While spending many years in the D.C. metro area, Team WestEnders had the good fortune to be able to take advantage of the National Zoo. Yes, it was kind of a trek for us, involving either A) the time and turmoil of navigating into our nation's capital...of traffic hell...or B) driving to a subway station (15 minutes), shelling out for parking and farecards ($5.10 for the car, and $14.40 for the 4 of us humans, during off-peak hours), waiting for a train, riding for 40-minutes or so, then walking the last half-mile to the entrance. Still, the park itself is free, and we enjoyed the opportunity to spend quality hours with some of nature's more exotic creatures.
So, when we discussed relocating, one thing Husband mentioned--only partly jokingly--was that there had to be a zoo somewhere in the travel-able vicinity for him to consider moving. Well, it just so happens that there is a North Carolina Zoo...and now that our weekends (temporarily) aren't being dominated by soccer, we had a free Saturday to go check it out. The first thing I can say is that it's a good thing we had a big chunk of time to devote to our excursion, because this place is located in Asheboro, 58 miles away...which translates to over an hour of driving...into the approximate middle of N-O-W-H-E-R-E, as it turns out. Luckily it was a cool, sunny, all-around-beautiful Fall day--very pleasant for a car trip. (In case you're wondering just how far out in the sticks we ended up: we started spying gas for sale at $2.53 per gallon. Holy...Boondocks Bargain, Batman!)
Since it's kind of the "off-season" now, there weren't hordes of other people out visiting the animals. On the flip side, the chilly start to the day had some of the critters lying around, seemingly in semi-hibernation mode. (Or maybe they were merely spending a relaxing weekend morning, saving up their energy for the...Saturday Night Wild Kingdom Blowout Bash...hard to tell...) We kicked off our tour in the North America section, where we saw lazy black bears, entertaining otters, scary snakes...and a bunch of other cool stuff. But what really took our breath away was the Prairie Exhibit, populated by herds of elk and bison. You see, in Washington, space was understandably limited. The zoo's residents had nice enclosures, to be sure, but they weren't what you'd call...expansive. But gazing out upon the rolling grasslands where the buffalo literally roamed, (and yes,, the deer and the antelope played...) I suddenly understood quite clearly why they chose to plop the zoo on this huge piece of God's green earth. So. Much. SPACE.
It was the same as we continued into the African portion of our journey. The elephants, rhinoceroses, zebras and giraffes occupied such an enormous hunk of real estate that never had to run into each other, unless they actually wanted to--you know, for a...Savannah Tea Party...or something. (Yeah, the critters are apparently very social in my imagination for some reason...) There were also chimps of all ages, from mamas with babes-in-arms, to several old-timers born in the '70s. All together, the zoo has about 17 of them (!) who rotate being on display...to allow for some much needed Primate Downtime, I suppose. Then came the highlight of the entire day, as far as I was concerned: the lions' den. One shaggy-maned male, one regal female...and four indescribably adorable, cuddly, fluffy, playful, precious CUBS. Oh. My. Gosh...Sooooooo Stinkin' Cute! They scurried, they stalked, they pounced, they wrestled...and I coulda totally stood right there and watched them ALL DAY, I tell ya. (Well, at least until they settled down for one of their frequent snoozes--after all, they are just great big kitty cats, right?)
After that, we found ourselves tired and footsore, and ready to wrap up a successful first zoo expedition. We do already know that we have to come back, since we missed several species' this time. (Oh, baboons, polar bear, and grizzlies, where were you? Better things to do than amuse the general public, eh? No worries, we'll catch ya in the Spring...) And I had read when checking out the online information that there's even a hiking trail you can do (sure, as if you haven't had enough walking...) with the intriguing name of..."Purgatory". Sounds like something we must conquer...on the other side of our first North Carolina Winter. Hopefully everyone--the two-and-four-legged beasts alike--will be feeling sprightly for the next go-around...