Fantastic Caverns in Springfield, Missouri.
February 2020: Spring break is on the horizon, the kids will be out of school, and the boss has granted a few days off. The itch to travel has hit, but where can a fugitive from daily doldrums go on a tank of gas? Extended vacations have their place, but sometimes circumstances align for a day trip. Perhaps time is limited, or maybe the budget is. For some, just a day away is what is necessary for a renewed perspective on everyday life.
Recently retired hairstylist Lisa McCool is enjoying her free time and ability to travel.
“I never have to go very far,” McCool said. “I truly love day trips. The benefits far outweigh any effort, and I can return home satisfied and sleep in my own bed.”
Oklahoma and the surrounding area have quite a few surprises most any traveler may not expect. Take Springfield, Missouri for example. It’s just over a 2 ½ hour drive down I-44, but the adventures there can fill a day or two in a heartbeat.
There is nothing more enchanting than a castle. Springfield has one on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, Pythian Castle. Built in 1913 and located at 1451 E. Pythian St., it has some interesting stories within its walls. One-hour tours are available at $9 online or $12 at the door. Escape Room and Murder Mystery events can be booked as well. For hours of operation or to book a tour or event, log on to https://pythiancastle.com/calendar.html. Call for more information at (417) 865-1464 or log on at https://pythiancastle.com/.
Cave exploring is no longer the long, dark hike of old. Fantastic Caverns, located at 4872 N. Farm Road 125 in Springfield, provide spelunkers a view of the stalactites and stalagmites from the comfort of a Jeep-drawn tram. This cave is a beauty with breathtaking formations any snap-happy photographer will want to capture. Discovered in 1862 by an Ozark farmer’s dog, the site is now popular with those interested in more than the traditional amusement park activity. Admission is $26 for adults and $17 for children ages 6-12 years. Kids age five and under get in free with a parent. Group rates are also available. Hours vary with the season and can be found at https://fantasticcaverns.com/page/151/rates/. Call (417) 833-2010 or email eat0@eau0eav0eaw0 for more details or visit https://fantasticcaverns.com/.
If the Discovery Channel show “How It’s Made” is a favorite viewing pastime, then touring the Askinosie Chocolate factory should be placed on any vacay agenda. Askinosie is located at 514 E. Commercial St., in Springfield and looks like a chocolate shop, but there is more than meets the eye. Slap on a hairnet, and the tour begins. Visitors hear the story of the founder, Shawn Askinosie, who walked away from a 20-year career as a criminal defense attorney who traveled across the globe to learn from cocoa bean farmers. From there, he perfected the art of chocolate making, and Askinosie Chocolates was born. In the back of the shop is equipment that produces the end product, and the chocolate-making process is explained step by step by a tour guide. Guests are even given nibbles of the ingredients in its rawest form. Store hours are Monday-Thursday 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Call (417) 862-9900 for more information or log on to https://askinosie.com/.
Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium is a three-four-hour exploration. The adventure can be found at 500 W Sunshine St. in Springfield and is a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium that brings its sightseers face to face with 35,000 live fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds. Tickets are Monday – Friday $39.95 adult and $19.95 child and Saturday – Sunday $47.95 adult and $19.95 child for same-day purchases. Children 3 and under are free. Call (888) 222-6060 for more details or visit their website at https://wondersofwildlife.org/. Hours of operation vary with the season, so call ahead.
Another option is to instead head south about two hours’ drive time to Belle Vista, Arkansas to catch a couple of hot spots on the way to Bentonville.
The soaring wood and glass Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel is burrowed in the foliage on a gently sloping hill along Lake Norwood at 504 Memorial Drive in Bella Vista. The 120-seat structure is used for weddings but is free and open to the public at 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. There are walking paths around the grounds for nature lovers. Contact (479) 855-6598 for more details or visit http://cooperchapel.com/.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is housed in a one-of-a-kind structure nestled on 120 acres and literally hovers over a pond. Located at 600 Museum Way in Bentonville, the site is sponsored by Walmart, and, therefore, there is no admission to the museum, trails and grounds. There is a permanent collection of artwork to take in within the museum walls for free, and for a small admission price, visitors can tour the on-site Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House. There is also an on-site restaurant and museum store. Museum hours are 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Mondays; 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and closed Tuesdays. Call (479) 418-5700 for more information or visit their website at https://crystalbridges.org/.
Come to know the story behind Walmart and its founder Sam Walton in the free self-guided Walmart museum tour. The museum is located at 105 N. Main Street in Bentonville. The timeline starts in the 1940s and unfolds the process of the business’ development. Guests can see the office of its originator, the dated pickup Walton once drove, and everything in between. One amusing stop is the documented outrageous reasons for product returns Walmart honored. Two other charming businesses can be found next door, Walton’s 5 & 10 showcasing products found in the 50s and The Spark Café Soda Fountain, where the décor and menu take diners back several decades when life was simpler. Hours of operation are Monday - Thursday 8 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Friday – Saturday 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Sunday noon - 9 p.m. Call (479) 273-1329 for museum information. General museum information can be found at https://www.walmartmuseum.com/.
If travelers want to cross two hours over the Missouri state line, then Carthage and Diamond, Missouri, are just waiting to provide an adventure to remember.
Precious Moments is known for its glass figurines, but artist Samuel Butcher created more than children’s collectibles. Located at 4321 S. Chapel Road in Carthage is the Precious Moments Chapel is open to the public daily for free hourly tours. Butcher’s Chapel has often been described as America’s Sistine Chapel patterned after Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in Rome. Also on the chapel grounds is the visitor’s center, gift shop, Royal Delights Cafe, and manicured gardens embellished with fountains and bronze statues in the Precious Moments characters. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Call (800) 543-7975 for more information or log on to https://preciousmomentschapel.org/.
Take a trip to the past with a self-guided tour of the Jasper County Courthouse located in the historic district of the Carthage town square located at 302 S. Main St. in Carthage. The 1894-built structure was constructed with medieval castle features to include turrets, towers and arches. The building is in use by the Jasper County officials. Paintings on the walls of the structure capture the history of the area, and with a push of a button, onlookers can hear a narration of the tales to be told. Hours of operation are Monday – Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and closed weekends. Call (417) 358-0421 for more details or view the structure and read its history at http://www.jaspercounty.org.
For a history lesson, visit the George Washington Carver Museum. Learn about the tenacity and integrity of the brilliant agricultural scientist and educator George Washing Carver, also known as The Peanut Man. The museum is located on 5646 Carver Road in Diamond. The visitor’s center has a museum, interactive history and science exhibits, classrooms for programs on Carver’s life, an observation deck, a movie, a bookstore, and the grounds have walking trails. There is no admission fee, and the hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. Call for details at (417) 325-4151 and review all that is offered at https://www.nps.gov/gwca/.
David Forbes, owner, travel planner, and escort at The Travel Group, charters one or two guided day trips each month for active seniors. He understands the value and demand for the day trip.
“A lot of people don’t want to be gone an extended length of time,” Forbes said. “Day trips provide an opportunity for someone who doesn’t want to be gone four or five days to New York or a two-week trip to Europe. Some want to travel but do not want to drive; our chartered day trips are a means for them to do that. They are traveling with other seniors, so it’s a community event. It gives them an opportunity to get acquainted, and sometimes they become traveling partners for life taking multiple trips together.”
Whether sightseers strike out on their own or tour with a group, traveling as far as a tank of gas can stretch can create a lifetime of memories.
Artwork by Amanda White.
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