Great Places – Central & Lower Midwest USA

     The Midwest is fairly bleak as far as tourist attractions go, which is why I have included so many states in this entry. There are a few bright spots, however, and they have been highlighted below. The states I have considered here include Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. Look for a photo album showing several of these locations, soon.
     1. San Antonio, Texas
           The Alamo and the Paseo del Rio are San Antonio, Texas’ major attractions. The Alamo is an old, Spanish mission which was the scene of a famous battle in the fight for Texas’ independence from Mexico. The Alamo is an inspiration to Texans and to all men and women because of the dedication and spirit of the 189 men (including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie) who gave their lives here in 1836.
           The Paseo del Rio (Riverwalk) was part of a city revitalization effort that became famous because it actually worked. The 2 ½ mile (4 kilometer) area along the San Antonio River has been transformed into a charming and exciting venue for strolling, shopping, dining, and many other activities. It is especially attractive at night when the lighting produces an aura of romance. River taxis and dining cruises ply the waters at all times of the day and night.
            Before a visit to the Alamo, see the Imax theater presentation, “The Price of Freedom” which chronicles and dramatizes the events surrounding the battle.
     2. Gateway Arch, St Louis, Missouri
            Gateway Arch, a gleaming stainless steel structure on the St Louis side of the Mississippi River, commemorates America’s 19th century westward expansion. It rises 210 meters (630 feet) and dominates the river’s edge and the St Louis skyline as westbound travelers cross the Mississippi. A memorial to Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark is also found on the site, as well as several theaters in the Visitor Center.
             Take the tram, a small cocoon-like pod which transports visitors to the top of the arch, where sixteen small windows offer views of the Mississippi River and the city of St Louis.
             While in St Louis, take a beautiful photo from west from the Arch, framing the Old Courthouse under its curvature.
     3. Big Bend National Park, Texas
             Big Bend National Park is located in southwestern Texas, on the border with Mexico, where the Rio Grande River forms a noticeable “bend”. The park is huge and contains both mountain and desert habitats. Probably the best way to see the features of the park is to drive the 300 kilometers (almost 200 miles) from Marathon, Texas, south on Rte 385 into and through the park, then north on Rte 118 to Alpine. There are several side roads available within the park and hiking trails abound, so plan on an entire day.
     4. Cowboy Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
             The National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, showcases the era of westward expansion in America, and some of its major characters. American Indian life is also exhibited, as well as thousands of artifacts and memorabilia. Highlights include the Rodeo Hall of Fame, the Western Art Gallery, which includes the work of famous American artists, such as Frederic Remington, and the Visions of the West gallery, which includes an authentic replica of a street in the Old West.
     5. Branson, Missouri
            Branson, Missouri, provides an excellent example of the old adage, “build it and they will come”. Here is an area which has little to recommend it, but which has become a tourism Mecca. The growth spawned by its initial popularity has produced a plethora of attractions in a very small area. The major theme is music, and there are over 30 music theaters which attract the very best entertainers. Besides these theaters, numerous other types of activities have also sprung up to give visitors an incredible variety of choices. For instance, Marvel Cave allows access to an underground cave system. Silver Dollar City is basically a theme park/amusement park combo. There are boat rides and many other water activities available on the man-made lake and other waterways.
      6. Scott’s Bluff National Historic Site, Nebraska
           Scott’s Bluff National Monument is located in western Nebraska, and commemorates the pioneers who left their homes and families in the East and initiated the settlement of America’s western territories. The difficulties of the journey have been documented in numerous books and films.
           Scott’s Bluff was a prominent and significant landmark along the Oregon and California trails. An interesting road with several tunnels winds upward from the Visitor Center to the bluff and provides panoramic overlooks of the area.
     7. Austin, Texas
           Austin, Texas is described by many as the “best small city in America”. It is the capital of Texas and also the location of the University of Texas. The result is an incredible vitality and zest for life which is contagious. There are numerous Arts as well as entertainment venues and the nightlife is particularly noteworthy. Austin is also famous for “Texas barbecue” and many of the restaurants specialize in this type of cooking.
           The city is also a base of operations for an exploration of the Texas “hill country,” a scenic drive of 300 miles (480 km) or so through the quintessential Texas landscape of cowboy country. The area is noted for its rugged terrain and includes several surprises, such as, the German town of Fredericksburg, and the unusual Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.
          While in Austin, be sure to check out the Mexican Free-tail bats beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge.


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