We stayed in one of the largest pyramids in the world, a Bass Pro Shops-owned lodge filled with alligators, swamps, and rumors of an ancient curse. Here's what it was like.
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
- One of the largest pyramids in the world is in Memphis, Tennessee, and is owned by Bass Pro Shops.
- The "Great American Pyramid" is taller than the Statue of Liberty and houses a super-sized Bass Pro Shops, a hunting lodge-themed hotel, an indoor swamp, a bowling alley, and two restaurants.
- We visited the pyramid and discovered a place that is like nothing else on the planet.
An ancient pyramid looms over the city of Memphis.
Well, maybe not ancient. But, since 1991, the "Great American Pyramid" has welcomed travelers as they journey over the Mississippi River on I-40. And, the pyramid boasts a strange history, with a past life as a sports arena, events space, and even an abandoned structure nicknamed the "Tomb of Doom" due to rumors of a curse incurred by the founder of the Hard Rock Café.
Inside the mighty pyramid, the scene grows even more bizarre. The pyramid is now owned by Bass Pro Shops, and the chain has taken it upon itself to transform it into a sort of theme park for the American outdoorsman: a 32-story building with an indoor swamp, gun range, and bowling alley.
Once you enter the "Tomb of Doom," you can never leave. Well, you can, but with a luxury hotel and two restaurants, there isn't much reason to do so.
We decided to visit the pyramid ourselves. Here's what it's like to stay in a Bass Pro Shops that's taller than the Statue of Liberty and almost the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza:
The pyramid sits on the Mississippi River. It's the first thing you see when you enter Memphis from the west.
Since Memphis' namesake is the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis, the Tennessean city thought it only right to build a pyramid of their own in the '80s.
It cost a whopping $68 million, the equivalent of more than $124 million today. One of the original funders was arrested for failing to foot his portion of the bill, but the city managed to complete construction in 1991.
The pyramid served as an event space and sports arena in its early days, before going dark for nearly a decade in 2007.
Some Memphis residents began calling it the "Tomb of Doom" thanks to its financial struggles and a rumor that a cursed crystal skull had been stored in the apex. According to myth, the skull had been disturbed, unleashing years of bad luck.
However, the pyramid found an unlikely savior: Bass Pro Shops.
According to the outdoors retailer, Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris decided to build a store in the pyramid after fulfilling a bet about catching a 30-pound catfish on the Mississippi River.
The Bass Pro Shops' revamped pyramid opened in 2015. However, it was a far cry from the hunting and fishing store you might find at your local strip mall.
Immediately upon entering the pyramid, visitors come face to face with a swampy, shopping utopia — practically an outdoorsman's theme park, aglow with string lights and cypress trees.
Since there are no windows, the interior feels like being in a massive swamp community trapped in a perpetual state of twilight, with shoppers and gawkers roaming amongst the Bass Pro Shops wares.
The entire shopping center is situated around a man-made swamp that fills the base of the pyramid.
The swamp even has permanent residents. A surprising amount of animals call it home.
According to the company, the pyramid has 10 aquariums — containing 600,000 gallons of water — that are populated with roughly 1,800 fish.
The store regularly holds popular fish feedings in a huge glass aquarium, with a scuba-diving staffer jumping in and talking to the audience as the fish dine.
There are also man-made ponds where alligators lounge just feet away from wary shoppers.
Shops, restaurants, and hotel rooms are situated in smaller structures within the pyramid's grand space.
The aquariums and general swampy atmosphere are constant throughout these numerous mini-shops and in the complex's several restaurants, all of which serve Southern comfort and Mississippi Delta-style menus.
The Bass Pro Shops even has a 13-lane bowling alley.
Sea creatures appear to vomit up the bowling balls, in keeping with the destination's whimsical outdoorsy theme.
Uncle Buck's Fishbowl & Grill is connected to the bowling alley. The restaurant — which contains another aquarium — is designed to make visitors feel like they're dining in the depths of a sunken ship.
To visit Bass Pro Shops' other restaurant, customers need to hitch a ride on the Sky High Ride to the roof.
The elevator stands at the very center of the pyramid and is the country's largest free-standing elevator, according to Bass Pro Shops — it rises 28 stories up.
The glass elevator feels like something out of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Looking out the glass sides, 300 feet over the shopping center below, can be a surreal experience.
The Lookout features finer dining fare than the more family-oriented Uncle Bucks, as well as a full bar and yet another impressive aquarium.
But the most impressive view is out the huge windows.
Glass observation decks on the south and west sides allow customers to look out over Memphis and the Mississippi River.
The pyramid has become a tourist destination in its own right, bringing in $45.6 million in the year ending in April 2018 alone.
And, if some tourists want to stay a bit longer, they can book a room in the Big Cypress Lodge, the hotel located around the inner edges of the enormous pyramidical cavern.
The Lodge overlooks the swamp and shops, taking up the second and third stories of the pyramid's interior walls.
It is made up of 104 rooms, all of which continue the theme park-esque, outdoorsman's lodge aesthetic of timber beams, wrought iron, and finished oak.
The woodsy atmosphere continues in the rooms. Some are extremely spacious.
Everything is decorated to the tastes of an avid huntsman. For example, the room we stayed in had an antler chandelier.
According to Bass Pro Shops, every single room has a unique piece of taxidermy as well.
Perhaps more impressive than the stuffed dead animals: the sizable bathtubs.
Ultimately, staying at the Big Cypress Lodge was an experience like no other.
Further, never before had we been in a store so full of animals.
(Animals both alive... and otherwise.)
The decision to build a Bass Pro Shops inside a gargantuan metal pyramid in the middle of Memphis seems, at first, utterly nonsensical. But, as the hours ran on in the eternal twilight of the pyramid, we found ourselves increasingly in awe of the surreal and inviting space.
If you're a Bass Pro Shops fan, visiting the pyramid is a must. And, if you aren't, the pyramid is the perfect opportunity to enter a bizarre new world: a fish-filled experiment that towers 32 stories over the city of Memphis.
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