I’ve never viewed the middle of the country as a travel destination. It’s always seemed too flat, too boring, and frankly, too wholesome and close-minded to be a place where I wanted to spend much time. But if I’ve learned anything in nearly five years of traveling around the country, it’s that most places will surprise you. Also, if you want to get from one side of the country to another it’s kind of hard to skip over the middle.
So last week we found ourselves smack in the middle of the country in Springfield, Missouri. If asked what things I most associate with Missouri I would say churches and tornadoes. Turns out I was right about the churches, there really is one on every corner (of course, I could say that about any number of states). And while Missouri does have tornadoes, the city of Springfield has not had one in over 150 years. A fact which we found almost comical when halfway through our stay we listened to the tornado sirens go off intermittently for about 30 minutes. Thankfully, the path went far south and never touched down.
Since we didn’t explore around the state I can’t generalize too much, but I can say that a few things about the city of Springfield surprised me. First of all, downtown Springfield is a undergoing a revitalization of sorts with trendy bars and restaurants popping up all over the place. There are several breweries, a 24-hour donut shop where they sell pastries with names like Homer, E.T., and Dirt Worm, and a rum bar where you can get a fancy drink served in a skull shaped mug. There’s a local butcher shop, a brand new natural food store, and of course, the required number of hip coffee shops. There is also a movie theater where you can see a film for only four bucks, a vibrant music scene, and a culture that supports the LBGQT community. So apparently, all of the midwest isn’t quite as wholesome or close-minded as I thought.
Outside of downtown Springfield, the city has the usual box stores and rows of condos, but it also has a number of public parks, several greenway trails, a Japanese garden, and even a 35-mile long rail trail on the north end of the city. Oh, and it also has the flagship Bass Pro Shop store where they have two resident alligators, several baby ducks, and a whole bunch of fish and turtles (all rescue animals who can longer live in the wild).
So while I still don’t think of the middle of the country as a top vacation destination, I now know that it certainly has some redeeming qualities. Will we be settling in Missouri anytime soon? It’s doubtful (although it is very affordable) but I can definitely see us returning for a repeat visit the next time we make a cross country journey.