I recently made a trip to St. Louis where I spent several days. I had resolved to do more posting here upon my return, as I had been back in Missouri for a while and my life was starting to return to normal, with caving every other weekend or so. Unfortunately, something happened that caused that resolve to melt away - a giant pile of ice fell on my house. I guess all my years of saying that winters in MO were a thing of the past finally caught up with me, because last Friday night a good portion of a tree fell on the house. Luckily some power lines broke its fall.
The limb completely ripped the meter from the wall, took down the lines going into the house, and tore the wiring right out of our weatherhead. After getting the runaround from the power company we were forced to hire a private electrician, and $1200 worth of repairs later we're still waiting for Southwest Electric to come and do their part. Of course, there are still thousands of people in Springfield without power, but it's hard not to be bitter when you live in the only home in your town without electricity - including at least one abandoned house, which inexplicably had power restored before us. Seriously. Way to prioritize, guys.
Last weekend my friend Zen Master hit me with an idea we’d been bouncing around ever since he got his canoe – taking a float trip along a frozen river. Now, he’s had his canoe for a year or two, but we haven’t had any serious ice or snowfall since then, so up until now the idea was just a fantasy.
That is, until last week. I was lucky enough to get home from Massachusetts just before the big ice storm hit, and while I was snowed in the first day or two (which prevented me from immediately joining in on the fun in Springfield – bobsledding the old Hydra-Slide) Zen Master’s the proud owner of a Jeep Cherokee with 4-wheel drive. The next thing I knew he was sitting in my driveway with canoe strapped on top, ready to go.
We picked a section of the Sac River we were familiar with, and one we knew was shallow this time of year, in case one or both of us should fall in. When we arrived we found that – much to our surprise – we weren’t the first to have this idea. There was a truck parked nearby, and some unmistakable tracks in the snow; that of a small boat dragged to the water’s edge.
The river wasn’t quite as icy as we would have hoped, but there were still frozen areas, which we chewed through like a soviet icebreaker, and plenty of snow.
The first thing we noticed was something hanging several feet over the water. It had two spinning halves and resembled a large pinwheel. My friend commented that it appeared “otherworldly.” As we drew closer we realized it was an artificial duck suspended in mid-flight. Looking around we noticed a whole array of decoys sharing the water with us, and a camouflaged duck boat on a nearby shore. Above it we spotted a similarly camouflaged man with rifle in hand, hiding in the trees. It was at this time I wished I had remembered to wear some orange, but we decided our big red canoe would be sufficient.
There were several turbulent spots along the way; more so than usual. We reckoned it was due to the lower water levels. This wasn’t a problem going downstream, naturally, but it made for an interesting return trip.
Passing by a submerged car, we finally reached the old bridge (mentioned in a previous entry), which we decided would be our turning point. After getting out and attempting to cross it without falling we returned to the water and began our trip home.
We had no problem powering through the first set of eddies, and were forced to portage the canoe around another, more powerful current, but were finally stopped by one particularly shallow, fast-moving area. The currents spun us around and had our craft pinned against a log when I got the idea to pull myself along some roots and vines protruding from the washed-out shore. This worked for a time, and we almost made it, but something went awry at the last minute and our ship capsized, dumping us into the frigid water. In retrospect it was bound to happen.
Clambering onto the shore we bailed the water out of our boat, then proceeded to empty our boots and wring out our socks. After we felt like we had warmed up enough we carried the boat along the water’s edge until we found a safe point of re-entry. However, it wasn’t long before we hit another trouble spot, and rather than take the plunge a second time we opted to just get out and walk.
The trip back took longer than either of us imagined, and the hunter was gone by the time we returned, though we did find an errant decoy along the way. We heard several shots during the course of journey and actually passed a dead duck floating downstream, but it was only one of several frozen animals we encountered along the way.
I was intent on sitting by the fireplace the rest of the night once I got home and out of my sopping wet coveralls, but against my better judgment I was goaded into joining White Rabbit, Hiccup, Underdog, and Punctual at the Hydra-Slide after all. I had to scrounge up some dry clothes and get Zen Master to tow me out of my driveway, in which I was completely snowed in, but it was worth it in the long run.
The first thing I did when I got to KS was make a bee-line for West Mineral, near Joplin, MO. Why, you ask? To see Big Brutus of course!
For those who aren’t in the know, Big Brutus is an enormous shovel of some sort, and while it might not be the world’s largest, it’s probably the biggest one in Kansas. Brutus was previously used for strip-mining coal beds, but has since been retired in a pit of his own making, just outside the small town of West Mineral.
The journey there was long, made longer by a road closing and surprise detour which rendered my Mapquest directions obsolete. I was forced to navigate my way there simply by attempting to drive in the general direction. Arriving an hour or two behind schedule, I caught a glimpse of Brutus from miles away, looming over the distant horizon.
I wasn’t quite as impressed as I thought I would be upon my arrival, but that was due in part to the lackluster visitor’s center/museum greeted me. My first sight was of an American flag, tattered nearly to shreds. A 6-foot wooden cross, complete with purple robes and hot-glued crown of thorns, stood nearby.
I was soon informed that Brutus was being repainted, and its innards were closed to visitors, though I would still have to pay full admission price in order to see it. I grudgingly paid, and was then informed that, not only was I not allowed inside, but I was to maintain a certain distance on account of the paint crew. Their first rule was heeded. The second was not.
With little to do in or around Brutus, outside of standing in the mouth of its enormous shovel (large enough to drive a truck into!), I was forced to occupy myself with some of the other attractions, which included in no particular order: a cable, a mine cart, a rock, and a smaller shovel, similar in design to Brutus, yet made primarily of wood. There was also a sign, pointing out some nearby fossils. The sign specifically asked visitors not to destroy said fossils.
The smaller shovel was the most interesting exhibit, and also happened to be the only one that was open to the public. Climbing inside I inspected the engine, and then settled into the driver’s seat after removing a few cobwebs.
After milling around Brutus a while longer I headed back into the museum area, where I viewed some scale models of various types of mining equipment, and watched a short film about Brutus’ creation and ultimate defeat. I purchased a refrigerator magnet on the way out, and received a scolding from the proprietors for failing to follow their instructions.
Located outside Eureka Springs, AR, I first visited Dinosaur World just prior to its unfortunate closure. Cement sculptures of cavemen, dinosaur eggs, and a giant spider once greeted visitors at the park’s entrance, a structure resembling a prehistoric fort. I’ve been sitting on some pictures of the place a while, and I decided to go ahead and cover it based on the attention it’s recently received on our Arkansas forums.
Inside was a small gift shop, where an elderly woman sold us our tickets, which was brimming with rubber dinosaurs and the like. We proceeded to drive though the gates, near which hung an odd sign about apprehended trespassers being made to pay double the regular admission fee (which was fairly inexpensive). The whole place was set up like a “Safari” style animal park, with a series of roads offering the occasional glimpse of a dinosaur.
Near the entrance stands “Kong,” a life-sized replica of the famous movie monster. Though not truly a dinosaur, he wouldn’t be the last larger than life animal I saw. Along with the aforementioned spider there are also a gigantic scorpion and landlocked octopus to be found. The park was previously known as the “Land of Kong,” and has changed hands and titles several times over the years.
Fast fact! The sculptures at Dinosaur World are supposed to have been made by the same local man who designed The Great Passion Play’s famous “Christ of the Ozarks” statue.
The park was already in an advanced state of disrepair by the time of my first visit, and it was easy to spot certain attractions - such as a miniature golf course and mysterious cave-like structure - that had been abandoned at some point in the distant past. Nearby sat an odd bench from which venomous snakes seemed to be materializing.
The park’s centerpiece, outside of Kong, is a large pond with a tree house at its center, connected to the shore on both sides by a rope bridge. I was a little uneasy crossing the bridge, but it was surprisingly sturdy. It is here the octopus dwells. Returning to the car I saw many more fantastic dinosaurs on my way back to the 21st century, some real, some seemingly imagined (see below).
I returned to Dinosaur World earlier this year with a friend, eager to show them around, but found that it had unfortunately closed its gates – perhaps forever. However, I’m aware that may not act as a deterrent to many of this site’s readers. If you do happen to be caught, simply reference the sign and offer to pay double the admission price.
Also worth mentioning, nearby once stood the infamous Shoe Tree of Beaver, AR. Sadly, the Shoe Tree is no longer with us in its original state, and has in fact been destroyed several times by acts of man and god. However, the vile weed that is the Shoe Tree remains, and seemed to be regenerating upon my last visit. It’s not as easy to spot as it once was, boasting only a dozen or so pairs at the moment, but give it time.
I previously wrote about some larger-than-life inanimate objects in Joplin which were odd, but not spectacular. Well, I recently returned from the beautiful city of Tulsa, OK, so prepare to be amazed. I had gone with my friend TD for non-exploratory purposes (a video game convention), but there were enormous eyesores afoot, and I insisted we pay them a visit.
First stop was the world’s largest McDonalds, but the less said of that, the better, as most area natives have no doubt been there countless times. In short, it’s a former hotel that spans I-44, roughly in the shape of a “golden arch.” TD was excited, having never been there, but we were both disappointed upon reaching the top and realizing neither of us actually wanted to eat at McDonalds.
Next up was the campus of Oral Roberts University, which just so happened to be next door to our destination. ORU is home to not one, but two monstrosities. The first is immediately evident – a pair of gigantic praying hands that put those in Webb City to shame. Whereas the previously blogged Web City Praying hands are made of poured concrete on a chicken wire frame and stand a measly 15 feet or so, these are highly detailed, welded together from large bronze plates, and stand a full 60 feet tall. It’s actually the largest bronze sculpture in the world, though arguably not the classiest.
The second fun feature was the Oral Roberts Prayer Tower. The prayer tower is of a similar design to Branson’s own Inspiration Tower, though on a smaller scale. The observation deck is designed to resemble a stylized crown of thorns, and an eternal flame burns brightly at the tower’s peak. Unfortunately, the tower had closed 15 minutes prior to arrival. I can only imagine what wonders would have greeted us at the top.
Also worth mentioning – though not worth photographing – is a nearby skyscraper. Once also part of ORU’s proud campus, it has since fallen into secular hands. The tower stands at a whopping 640 feet, which, according to legend, is the same size as the Jesus who appeared to Oral in a vision, commanding him to build it. I also managed to find a climbable, dome-like structure on campus, which I of course made short work of.
Our last stop, en route back to MO, was the Blue Whale of Catoosa. The Whale was originally built as a kind of anniversary present and for years functioned as a park, complete with water slide fins and a diving platform on the tail. Several other structures still stand nearby, in various states of disrepair, including a replica Noah’s Ark (not to scale), that is being consumed by the encroaching shrubbery.
This was my second visit to the whale, and I noticed a marked improvement. Someone cared enough to replace the boardwalk flooring, slap on a new coat of paint, and even add an oversized hook (with rubber chicken as bait) and ball-cap to spruce the place up. Unfortunately, swimming is still off-limits, not that I can imagine anyone wanting to. Nearby, a boat sits in a perpetually half-sunken state, along with other bits of rotting flotsam.
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