A Day in Southwest Missouri: Hot Dogs, Waterfalls and Percy the Cat

A few weeks ago I visited the far Southwest corner of Missouri. Primarily, I wanted to use the voucher I’d won for a night at the Boots Court Motel in Carthage, and attend the Missouri Shakespeare Festival (MOShakes) in Joplin. Only there for a day and a half, I wanted to see as much as I could. Of course I didn’t see nearly all that this area had to offer, but I saw enough to make me want to come back. Kammy, the supervisor of the Joplin Missouri Welcome Center, took me on a whirlwind tour.

To get a good overview of Joplin’s past and present we started at the Joplin Museum complex. Contained in this one building is what feels like twelve different museums. There is the National Cookie Cutter Museum, the Joplin Sports Authority Sports Hall of Fame, and the Historical Museum which focuses on Joplin’s colorful past. Be sure to check out the Miniature Circus. Hand-made by a Joplin resident, it took thirty years to complete, including a tiny sideshow with prodigies like the bearded lady, the tattooed man, etc.

mini circus
This Miniature Circus found at the Historical Museum in Joplin took 30 years to complete.

In the Tri-State Mineral Museum (also located within the complex,) there was an interesting display on the use of minerals in everyday products. I never would have believed that minerals were used to make Twinkies or Cornflakes.

Almost as well-known as the museum is their mascot, Percy the cat. Fourteen years old, he sits imperiously in the lobby area, surrounded by fan mail and portraits of himself. He currently has two feline roommates who are both the same shade of gray as he, but are not blood.

After the museum we took a driving tour to hit some of the city’s highlights. We saw the Joplin Little Theatre, and the Joplin Athletic Complex, which caters to all kinds of athletic interests. We crossed over Shoal’s Creek and saw the popular Zan’s Creekside Campground site. Campers were relaxing in the creek in lawn chairs, letting the water flow over them. On that hot day it looked like the perfect place to be. Another cool place on a hot day is Grand Falls, the largest continuously flowing waterfall in Missouri.

Grand Falls in Joplin.
Grand Falls in Joplin.

To reach Grand Falls you can cross Low Water Bridge. It lives up to its name; it felt like we were driving on the water. Getting to Grand Falls takes you through green, rolling hills. They reminded me of the rolling hills of Northwest Missouri, except that these hills are covered in trees. Grand Falls is not only a great place for swimming or fishing, it also has some very nice hiking trails. There are no signs directing you to the Grand Falls, but there are thorough directions in the Joplin Official Visitors Guide. After a quick stop to appreciate the beautiful plant life at the nearby Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center (the Headquarters of the Audubon Society of Missouri), we went back into town for lunch.

For lunch, we ate at Instant Karma Gourmet Hot Dogs. This restaurant is the farthest thing from a hot dog stand. The menu is comprised of all Black Angus hot dogs, locally grown and raised products, and unique food offerings. I had a “Chihuahua,” a bacon wrapped hot dog topped with avocado and sour cream. It was heavenly, with the cool sour cream on a hot hot dog. Kammy got the more upscale Lobster BLT (made with real lobster.) The cheese-covered fries are a must; they’re made using Boulevard Brewery Pale Ale, and sweet potato fries. Of course, after I had already ordered I saw the Heavenly Donut Cheeseburger, a cheeseburger made with a warm, glazed donut for a bun. Oh, well. Next time.

Candy House in Joplin offers gourmet, hand dipped chocolates.
Candy House in Joplin offers gourmet, hand dipped chocolates.

After lunch we walked from the restaurant to the Candy House to get some gourmet, hand-dipped chocolates. On weekdays you can watch candy makers at work through a large, viewing window. We were too full for anything but a free sample, but we purchased some chocolate for later. I could easily have based my trip to Joplin just on the food. However, even if my stomach had allowed it, there is so much else to see down here.

Written by Sally Anton, a welcome center supervisor for the Missouri Division of Tourism.  

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