Before he founded Bass Pro Shops and became a billionaire, Johnny Morris was just another Missouri kid who loved exploring the Ozark Mountains.
He fished for trout, explored caves and scoured the rocky hills collecting arrowheads left behind by Osage Indians.
Morris started his business selling bait from his father’s Springfield liquor stores. Today, Bass Pro Shops is a mecca for hunting, fishing and camping equipment with 170 megastores across North America. The company also operates three resorts, including Big Cedar Lodge, a luxurious retreat in the Ozarks that Morris meticulously designed to showcase the wild beauty of the land that shaped his life.
Big Cedar Lodge sprawls over 4,600 wooded acres overlooking Table Rock Lake. Accomodations range from basic lodge rooms to private log cabins with expansive decks, stained glass windows, wood-burning fire places and deep soaker tubs. Guests can choose from a long list of outdoor activities — boating, fishing, hiking, horseback riding — or relax with a massage at the 18,000-square-foot Cedar Creek Spa or dinner at one of several fine dining restaurants on the property. In other words: Nobody’s roughing it there.
Since Morris purchased the property and started developing the resort in 1987, Big Cedar Lodge has become a popular destination for nature lovers in the Kansas City area, in part because of its close proximity to the metro (getting there by car takes around three and a half hours). But in recent years, the resort that bills itself as “America’s premier wilderness resort” has upped its national profile.
Big Cedar Lodge has been named the best resort in the Midwest by Travel + Leisure magazine for the past three years. And an annual Legends of Golf tournament at the resort’s neighboring Top of the Rock Golf Course, also owned by Morris, attracts world-class golfers and celebrities. This year’s roster included Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Justin Timberlake, Mark Wahlberg and Kid Rock.
Wander the grounds of the resort and it’s easy to see why it’s become a national destination. Morris’s trademark attention to detail and reverence for nature is everywhere you look. It appears that everything is handmade from sturdy natural materials. Picture intricate wrought iron gates adorned with vines and hummingbirds, towering chimneys constructed with native stone and beams made of tree trunks with their bark intact.
The resort’s interiors boast chandeliers made of deer antlers, tables of raw-edged reclaimed wood and woodsy decor. A word of warning for animal lovers: Most Big Cedar Lodge rooms also feature lots of taxidermy, from mounted fish to stuffed foxes, raccoons and ram heads complete with horns.
Anyone who hopes to replicate Big Cedar Lodge’s rustic elegance at home should focus on incorporating native, natural materials — particularly wood and stone with its raw texture intact.
The spa’s indoor grotto pool, for example, has stone walls illuminated by glowing candles, which gives the space a secluded cave-like feel. Nature’s Touch, a Kansas City custom stone masonry company that specializes in luxury outdoor living, could add a similar look to an outdoor pool area.
Top of the Rock’s Osage Restaurant features a rotunda dining room with birch tree beams and bark on the ceiling. That woodsy look could be replicated by adding reclaimed wood beams to a vaulted ceiling in a large, open living room. Several local companies specialize in custom reclaimed wood beams and wall treatments, including Beaver Timber, The Barnwood Farm and American Antique Woods.
Much of the resort’s furniture is made of solid slabs of wood with raw edges intact. KC Custom Hardwoods makes similar pieces — tables, bar tops, desks — using wood salvaged from the Kansas City area. Each piece of wood is hand-milled and has a backstory.
Big Cedar Lodge’s decor consists of found objects such as vintage fishing poles, bait boxes and old photographs of people enjoying the great outdoors. Similar pieces could be acquired for a relatively low cost at antique stores or garage sales. Those looking for landscape art, taxidermy, leather furniture and rugs should check out Buffalo Ranch, a home decor store in Weston that specializes in the rustic lodge look.
Other lodge-approved accessories include cozy camp blankets and patterned wool-blend throw pillows from Pendleton and candles with scents that evoke the smell of evergreen trees or campfires. Untamed Supply, a local company that donates 3 percent of profits to national parks, sells a candle called Cinder that replicates the smell of a marshmallow that’s fallen into the smoldering embers of a campfire.
The candle would be a great gift for anyone who frequents Big Cedar Lodge, where guests often gather around campfires to make s’mores under the stars.