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What’s New in America’s Crossroads

Everyone’s always looking for the latest and greatest, and the same is true for travelers — doubly true for those who have traveled extensively and have already seen all the old standbys.

In Missouri, the founder of Bass Pro Shops has opened a museum and aquarium that’s more like a temple to wildlife conservation. In Kansas, visitors can experience Evel Knievel’s daredevil jumps, and in Oklahoma, will soon be able to track road-trippers on Route 66. In Arkansas, a former fried-chicken factory has been redeveloped as a food hub that houses a culinary school. These top new Crossroads attractions offer groups new experiences they won’t soon forget.

Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium

Springfield, Missouri

It had been a lifelong dream of Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris to create a place for people to learn about conservation and to celebrate those who hunt, fish and serve as stewards of the land and its wild resources.

That dream came true when Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium opened in September 2017, said spokeswoman Shelby Stephenson. WOW, as it’s known, consists of two main components: the wildlife galleries and the aquarium adventure.

The wildlife galleries are like dioramas at a natural-history museum but more immersive; the aquarium has 1.5 million gallons of water and more than 35,000 live animals that represent over 800 species of fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

“When you walk through WOW, it’s taking you on a journey around the world, through some of the most diverse habitats on Earth,” Stephenson said, from the Arctic to the Amazon, from desert sands to ocean floor.

In the Great African Hall, guests see the African plains, hear the elephant trumpet and the lion roar, smell the hot dirt and dust, and feel the warmer temperature. In the Sheep Mountain gallery, bighorn sheep peer down from their rocky perches at the people walking among them.

“It’s really an immersive experience,” Stephenson said.

Shipwreck Reef on the aquarium side is “one of our show-stoppers,” she said. Visitors feel like they’re walking through a decommissioned ship that Morris intentionally sunk off the coast of Florida to provide reef habitat. Rusty walls surround guests, and aquariums showcase how sea creatures use the ship as habitat. Giant Caribbean spiny lobsters live in crates, and eels make homes out of pipes.

WOW offers guided group tours and is attached to the Bass Pro Shop headquarters, where groups can dine at Hemingway’s Blue Water Café.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.