Wildlife and nature resorts

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of May 9-16, 1996
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Wildlife and nature resorts
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Wildlife and nature resorts
Question: I am going to be traveling in early June with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old. I would like vacation tips for Texas or Colorado that would be fun for the whole family and moderately priced.

Susan Knittle
Midland, TX

Kids love investigating the fossilized tree stumps of the Florissant Fossil Beds on
a weeklong vacation at the Nature Place in Colorado

Adventure Adviser: Susan, I'm going to assume that a run-of-the-mill, motel-style road trip is probably not high on your what-to-do-with-my-precious-
vacation-time list. With that in mind, why not consider something farther off the beaten path--a trip that'll outlast a week at Disney World in your kids' minds--like a Texas wildlife safari or a Rocky Mountain natural history adventure.

Who'd have thunk that wildebeests, gemsbok, zebras, cheetahs, and rhinos would thrive in Texas hill country? The folks at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center obviously did when they established this 2,700-acre ranch, filled it with 1,100 free-roaming exotic and endangered animals, and opened their doors to safari-going families. Located about an hour and a half southwest of Dallas, Fossil Rim offers a standard, two-hour, self-guided driving tour for an up-close look at giraffes, llamas, gazelles, and emus. If you sign up for their overnight Conservation Camp, you'll get even more, like a naturalist-guided Land Rover tour to areas that aren't on the Scenic Wildlife Drive, as well as nature hikes and night walks, fossil hunts, and a chance to hand-feed a resident giraffe. Best of all, at least where children are concerned, itineraries are tailored to group interests--meaning if the kids are big Canis lupus fans, you'll spend more time with the wolves. Even toddlers can get chummy with a pot-bellied pig, goats, sheep, or tortoises at the petting pasture. You'll bed down in screened bunkhouses on a hill overlooking the animal's valley ($55 per person, per night; BYO sleeping bag), or you can bring your own tent and sleep outside ($45 per person).

Another possibility is their Wilderness Camp program, which features a five-mile hike to a remote campsite ($58 per person per night). Dinner and breakfast are included in the cost. Both camps are open year-round for groups of ten or more--if you can't cajole your neighbor's family to join you, ask the center to set you up with another small group--and you can stay from one to six nights. If you're planning a June trip, you may luck out and make it to their Wolf Howl, which involves a campfire dinner, wolf-lore tales, and a wolf-calling contest. For more information, call 817-897-2960.

For something a little farther north, consider the Colorado Natural History Adventure, a week at the Nature Place--a 6,000-acre property at 8,600 feet in the Rockies. If your kids are pre-history junkies, they'll love digging for fossils and investigating 35-million-year-old tree stumps at Florissant Fossil Bed National Monument, while the social studies set reenacts the human history of the area by touring an 1800s homestead, where kids can dip candles, bake bread, and press apples for cider. Then everyone can try newfangled activities like a high-ropes course or an astronomy program, as well as classic adventures like bird walks, wildflower hikes, canoeing, and kayaking.

Located about 40 miles west of Colorado Springs on the back side of Pikes Peak, the Nature Center houses families in studio apartments, complete with fireplaces, kitchenettes, lofts, decks, and spectacular mountain views. The main lodge serves home-cooked meals in a large dining room, and has an indoor pool, Jacuzzi, and exercise room, plus outdoor tennis and volleyball courts. Family programs run from June 29-July 5, July 13-July 19, and July 31-August 6. Expect to pay $690 for adults and $500 for ages five to 15 (kids under 5 are free), including all meals, facilities, and field trips. Call 719-748-3475 for more information.

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