Communion Of Dreams


Well, dam.
October 12, 2010, 11:09 am
Filed under: Travel

Taking a bit of a break from editing this morning, since I wanted to write about this while the experience is still somewhat fresh.

I mentioned my recent trip to the Lake of the Ozarks, and visiting Ha Ha Tonka once my wife’s AIA obligations were over. That experience, of going someplace I really *should* have known about, was perfectly bookended by another trip earlier that day. While my wife was in her meetings, I drove the few miles from our resort to the nearby town of Lake Ozark. It sits adjacent to Bagnell Dam.

Visiting Bagnell Dam is one of my earliest memories. Somewhere in a box stuck away I have some photos of that vacation – me, a blond smiling boy of about 9, my sister still in diapers, my mom and dad looking like all middle class moms and dads of the mid 60’s. We drove down there in the family Chevy Impala, and I remember my dad grousing about one of the roads we had to take being freshly tarred and gravelled – it left tar spots all along the bottom panels of the white car. This was two years before my dad was killed.

I just remember visiting the dam, and being impressed with the SIZE of the thing. Nothing anywhere could be bigger or more impressive, to my young mind, and I think I judged all other engineering marvels I read about or saw on TV by comparison for years. But I’m sure we must have also spent time there on The Strip – a sort of permanent carnival along the highway to the dam, filled with cheap souvenir shops, go-kart tracks, games, and junk food vendors.

I say that I am sure of this because I remember thinking some four years later that I hated the place. Why is that? Well, because I went there with my mom, her new husband, my sister and my new step-brothers and sisters. At 13 I was much too sophisticated and angsty to be wanting to do such “kid’s stuff.” And I resented going back to this place that I equated with a happier time, just as I resented my step-father and all the changes in my life. I think that was about a month before my mom died in a car accident.

I had gone back to The Strip a couple more times during my adolescence, and maybe even once after. But it had been a good 25 years since I had been that way. It was easy to avoid it – the highway had been re-routed south of the dam, which led to a complete change in the layout and culture of “The Lake.” The place remained popular for vacationers, but came to be better known as the ‘party’ spot for college kids, who preferred bars and nightlife over dodge-cars and Skee Ball.

I had heard that The Strip had fallen on hard times. I wanted to see for myself. This is what I found:

There are still some open shops of the type I remember. But on this grey October morning there was almost no one in any of them. Not too surprising, I suppose.

And again, the thing I noticed most was the dam. Oh, the walls along the highway across the top are now more weathered, the concrete broken and scarred from decades of inattentive drivers. I walked along it for a ways, then back-tracked and went off the side of the highway, to an overlook. One of the original large cast steel turbines from the dam was there, a worn sign explaining what it was and when it was replaced by a new more efficient turbine. The turbine is rusty, of course. And the chain around it is held in place by four mismatched posts. But it was still impressive.

And for a moment – just a brief flash – I was once again 9.

Jim Downey

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3 Comments so far
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Oh my. My family vacationed at the Bagnell Dam area several summers running, right about that same time (meaning I was about the same age you were). Mom, Dad, my brother, and me, in a rented cabin. Our Chevy Impala was mint green. I vaguely remember the dam, but not the strip. I did a lot of fishing. My biggest impression of that area: The wonderfully clear view of the Milky Way at night. I also remember seeing a scorpion in the cabin once …

Comment by Robin

Yeah, I remember the skyskapes as well, Robin. Now the area is as badly over-developed as any city, with all the light pollution that goes with that.

Comment by James Downey

[…] it has now branched out a bit into being a general purpose convention/resort area. I’ve written about it […]

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