Explore the Wonders of Wildlife museum

Column by Larry LaGrange

On a trip to England a few years ago, my wife and I were blessed to see so many fascinating sights, from the Queen’s plush royal palace to the humble, rustic, tiny cottage of William Wordsworth in the beautiful lake district up north. One of the poet’s quotes resonated with me as I reflect back on the year I’ve had pursuing fish and game.

“Come forth into the light things, let nature be your teacher.”

Like the poet, I feel there is something truly inspiring about being outdoors, whether or not you’re angling or hunting. The cares of the day disappear. It’s better therapy than taking a pill. Nature teaches us to slow down and look at what’s in front of us, instead of checking who’s texting us.

I’m sure many folks in the future will be cursed with neck pain as they grow older — took much looking down at a screen. I’m blessed with having hobbies that entertain and challenge me — fishing, then golf, and hunting in the winter. I feel sorry for folks who retire without a hobby that really turns their crank. I’ve seen quite a few men in that situation. Perhaps it’s why so often males pass away fairly soon after retirement. Maybe a goal for this year would be to find something, preferably outdoors related, that you can sink your teeth and your spare time into.

If you’re looking for an outdoor-related getaway this winter that’s indoors, consider heading west past St. Louis on I-44 to Springfield, Missouri.

There you’ll find what Bass Pro owner Johnny Morris has created, the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium and Museum, next to his original Bass Pro Shop. It’s hard not to overstate how amazing this place is. The brochure said it was a mile and a half walk-through, so one needs to allow four hours or so. Myself, my wife and my grandson thought that was a bit much, but it turned out to be accurate. We started at 10 a.m. so lunch would break up our tour, and it was a good plan. A cafe with appetizing choices situated between attractions was a much needed break. Cost of admission for seniors was 10% off the regular $39.95 fee, and $23.95 for kids 4-11. That sounds pricey, but you get what you pay for, in spades. If you’re older like my wife and I, pause for rest breaks because it’s a long but delightful journey through this wildlife wonderland.

Johnny’s video of his reasons for starting this gigantic project starts off things. He gives compelling reasons for enjoying and taking care of our precious outdoor gifts. He is a true conservationist who’s been all over the world pursuing fish and game, and his take on why we need to all be aware of the delicate balance that sustains wildlife is well presented. We all must do our part to conserve and protect all game and our environment.

After the video comes an immersion into the world of wildlife. From great art to amazing reproduction mounts of every animal one can conceive of, it’s just one mind-boggling display after another.

The first hall deals with well-displayed artifacts of the American Indian, our first outdoorsmen and conservationists. From these artifacts one gets a feeling of true admiration and appreciation for Native Americans. Then it’s an artistic tribute to Lewis and Clark, followed by portraits by outdoorsman President George W. Bush. Further on, it’s all manner of wildlife left and right set up in beautiful displays.

Example: I’ve seen bighorn sheep mounts, but I’ve never been in a giant room that made me feel like I was on a western mountain face with sheep all around. I’ve seen lion and elephant mounts, but never have I been made to feel that I was actually on an African safari watching them on the plains. It’s an immersion experience.

Some visitors, such as my 12-year-old grandson, may be concerned about how all these beautiful creatures ended up here and not somewhere in the wild. A media rep told me that the animals “were acquired from private collections or donated from zoos after they died from natural causes. Every animal featured inside Wonders was responsibly acquired in accordance to local, state, federal, and international laws. A small percentage of the animals featured are scientifically accurate authentic recreations.”

After the animal segment and lunch, it’s on to the aquarium. Lots to talk about there. You’ve been to aquariums, but you really need to check this one out. We’ll get into that and more next time.

Remember to conserve, protect, and enjoy our bountiful American outdoors. Happy 2019.

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