Jefferson City, Mo. — Wake up! Make plans. The big three-day Memorial Day weekend is almost here. In the southwest region of Missouri, there is no shortage of things to do for the start of the summer vacation season; VisitMO.com lists a ton of attractions, activities and events across the Show-Me State.
Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday was first observed in 1868 to commemorate Union soldiers who had fallen in the American Civil War. By 1900, Memorial Day included honoring all Americans who died in any war. The name was officially changed to Memorial Day in 1967; it became a three-day federal holiday in 1971. Since then Memorial Day has taken on a dual role of remembering the deceased and celebrating the long weekend with family gatherings, fireworks and early summer festivals.
Memorial Day weekend is a time to remember and to rejoice: remember those who have died protecting your freedom; rejoice and celebrate that freedom with family and friends.
Remembering the past:
With the sesquicentennial of the Civil War being observed across America, it is fitting we take time to honor those who served in that great conflict.
- Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield is about 10 minutes southwest of Springfield. Fought on August 10, 1861, the Battle of Wilson’s Creek was the second major battle of the Civil War. The visitor center presents films and exhibits. The Civil War Museum holds more than 8,000 pieces relevant to the Civil War in the west. A five-mile, self-guided driving tour allows visitors to explore the actual battlefield, with walking trails leading to various battle sites. If you happen to be at the visitor center Saturday, May 26, you can enjoy a bluegrass concert.
- Visit the Springfield National Cemetery to pay homage to heroes from all wars, including a soldier from the Revolutionary War. There are several special monuments, the earliest of which was erected in 1888 in memory of General Nathaniel Lyon, first Union general killed in the American Civil War. He was killed during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
- At the Carthage Civil War Museum, learn about the Civil War in southwest Missouri, and the infamous outlaw Belle Starr.
- In Branson, the Veterans Memorial Museum holds more than 2,000 exhibits honoring those who served in all military branches during WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and other 20th century conflicts. The museum is home to one of the world’s largest war memorial bronze sculptures: 50 life-size soldiers storming a beach; each statue modeled after an actual combat soldier from each of the 50 states. This museum is an educational and emotional experience that should be on everybody’s list of sites to visit.
Rejoicing with the family:
Memorial weekend is family time; it stretches into three days of fun and excitement, marking the end of the school year and the start of summer’s vacation activities. Where better for a weekend of family fun than in Missouri? Here are some
- Family fun is the name of the game Memorial Weekend, at Silver Dollar City’s Bluegrass & BBQ Festival, in Branson. In addition to rides, craftsmen, shows and games of Silver Dollar City, see electrifying concerts by top Bluegrass performers. Go hungry and have some smokin’ good American barbecue. The festival continues through June 3.
- While in Branson, let the family choose between the 20,000 square-foot Splash Country Indoor Waterpark, and the 12-acre, outdoor White Water theme park. Both offer hundreds of thousands of gallons of water fun. Better yet, do both; after all, it is a three-day weekend.
- On May 26, at Prairie State Park, near Mindenmines, get up-close to a true American icon: the American bison (often called buffalo). Guides take you on a hike into history and tell you about this magnificent mammal. Experienced naturalists cover bison biology; how American Indians used bison as more than food; the dynamics of the herd; and other bison-related topics. (Also on other special dates throughout the summer.)
- Everyone in the family is sure to enjoy touring Pythian Castle, in Springfield. Built by the Knights of Pythias as an orphanage in 1913, the castle contains more than 50 rooms, including dungeons. The Paranormal Task Force and
the Ozark Paranormal Society have certified Pythian Castle as a haunted site. One-hour tours are offered.
- Also in Springfield, Jump Mania is one of the biggest inflatable attractions in southwest Missouri, with more than 8,700 square feet of inflatable fun, including a baby/toddler area. Hotdogs, pizza and other “kid favorite” foods are sold.
- For everyone older than 4, Lazer Force Lazer Tag Zone, in Joplin, is an indoor, heart-pumping fun-zone. The 6,000-square-foot, two-story lazer tag arena has music, fog and black-light and flashing lights to enhance the experience. (Other locations in Springfield and Osage Beach.)
- Talk about a thrill, how about a tour above Branson, Lake Taneycomo and the Ozarks in a helicopter? Chopper Charter will give you the view of a lifetime. The pilot provides interesting facts and stories of the sights as you hover above them. No age restrictions. FAA certified.
- For a more down-to-earth excursion, show the kids how grandpa used to travel when you climb aboard the
Branson Scenic Railway, for a 40-mile round trip in restored 1940-50 passenger railcars. Continental breakfast, lunch and concessions are available.
- At Promised Land Zoo, expose the kids to some of the exotic, rare and endangered animals that occupied our planet. This drive-thru zoo is home to more than 500 animals, representing 50 species. Located in Eagle Rock, 45-minutes southwest of Branson.
- In extreme southwest Missouri, spend a few hours floating the Elk River. River Ranch Resort and Canoe Outfitter supplies canoes, rafts, kayaks and tubes. They shuttle you upstream and you float back, so there is no waiting at the end to be picked up.
- While in Noel, explore the ancient past at Bluff Dwellers Cavern and Browning Museum. The cave has been open for public tours every day since 1927. The museum holds artifacts, arrowheads, grinding stones, tools made out of bone, and the skeletal remains of early inhabitants; some items date to 5,000 B.C.
If you’re traveling southwest Missouri, and your family consists of only you and your significant other, you can relax after a long day by savoring a bottle of wine with a nice picnic at some of Missouri’s wineries (there are more than 110 scattered across the Show-Me State.)
- In Walnut Grove, 7C’s Winery serves grape and apple wines, plus mead (wine made from honey). Take a picnic (grills are available). On Sundays, there is live music and they have a food truck on-site.
- Keltoi Winery, in Oronogo, sits beside Little Northfork Creek. Take your picnic and enjoy a bottle of wine in one of many scenic areas of the estate. In addition to grape wines, they offer apple, pear and peach.
- Near the small town of Seymour, you can visit two wineries. On weekends, Don Virgilio Winery offers a limited menu of house-made meals and desserts. Whispering Oaks Wineryhas a large, wrap-around porch where you can enjoy your wine and the view.
- In Springfield, you’ll find a winery with an unusual name. OOVVDA Winery is operated by third and fourth generation wine makers whose roots go back to 1189 Norway. Wine offerings include various grape selections, plus raspberry, blackberry, cherry, peach-raspberry, blueberry, and red plum. Yes, you may take your lunch. (Oh, in case you are wondering: Overboe’s Own Viking Vintners Distinctive Alcohols.)
- Tired yet? You’re in luck. In Carthage, The White Rose is a winery, a restaurant and a bed & breakfast inn. In addition to some very good wines, they offer a full Irish breakfast, a light lunch, and a scrumptious dinner; Ballynacally chicken (baked in Guinness and honey), and Bangers & Mash are just two of their Irish specialties.
Well, that should keep you and yours busy for, and beyond, Memorial Day weekend. In addition to these great adventures, Missouri’s southwest region is loaded with things to do, attractions, restaurants, events and places to stay. Find details and listings at Missouri’s only official tourism website, VisitMO.com. While browsing the website, you can order a free copy of the 2012 Missouri Travel Guide; also available by calling 800-519-4800. And yes, there is a free app for that—in iTunes: “Official Missouri Travel Guide.”
About the Missouri Division of Tourism
The Missouri Division of Tourism (MDT) is the official tourism office for the state of Missouri dedicated to marketing Missouri as a premier travel destination. Established in 1967, the Missouri Division of Tourism has worked hard to develop the tourism industry in Missouri to what it is today, an $11.2 billion industry supporting more than 279,000 jobs and generating $627 million in state taxes in Fiscal Year 2011. For every dollar spent on marketing Missouri as a travel destination in FY11, $57.76 was returned in visitor expenditures. For more information on Missouri tourism, go to www.VisitMO.com.
Links referenced in this feature:
Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield
Civil War Museum
Springfield National Cemetery
Carthage Civil War Museum
Veterans Memorial Museum
Silver Dollar City’s Bluegrass & BBQ Festival
Splash Country Indoor Waterpark
Prairie State Park
Lazer Force Lazer Tag Zone
Branson Scenic Railway
Promised Land Zoo
River Ranch Resort and Canoe Outfitter
Bluff Dwellers Cavern and Browning Museum
Don Virgilio Winery
Whispering Oaks Winery
The White Rose
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