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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: Big peace at Big Cedar

by Mike Masterson | May 8, 2021 at 8:18 a.m.

Some enjoy escaping the seemingly endless covid grind with a two-week cruise. Others prefer road trips to attractions in and around major cities, or perhaps an all-inclusive island resort with steel drums and icy drinks.

Those choices are fine and good. However, the two of us couldn't have been more fulfilled, perched on an elevated deck with briquets heating, sipping cold beverages, mesmerized by the tranquility of a tumbling brook beneath a cabin at Big Cedar Lodge wilderness resort while wrapped in the springtime beauty of manicured woods.

With both covid shots in our arms for more than a month, we were beyond anxious to spend a weekend somewhere other than within four walls planted in front of the latest Netflix or Amazon binge offerings (peppered with unnecessary "GDs").

People can only take so much mind-numbing televised escapism and obvious attempts at screen-time social engineering.

With Johnny Morris' nationally acclaimed resort and all it offers conveniently located a brief drive up U.S. 65 from Harrison, I was standing at the registration desk within 35 minutes of locking the front door.

And in midweek I was surprised to see so many others milling in the spacious lobby who shared the same idea. Big Cedar understandably draws thousands annually from Arkansas (and nationwide). Who wouldn't enjoy this getaway and all it offers people of all ages?

One of the many pluses to living in my bucolic hometown of Harrison is having what's been repeatedly judged by Travel and Leisure as the Midwest's finest wilderness resort so close by.

There are valid reasons for that designation. There's Dogwood Canyon, five championship Big Cedar golf courses designed and nurtured by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Gary Player, and Tom Fazio, all enhanced by Morris' clearly creative influence.

Golf magazine named the challenging championship courses, all located near each other, as the nation's top family golf resort in 2019 and 2020.

There's also White Water, the Showboat Branson Belle, Silver Dollar City and all the entertainment, shopping and excellent choices of restaurants in nearby Branson, also all within 45 minutes of my house.

The list of recreational Big Cedar activities includes the 18,000-square-foot spa, the enormous Fun Mountain arcade and games, the skeet-shooting range, dinner cruises, two marinas with fishing, five swimming pools, hiking, miniature golf and multiple restaurants. The list of things we could choose goes on and on.


The hourly shuttles collects visitors and transports them up the mountain from Big Cedar to nearby Top of the Rock with its world-class museum filled with Native American artifacts and so many other historic items I've always found fascinating.

Then there's the bagpiper who serenades evenings outside the Buffalo Bar as the sun sets and a nearby Civil War cannon booms toward Table Rock Lake to signal day's end.

But on this respite, we'd come simply to escape for two nights into the blossoming lime-green of spring. We were satisfied to sit and ogle that brook below our deck as it reflected shimmering diamonds of afternoon rays meandering through a forested ravine into the nearby lake.

One could rightly label that peaceful experience as two aging folks appreciating a blue sky as the sun steadily sank beneath the tree line then the horizon of surrounding hills.

Simply being able to decompress in that environment offered its own exhilaration. When the air cooled and darkness fell, there was a stone fireplace and comfy couch to enjoy along with the tender steaks we'd brought.

I've found in aging that sharing such simple things offer fulfillment in ways that earlier in life would have left me hungering for constant activity. And it's obvious to me that Johnny Morris has been actively involved in creating and nurturing everything we see blooming and flowering around us.

As the person many consider the nation's leading individual conservationist, Morris is passionate about realizing his endless stream of visions, whether it be this first-class resort, or his museums located here and in his native Springfield just up the road alongside the nation's No. 1 aquarium attraction (also his).

So count me yet again among those who respect and appreciate everything he's done to enrich the lives of so many. He literally builds a field of dreams, then another and another, and watched millions arrive from across the nation and world to enjoy the fruits of his visionary mind.

We did briefly consider leaving our well-appointed cabin for some bowling or arcades at Fun Mountain, which towered over the tree tops above us. We also thought about taking advantage of all the other opportunities for fun at the resort.

Yet when potential activity came face-to-face with the tranquility of embers glowing in the fireplace and a gentle breeze rustling through the open door to our deck, we decided this was all our psyches needed to restore themselves (and why two septuagenarians with grandkids had chosen Big Cedar in the first place).

There comes a time for most of us when simply having an opportunity to remain still and contemplate the natural magnificence that constantly flows around us is all we require.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at


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