes and continued on our way.
This happened on a Saturday after 5 p.m. A quick Google search revealed the nearest Discount Tire shop — still hours away in Amarillo — closed at 6 and wouldn’t reopen until Monday morning. Bob called some truck stops to see if any of them could patch a tire. A gal at one said we could get in line, and they might get to it at midnight.
We kept driving and saw a billboard announcing another truck stop with a tire shop. Taking our chances, we found the shop open. A worker checked the tire to determine the location of the leak. As with the flat a month and a half earlier, this tire had started to come apart. Little wires from the steel belts protruded next to a small hole, too close to the edge of the tire for a patch job.
Because we had bought the tire at Discount Tire and paid for a warranty, we knew waiting until Monday would be our best and least expensive option for replacing it. But we had to find somewhere to stay until then. More research led us to an oasis in the prairie: Bobcat Creek RV Park in Sayre, Oklahoma.
After a peaceful, relaxing night there, we considered staying until we got the tire fixed, but that would mean a three-hour round trip for Bob to get to Amarillo and back. And the website for the closest Discount Tire store showed the tire we needed out of stock and unavailable until Thursday. We decided to move closer to Amarillo and found a private lot in Groom, Texas, with one of its four campsites available.
Camping with the Windmills
Having spent most of the summer in the East, we had forgotten about wind. Camping in Oklahoma included wind, and Bob’s allergies started acting up. Texas didn’t offer any relief. Navigating to the campsite felt like we were in the “Castaway” movie when Tom Hanks finds himself at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere. The only difference was windmills surrounded us in all directions.
We settled into our spot in the shadow of a windmill. The next day, Bob drove about 50 miles to Amarillo to get the tire taken care of. The shop said it could get a replacement by late the next day. We wouldn’t have to wait until Thursday after all. We paid the campsite owner for another couple of nights and hunkered down.
The time in Groom gave us an opportunity to visit a homey little cafe on old Route 66 for breakfast one morning. It also made it possible for us to explore the Groom Cross — a 19-story steel structure you can see for miles in either direction on I-40. The land surrounding it features stations of the cross that tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and a gift shop showcases related souvenirs and decorations. It was worth the stop.
Bob drove back to Amarillo to pick up the new tire, and we replaced it successfully. Because of my work schedule, we decided to wait until later the next day to move on to Albuquerque. On the way, we watched our TPMS like hawks as the heat of the day and the friction of the road made the tires’ temperatures rise. Thankfully, we made it without incident.
This whole experience reminded us of Proverbs 19:21: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Although our plans didn’t work out the way we had hoped, the flat turned out to be a blessing. It helped us realize that, rather than driving on these tires for another year of travel, we should upgrade them to ensure our safety. We’ll see if that new plan pans out.
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You may not realize it, but the city of Branson, Missouri, population 13,000, is a destination for live entertainment. It all started with the release of “The Shepherd of the Hills” novel by Harold Bell Wright in 1907, a portrayal of life in the Ozark Mountains.
The story became an outdoor drama in 1960 that, along with other variety shows, drew visitors to the area. The influx of people led to the development of amusement parks and other attractions, restaurants, and hotels. And the tourist destination was born.
The area offers something for everyone. If people-created venues aren’t your thing, you’ll find plenty of natural beauty as well: the White River, Table Rock Lake, the Ozarks, and caves. Known as the “Cave State,” Missouri is home to more than 6,000 caves. You can explore the region on boat, via zip line, or even by railway.
If you’re into theme parks, you have a number to choose from, including Silver Dollar City and Bigfoot Fun Park. Or, you can save your time and money for other entertainment options in the area and get the feel of a rollercoaster just by driving the hilly roads, like we did. Here are some other highlights from our stopover.
1. Live Theater
The Sight and Sound Theatre is what drew us to Branson. We had learned about it when we visited the original location in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 2020. Impressed at the phenomenal way the theater and its hundreds of actors and crew bring Bible stories to life in epic proportion, we wanted to check out the second locale.
In Branson, we saw the life of Jesus on stage. The cast, the sets, the music, and the special effects all came together to present an extraordinary, immersive performance that helped us see more of the human side of Jesus. We walked away hungry to dig deeper into our Bibles and live more simply and lovingly, like Jesus did.
Since Branson is home to more than 45 theaters, it didn’t seem right to attend only one in our week there. So, we took in another, this one a murder mystery dinner show. After a buffet meal of baked chicken, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and mac and cheese, we sat and watched a whodunnit where audience members got to participate in the show.
Starring a zany crew led by a husband and wife team, the Branson Murder Mystery kept us engaged and laughing all the way through — and trying to identify the murderer.
Along with theatrical shows, Branson offers more than 20 museums, from the alluring Titanic Museum and the World’s Largest Toy Museum to a tractor museum, dinosaur museum, and military museum.
Having visited Missouri last year with limited time, we opted to drive an hour to Springfield to explore Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium at the Bass Pro Shops national headquarters. What an experience!
After navigating through a maze of taxidermied game animals and birds, some of which we’d never heard of, we entered the aquarium, where live fish greeted us. The full route through both areas brought us to live penguins, tree frogs, turtles, snakes, sharks, and even an albino alligator. And, we got to pet stingrays.
3. Branson Landing
For a cheaper excursion, we toured Branson Landing. Stretching 1.5 miles along the White River, the alluring boardwalk features a collection of eclectic shops, kiosks, and restaurants. We dined at an Irish pub and then went on a treasure hunt to find the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, which had moved.
With ice cream in hand, we watched a water fountain show. It goes off every hour in front of a grassy amphitheater overlooking the river, imploring passersby to sit and enjoy.
No trip to Missouri would be complete without barbecue. We dropped into Smokin’ Bob’s BBQ to sample some. After explaining our nomadic living situation to the clerks, we asked what they would recommend for a couple who may never revisit their establishment and took them up on their suggestions.
Our mouths watered over smoked pork, brisket, sausage, ribs, and burnt ends nachos. Exclamations of “Yum!” and “So good” escaped in between bites. Delicious!
We’re glad we made the trek to Branson.
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Rows of red-dotted trees stand at attention, branches drooping under the weight of their fruit. Fields of corn sprout their cobs, only one or two per stalk (who knew?). A rooster crows, announcing its location as it roams the farmyard, protecting the hens under its watch.
A tractor pulls a double trailer showcasing stacks of 5-gallon buckets overflowing with freshly picked yellow squash. Workers stand in windowless buses tossing watermelons onto a conveyor belt for cleaning and packing. A forklift carries 23-bushel apple bins to fields to collect the day’s picks.
The greasy smell of fresh-baked donuts wafts through the air, beckoning passersby to the farm market and bakery. Retired farmers reminisce over coffee about their early days of farming.
These are some of the sights, sounds, and smells we’ve experienced while spending time on my brother’s 6-acre farm near Lansing, Michigan, and my cousin’s 300-acre farm in southwestern Michigan.
Small Town Life
Something about the small towns, friendly people, active workers, expansive greenery, and fresh produce feels familiar and alluring. Perhaps it’s because Michigan is my birthplace. Or maybe it’s a welcome respite after 24 years in the bustling Phoenix area with 6-foot block walls separating our yard from our neighbors’.
Being able to pick fresh fruit right off the tree and squash and zucchini straight from the plant is a treat. We find it appealing to be surrounded by fresh, healthy food.
Small farm towns feature their best at annual county fairs, something else we got to experience while in southwestern Michigan. Building upon building featured livestock of all sorts, from rabbits and sheep to goats, pigs, cows, and horses. Another building displayed hand-crafted items. Tiny stands sold fried food creations. Screams from spinny rides mixed with live country music.
No Michigan county fair is complete without a display of tractors and/or riding lawnmowers. The one we visited included both. Mowing is such a big deal in the area that my cousin, Debbie, greeted us on her riding mower when we arrived at her place, eager to cut the grass so we could park our home with ease.
Farm life with family also offers abundant opportunities to pitch in and help, something we cherish. While at my brother’s, I got to scout for eggs. I’ve always enjoyed a good Easter egg hunt and have relished hiding the plastic treasures for my kids to find. I still get a thrill out of it.
When Steve asked me to help find where one of his hens was laying its eggs, I jumped at the chance. I searched high and low, but the chickens didn’t lay the eggs where I would have if I were a hen. Maybe they knew something I didn’t.
After watching them, I realized they wouldn’t go far from their coop where predators could swoop in and take their precious goods. Sure enough, I found some eggs in a shrouded nest perched in an old tree right behind their coop.
Bob helped Steve with a tree-trimming project and a driveway expansion, as well as installing a dryer vent.
At Debbie’s, we got to assist with replacing carpet and tile with Lifeproof flooring. Since we don’t own a house anymore, it’s wonderful to be able to participate in these types of activities.
Bob also cooked a lot of super delicious meals and helped with computer projects.
Another plus of farm living for us full-time RVers is being able to do maintenance on our vehicles, such as the fuel tank upgrade for Gulliver while at Steve and Ginger’s.
Our duration in southwestern Michigan gave us ample time to install shocks on Tagalong to help soften the effects of bumpy roads on our belongings.
Bob did prep work for the project, which involved closing the trailer’s four slides and moving it from a grass field to a dirt parking lot so he could jack up Tagalong. With my office out of commission, I had to work at Debbie’s and watch my home from across the street.
With the prep work done, we were able to move the trailer back to the grass field and set up our home again. A mechanic friend, Ethan, pitched in to weld brackets in place under the trailer to hold the shocks, which should smooth our anticipated drive to Alaska.
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This is the travel blog of full-time RVers Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong.