By Lucia Adams
On a sunny October morning we drove south straight through Illinois to the border of southern Missouri and northwest Arkansas, the Ozarks. These mountains, really just large hills or fells maxing at 2,500 feet, are lush and forested, the oldest rocks in North America. Covering 47,000 square miles the Ozarks is the most extensive highland region between the Appalachians and the Rockies.
Racing through Branson
In the midst of lovely natural bounty, near the Arkansas border Branson, Missouri was not the country music mecca touted in the media but the WIsconsin Dells times two or ten – a Simulacrum Society’s theme park of 100 “theaters”— first show 11 a.m.— one after another on the “strip” with, not the real thing but impersonators of WIlly Nelson, Dolly Parton, George Strait ad infinitum imitating the originals for 45 minutes. Then the elderly audience shuffled to another venue for “entertainment” (the very word makes me shudder) before eating at the Titanic or King Kong restaurant.
Big Cedar Lodge
Our destination was Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Missouri which Travel & Leisure declared the best wilderness resort in the Midwest. Built in 1921 in the Big Lodge Era and definitely a cut above Glacier’s, it was restored in the 90s by local entrepreneur Johnny Morris still, after all that spending, on 2019’s Forbes list. Founder of Bass Pro Shops, which just bought Cabela’s, he started the 200 plus chain in the back of his father’s liquor store in Springfield, Missouri, its sole location for 13 years.
Big Cedar entrance
BIg Cedar has lodges, cottages, cabins, restaurants, marinas, and golf courses on the shores of Table Rock Lake. Positioned to be a golf destination with courses designed by Morris’ close friend Arnold Palmer,(there’s an Arnie’s restaurant at Top of the Rock, ) Player, Nicklaus and the first public access championship course designed by Tiger Woods —to open soon.
Carts swing wide
The complex also has a gigantic activity center for families (no thanks), and the inevitable spa, (does anyone actually use these?).
Cathedral sinkhole and golf
The real attraction of Morris’ vision is the very posh, spectacular Ozark Heritage Preserve Center with one of the best collections of Native American art and artifacts in the country located next to a gigantic karst sinkhole called the Cathedral of Nature a 200 foot canyon.
We trekked three miles down the canyon in a golf cart deep into Lost Canyon cave and a spectacular trail with rock formations, waterfalls the single best tourist attraction I have ever seen.
After three days of mellow golden light in the early morning mist over the river and lake, and smoked trout in the Buzzard Bar, we drove a very winding road through the heart of true wilderness to Bentonville, Arkansas and the city of the Waltons.
Bypassing the WalMart Museum we headed straight to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art founded by Alice Walton. Designed by Moshe Safdie, it sublimely rests mimicking the hills and waters of the Ozarks amidst several nature trails designed by Peter Walker ,(who landscaped the World Trade Memorial). And what a collection of old masters! A Peale portrait of George Washington, Cole, Cassat, Asher Durand( Kindred Spirits purchased from the New York Public Library for $35 million), Eakins, Winslow Homer, and in a separate wing 20th century art, Jasper Johns, Pollock, Warhol and all the usual suspects.
Early American art
The museum acquired and reconstructed Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman–Wilson House from New Jersey definitely not like one of the beautiful Midwest masterpieces but a small, very dark budget version.
Bachman Wright House
Inside and out Crystal Bridges Museum was a mob scene no doubt due to free admission with abounding strollers and babysitters killing time in the cafeteria and early bird visitors flocking out of the galleries and scooping up all the reservations in the celebrated Eleven restaurant.
Crystal Bridges Museum
If you go take a private tour! The 21c Museum Hotel on the site was grand/ fancy which it should be starting at $500 a night.
Lincoln lived here
On the drive back we stayed at quite another hotel, the antiquated Abraham Lincoln in Springfield Illinois, located in the abandoned derelict town center no proper setting for the 16th President’s Illinois home. Governor Pritzker needs to renovate the downtown of the capitol and make it a true destination and showpiece. Now that would be a legacy.