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Where The Real Wild Things Are

By  Deborah Long

 

ft ts namibia ongava lion 10-22-2011 6-30-46 am

There's something about kids and animals that inspire us. Think of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book or the Academy-Award nominated song "Bless the Beasts and the Children." Few things are as satisfying as sharing in a child's awe as he or she witnesses the power and grace of wild creatures for the first time.

We've gathered some of our favorite places to go wild with the kids, and, best of all, some are absolutely free. You'll encounter wolves, raptors, alligators, lions, and much more, so please keep your hands in your vehicles at all times! Away we go!

California Wolf Center - Julian, Califoia

From the Big Bad Wolf who stalked the Three Little Pigs to the cur who attacked the foolish Boy Who Cried Wolf, wolves have played the heavy in some of our most popular stories. In the real world, though, they've been hunted to near extinction. Luckily, organizations that recognize how valuable wolves are to a healthy ecosystem are working to change that. The California Wolf Center has been educating the public about wolves since 1977, and a visit here will be memorable for both you and your grandkids. To make a special connection, consider sponsoring a wolf.

Raptor Center - St. Paul, MN

If you've got a grandkid who would like nothing better than to have an owl like Harry Potter's Hedwig, head over to the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, where birds of a feather really do flock together. Here you'll get a chance to meet a Great Horned Owl named Ricke, an Eastern Screech Owl named Otus, and a Bald Eagle named Othello. They're just a few of the facility's birds who, for a variety of reasons, cannot be released into the wild. Admission to the center is free, but donations are welcome.

Alligator Adventure - North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

It's located at Barefoot Landing, but with 800 alligators, a 450-pound Galapagos tortoise, and a 20-foot crocodile in residence, sturdy footwear seems advisable for any visit to Alligator Adventure. If it's reptilian, and it creeps, crawls, or slithers, this park probably has it. Pig nosed turtle? Check. Alligator snapping turtle? Of course! Rhinoceros iguana? Got it. Giant green anaconda, retriculated python, and king cobra? Just saunter over to the Serpentarium, one of the best reptile houses you'll find in any zoological park. There are also frogs, toads, bats, lemurs, and tropical birds here, plus a colony of playful

Alligator Adventure - North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

It's located at Barefoot Landing, but with 800 alligators, a 450-pound Galapagos tortoise, and a 20-foot crocodile in residence, sturdy footwear seems advisable for any visit to Alligator Adventure. If it's reptilian, and it creeps, crawls, or slithers, this park probably has it. Pig nosed turtle? Check. Alligator snapping turtle? Of course! Rhinoceros iguana? Got it. Giant green anaconda, retriculated python, and king cobra? Just saunter over to the Serpentarium, one of the best reptile houses you'll find in any zoological park. There are also frogs, toads, bats, lemurs, and tropical birds here, plus a colony of playful river otters whose antics provide comic relief.

Dinosaur State Park and Arboretum - Rocky Hill, Connecticut

Eubrontes, Dilophosaurus, and Otozoum, oh my! We don't know many youngsters who aren't dinosaur fans. And while the dinos disappeared 65 million years ago, Dinosaur State Park and Arboretum has one of the best collections of on-site dinosaur tracks in the world. Even adults may feel awed knowing that they are standing in the footsteps of history. The park does all it can to ensure a great experience for young visitors, with films, crafts, demonstrations with live park animals, guided tours of the dinosaur trackway and, in the summer months, an outdoor sluice where the kinds can mine for gems and fossils.

MGM Lion Habitat - Las Vegas, NV

The pride of the MGM Grand strut their stuff in the hotel's Lion Habitat. Each day, teams of lions are groomed and coiffed for the commute from their 8.5-acre abode 12 miles outside the city to their glass-enclosed "office," which is climate-controlled and designed to make them feel at home with trees and a waterfall. You and the kids can enjoy Lion Habitat absolutely free of charge.

Monkey Jungle Miami, FL

What kid wouldn't be thrilled to visit a place where monkey business is encouraged? At Monkey Jungle, you'll find capuchins, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, howler monkeys and more. You can hang with the orangutans or give a gibbon your time. And while you're monkeying around with the 30 species represented at Monkey Jungle, you'll learn fascinating facts about our fellow primates. You can also visit the Amazonian Rainforest, which features plants you'd otherwise need to go to Peru to see, and the Wild Monkey Swimming Pool, where Java monkeys dive for treats.

Whale Watching Depoe Bay, Oregon

Since 1978, visitors to the Oregon coast have been able to take advantage of the Whale Watching Spoken Here program. It places trained volunteers at 26 sites along the shore to help people spot gray whales migrating to and from their breeding grounds, and to educate observers about these magnificent marine animals. The summer whale-watching season runs from June through October, but peaks in August, September, and October. When your grandchildren's faces light up as they spy a telltale spout of water or mighty tail, it will give new meaning to the phrase "whale of a good time."

This article was provided thanks to our partnership with www.GrandParents.com. It first appeared there.

 

Photo: Copyright Lynn O'Rourke Hayes

Namibia 2011

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