Day Trippin near Southwest Missouri: Johnny Morris Wonder of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium

Seth Kinker
Neosho Daily News

Over the course of this summer, I’ll be plotting out and exploring some day trips that can be made in the southwest Missouri area.

For my second entry in this series, I made the quick drive down Interstate 44 from Joplin to Springfield to visit the Johnny Morris Wonder of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium.

With it raining cats and dogs yesterday, I decided on a day trip for days like those when you’re getting a free car wash, but you still want to get out and do something.

As someone who has always enjoyed animals and the outdoors, I was excited for this trip. It was my first visit to an aquarium since I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California as a kid on a family vacation and it did not disappoint. Although I stayed there as long as I could until closing hours, it would’ve been easy to stay much longer and observe the multitude of different animals, both land and water based.

Travel time: I left home in Joplin around 3:30 p.m. and it took just over an hour to get there. From 4:30 p.m. to closing hours that day, 7 p.m., I wove through the 350,000 sq. ft. of animals and their habitats.

There’s no shortage of fast food and sit-down restaurants in a few miles radius to choose from if you’re hungry after your visit. As someone who’s only just recently been exposed to the beauty that is Chick-Fil-A, I chose that with it being right across the street (Three chicken sandwiches with Chick-Fil-A sauce, nuggets with ranch and a lemonade will do the trick). The roundtrip driving distance was right under 150 miles and I was home just after 8 p.m. and that included waiting in the long line for my food after my visit.

Cost: Adult - $43.25, Child - $24.95

What to look out for: What’s there not to look out for? The Wildlife Galleries have walk through dioramas that take a look at the many different types of habitats around the world ranging from the Great African Hall to the National Parks to Africa After Dark.

I spent the most time in the Aquarium Adventure that took a look at earth’s different underwater ecosystems from oceans and lakes to streams.

The first room, the Great Ocean Hall, brings you into the middle of a circular tank where you can see multiple types of fish swimming around you. Wonder of Wildlife as a whole has so many different tanks or exhibits that allow you to get right up close to the wildlife with electronic tablets close by to show you the different types of species you’re looking at along with more information on them.

Right after that, a circular fish freeway you can observe from up close and soon after on the path, right under with up to 6,000 herring swimming in a circular motion that confuses potential predators with their strength in numbers making them appear bigger than they appear individually.

A circular fish freeway, one of the first things you see after entering the aquarium.

The path winds through one way all the way through so you can be sure you’re not missing out on any of the exhibits that include the Great Barrier Reef, the Fishing Hall of Fame, Shipwreck Reef, the Swamp at Night, Rivers and Streams, the Mangroves, Out to Sea, the Amazon Rainforest, Under the River, the Community Pond, Marvels of the Deep, Caves: The Dark Wonder and River Monsters.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that the ocean covers more than 70% of the earth’s surface while driving weather, regulating temperature and supporting all living organisms.

Despite that; 80% remains unmapped, unobserved and unexplored which is why aquariums are so unique to me. It offers a peek into a world we still largely do not know.

Although some of the exhibits like the ability to get into a submerged cage with the sharks or walking over the alligator pit were closed, there was still no shortage of sights to see and get lost in.

Reading about and seeing an Alligator Gar up close are two very different things. They’re huge!

An Alligator Gar pictured at the Johnny Morris Wonder of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium.

The same goes for the Japanese Spider Crab or seeing how big the bones of the jaws of a shark really are standing next to them.

The jaws of a shark at the Johnny Morris Wonder of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium
A Japanese Spider Crab at the Johnny Morris Wonder of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium. Found in the Pacific Ocean, they can span over 13 feet when their limbs are sprawled out!

From a “movie theater” on a second level that you can grab popcorn at for different showings of about animals to being able to touch stingrays, Wonders of Wildlife offers more than just the aquarium side of things as shown by their multitude of exhibits.

I wasn’t expecting to see the American Black Bear, beaver, alligator or even flamingos and tarantulas, but it was just another part of the trip that made the two and a half hours go by much too fast.