Rustic Luxury in the Ozarks
In late November, Don and I enjoyed the scenic drive towards Big Cedar Lodge. We both chuckled to see the yellow "Bass Pro Shop" logo, above the sign.
I wasn't sure about this. I like a little luxury now and then and I'm always game for rustic. But I'm not keen on a gimmicky combination. I've always questioned this resort, created by Johnny Morris, 30+ years ago. Would it be like staying in one his 70+, mega stores?
I liked the idea of a lodge, but I hardly needed a resort. I liked the idea of staying a night in the Missouri Ozarks, but I didn't care that we'd be conveniently close to touristy town of Branson.
Then, Don found reduced winter rates and I was suddenly game. It could be a fun stop on our Missouri road trip. It might not make the Notable Night list, but the off season prices convinced us to check the place out.
Okay, I'm Excited
We followed the road, hoping to find the registration office. With lodges and cabins scattered over thousands of acres of property, it was mind-boggling.
The drive was pretty, even if we'd mostly missed the fall colors. That would have been spectacular. But lucky for us, Big Cedar had decorated early for Christmas. The kid in me started getting excited.
After passing over a bridge or two, we spotted two white buildings. We could also see a glimpse of Table Rock Lake behind.
Was that an enormous Cedar tree, to the right of the road? I believe there was a star on top of that gigantic tree!
Old or New?
As we approached the Welcome Center, I wondered if this was one of the old buildings that was saved and refurbished, when the property was bought in 1987. I liked knowing Johnny Morris appreciated old. I also liked hearing that Morris' first business was selling fishing tackle from his dad's store as a kid. He was an Ozark boy!
The white, welcome center was pretty and classic, but not historic. They did a darn good job, if I couldn't tell.
The lobby was gigantic, with an amazing mix of rustic wood & stone. I spotted an upside down canoe, hanging near the skylight.
The center of the grand space was filled with a twinkling, winter display.
Above the snowy scene, was a soaring cast-iron chandelier. I spied fish and tree branches and deer. It was like searching for Hidden Pictures in my childhood Highlights magazine!
We were greeted by a friendly woman at a massive, lobby desk.
I stood back and just stared at the textured wood, with panels of metal art. It was hard to believe this was all crafted in recent decades. Usually you have to go to historic lodges like Yellowstone, to find such large and well-made pieces.
I love traveling off season. On a Tuesday in November, we seemed to have the place to ourselves. I wanted to come back later and sit in this corner of the lobby, with lake-facing windows and stone fireplace.
We did return to the lobby later, but found a different spot.
We enjoyed the leather couch after the sun got lower. Just a bit of light illuminated the upper stained glass.
The lobby also held a Lincoln Log table, with cute built in seats! A nice family, kindly let me join in for a bit!
The Worman House
Soon after we checked in, we found two of the original vacation homes built by Mr. Worman and Mr. Simmons. They were the wealthy Missouri men who bought 300 acres near an arm of the White River in the 1920's. That was decades before Table Rock Lake existed. The area was known as Big Cedar Hollow.
The Worman home was a lovely stone and stucco house. The stained glass windows were gorgeous in the afternoon light. I assume the Carriage House next door, was also original.
Simmons Log Mansion
We found the old Simmons' home, closer to our cabin. It now houses the Devil's Pool Restaurant.
I couldn't find a vintage photo showing how the "log mansion" looked, when it was the Simmons' resort home in twenties and thirties.
In the 40's or '50's?
I did find a photo that showed the other side of the building, in later years.
This photo was taken after Simmons and Worman sold the property in 1947.
It became Devil's Pool Guest Ranch, after a pool, lodge and stables were added.
Today the restaurant looks over a curvy pool with no diving board... and no bathing beauties. At least not in November.
The log exterior was somewhat hidden behind decks and glass, but we could see the same narrow chimney, visible in the old photo.
Spring View Lodge
We wandered around the pool and spa, then peeked at the lodge next door. It was a fun surprise to find historic lodging from the 1940's.
The website didn't talk this up, but if we'd known this log lodge was historic, we'd have booked our night there. I wonder who stayed here in the '40's? Hunters, fishermen, families?
Our Little Cottage
We booked one of the duplex cottages, across from the lodge. It looked old, but I couldn't find any info about when these were added.
We were excited to see the stone chimney and firewood, ready for burning.
The cottage interior was pretty sweet. The knotty pine reminded us of some of the dusty and musty cabins we've stayed in, over the years! But we didn't spot a cobweb or catch a whiff of mildew.
It could have been a little creepy sleeping beneath a deer head, but I was in the "when in Rome" spirit. The taxidermy, antler chandelier and fox fur made it feel like an old hunting cabin. The fish on the lamps and drawers, also fit the theme.
The bed was as comfy as it gets, with the linens and Pendleton blanket. The earthy, lodge furniture was well made. Actually, I guess a real hunting cabin would never be like this!
The biggest surprise was finding a lit Christmas tree next to the fireplace.
Later that evening we moved the Old Hickory style chair aside, so Don could make a fire.
We got into the comfy hotel robes and enjoyed tree-shaped ginger cookies, that were waiting for us... along with a recipe card.
The bathroom was worthy of 2 photos. I soaked in the Jacuzzi tub and took in all the features. Even the smoke detector was worth noting. It was cleverly hidden behind a metal, leaf-shaped decoration.
Everything was pretty top notch in our little bathroom from bead board to the vanity, to the Old Hickory mirror. Only issue... a very startling jacuzzi cleaning system, with a piercing sound that made me leap in the air!
Don and I loved not having to drive anywhere. It took 1 minute to walk to dinner. First we checked out the Buzzard Bar, in the lower level of Devil's Pool Restaurant.
The tables were full (unlike photo) when we arrived. We sat at the bar for a bit, but it was loud and the chatty man next to us, wanted to talk about nothing but himself and hunting...
Devil's Pool Restaurant
We graciously slipped away with our drinks and headed upstairs to peek into the main dining room. The restaurant was full of guests, but nice and roomy and much quieter.
There was a wait for a table, so we headed to a different bar, connected to the restaurant.
The beautiful bar near the cozy fireplace, was totally empty. We ordered some tasty pulled pork, salad and potato soup. We dined and chatted and wondered more about the history.
What We Learned
We got a few questions answered by staff, but mostly the internet helped us piece together some of the mysteries of this huge place.
This beautiful area in the Ozarks was once home to the Osage Indians. Supposedly they were the ones who gave the name Devils' Pool, to the deep spring that was once on the property. In 1958 the river was damned to create the lake and Devil's Pool pretty much disappeared.
Church and Bridge
Looking at the map of the entire resort was mind boggling. It was easier to just absorb the buildings and pathways near our cottage.
I don't believe the little church and Devil's Pool Bridge were old, but they were built nicely, into the landscape.
We didn't get down to the marina to see the boats, but we saw this one, with Santa.
Even if we'd been staying a week, the thought of so many options sort of wore me out.
It's nice that they offer so much for those who care, but my favorite part was just wandering. The best part was walking after dark, with a chill in the air and a zillion lights.
Those Christmas lights made me a happy kid... instead of an eye-rolling teenager. It's easy for me to play travel snob. I'm too cool for a mega resort. But, luckily there was lots that pleased us.
We slept well in our woodsy cottage. In the morning we got coffee at the Truman Cafe. What's the history with that sweet building?
We took our warm drinks to the lobby and enjoyed a little Christmas decor before checking out.
Our one night at Big Cedar was full of little surprises.
Most of all I loved discovering lots of little bits of history about the property and learning a little about the "low-key billionaire" who created this resort. Our one night was worthy and notable!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!