Coast to coast, stem to stern, North America is awash in destinations worthy of serious consideration for hunters, anglers and other fans of the great outdoors.
While many top venues are traditional favorites that have been on the bucket lists of generations of travelers, one of the newest offers a unique twist on the experience, blending hook-and-bullet retail therapy with fine dining and 5-star yet decidedly rustic lodging.
Welcome to Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid.
Rising above downtown Memphis, Tennessee, from the banks of the Mississippi River, the retail megastore packs more than 535,000 square feet of fishing, boating and hunting gear into the iconic, 32-story pyramid that once housed the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.
Admittedly, destination retail venues aren’t exactly new. But this facility raises the bar.
Step through the rugged 10-foot front doors and you’ll quickly do a double-take at the massive in-store cypress swamp, complete with 100-foot, moss-laden cypress trees, waterfowl winging overhead and an 84,000-gallon alligator habitat. In all, nearly 600,000 gallons of aquariums and other water features hold more than 1,800 fish representing 36 species including largemouth bass, sunfish, trout, catfish, sturgeon and gar.
Woven together beneath the Pyramid’s towering steel skeleton, the cypress swamp and store combine to create a unique shopping experience. For example, as you cross the bridge from the expansive fishing tackle area to look for boating accessories in the marine department, you can pause to watch schools of gamefish swimming beneath your feet.
Big Cypress even houses a Tracker Boat showroom complete with indoor docks and moored bass boats floating on the indoor lake.
There’s also a Beretta Fine Gun Gallery, Ducks Unlimited Waterfowling Heritage Center, indoor archery and firearms ranges, and a unique “undersea” bowling alley.
At the center of everything, the continent’s tallest freestanding glass elevator waits to lift visitors to the peak of the Pyramid for fine dining at “The Lookout” and stellar photo opps on the glass-floored, cantilevered observation deck, which overlooks Memphis, the Mississippi and surrounding states.
The Lookout offers excellent cuisine plus inspiring vistas, and is built around a massive, circular aquarium stocked with broad-shouldered blue catfish from the Mississippi below. Dining options also include casual, reasonably priced fare at Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill on the main floor.
Another plus: You don’t have to leave after the store closes. The Pyramid is also home to Big Cypress Lodge, a 105-room wilderness hotel with rustic-themed yet elegant and comfortable rooms that spare no attention to detail, including plenty of well-placed wildlife art and taxidermy.
Rooms, or more appropriately cabins, are set on the second floor. Most offer a private, screened front porch overlooking the cypress swamp and retail area. Be forewarned, while taking in the view, you might have to pinch yourself to be sure you aren’t dreaming.
Big Cypress also has an interesting backstory. Company kingpin Johnny Morris contemplated the project while fishing in the shadows of the Pyramid with legendary bassman Bill Dance. On a whim, Morris promised if they caught fish 30 pounds or bigger, he’d tackle the Pyramid transformation.
As it turns out, they boated a 34-pound blue catfish that day and the rest is history. The Big Cypress complex opened in April 2015 and drew 2 million visitors by December.
Bass Pro Shops acknowledges the fateful catch with a photo and mount of the chunky catfish near the front door, along with a fine tribute to Dance’s fishing roots and contributions to the sport.
Besides first-class lodging and enough outdoor gear to keep you browsing for days, the Pyramid is within a short cast of numerous fishing and hunting hotspots in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.
Add it all together and there’s little debate that a pilgrimage to this unique destination should be on every outdoor enthusiast’s bucket list.