Folks head to Branson, MO for a lot of reasons, usually to take in some great entertainment shows, eat some country food and maybe get a thrill or two at Silver Dollar City amusement park. It’s a great place for family fun where old fashioned values are still…well, still valued! America lives and visits here.
My wife and I recently spent a week there with some great friends, David and Beth Baer. We’ve been friends since we both got married about the same time almost 43 years ago, had kids at the same time and lived across the street from each other. We even shared leftovers. And every year since then, with the exception of 20Covid20, we’ve gone somewhere on vacation together. Yep, it’s special.
Obviously I can’t list all the places we’ve been and things we’ve done. So what’s that got to do with an outdoor blog? I’m glad you asked. Among the shows we show was “Jesus” a the Sight & Sound Theater. They do a remarkable job with a remarkable message. I’d recommend it for sure. All the big Branson shows aren’t on stage, though. Mother Nature puts on quite a spectacular one here, too. This year’s trip included two outdoor outings that I just can’t pass up telling you about. We visited the Top of the Rock Nature Area and Dogwood Canyon areas, properties developed by Bass Pro Shop owner Johnny Morris.
If you don’t read anything else, just read this: If you haven’t been there and you love nature, go. Soon. Pay attention to the details and slow down while you are there. Neither are places to get in a hurry. It’s incredible, even at 40-50 degrees (not factoring in wind chill), which it was while we were there.
At Top of the Rock, the Lost Canyon Cave & Nature Trail Cart Tour took us up and down the rocky slopes where there more waterfalls than I could count. The two and a half-mile journey on an electric cart highlighted stunning rock formations, waterfalls and views of Table Rock Lake. It even has a ride through cave with a waterfall and the Bat Bar, where you can even get a glass of lemonade.
As a young man, Johnny Morris, founder of Big Cedar Lodge and Bass Pro Shops, spent time spelunking in a vast cave and hunting for mushrooms on the land that is now home to Top of the Rock. Years later, as part of his goal to sustain and share the Ozarks history, he acquired the land and worked with a team of craftsmen to unearth Top of the Rock using the natural landscape as a guide.
We ate lunch at Arnie’s Barn (the menu has a fantastic Mexican food theme) overlooking a sinkhole. That doesn’t sound very attractive, but it is. You could also see the famed Arnold Palmer Golf Course and Table Rock Lake, too. The sinkhole is called the “Cathedral of Nature”. It was part of the golf area when suddenly, in 2015, it just sunk into the earth. Where most would have just started trying to figure out how to fill up the hole, Morris’ vision made him realize that dirt went somewhere. He has spent years (and millions of $$$) digging it out to try and discover the caves and passageways that must exist down there somewhere. I have no doubt he, or someone following his vision, will unearth amazing discoveries.
Excavation crews have removed more than 1.6 million yards of earth and 108,000 loads of dirt and rock, in the hopes of discovering a passageway to connect the system and reveal a new wonder. And they aren’t slowing down.
At Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, one of the first things they point out to people is the difference between conservation and preservation. Owned, operated and maintained by Dogwood Canyon Foundation, they are dedicated to promoting natural conservation and to protect the natural environment–including its wildlife and plant life–by acquiring and maintaining 10,000 acres of ecologically significant, undeveloped land to benefit the general public now and in the future.
All the streams and ponds are stocked with trout and you can even rent a fishing pole and catch as many as you’d like, if you release them. You can make a deal to catch and clean the fish, too. You can go on your own, or use a guide. Check with them for details.
Conservation is the wise use of resources. It includes respectfully building cart paths and natural looking bridges and education structures, but not being afraid to turn a leaf over and see what’s under it. Preservation is leaving an area exactly as it is found. The majority of this vast area is left that way. I was interested to know that every dollar raised there goes back to the Foundation for the continued use of the area. Many Greenheads don’t understand that. With just a little imagination, you can travel back to a time when European settlers first entered the area or, even further, to explore the mark that Native Americans left on these Missouri hills and hollows.
And at the Mill and Canyon Restaurant, the wild slider trio plate was super – smoked trout cake, bison burger and spicy yard bird sliders and homemade potato chips. I had to try the elk sausage, potato and asiago cheese soup as well.
And back in Branson, there isn’t a mom and pop restaurant that doesn’t offer some variety of breakfast with a country fried steak with white gravy. I even found a joint with a half-pound fried bologna appetizer. Yes, we ate some regular food, but that would be boring. I even found a bench made especially for fishermen. Check the photos below. You’ll figure it out.
Life is good.
For more information on theses special wild areas, you can check them out online. But don’t let that sub for checking them out in person.