Guest Author - Christine Wilcox
On my recent trip to San Diego, I took the advice of a trusted friend who used to live in the area and skipped town as soon as I landed.
Nothing against San Diego, of course. I had a ticket for a safari, and what I found while I was on it gave me a new perspective on the efforts of the folks at the San Diego Zoo toward wildlife preservation and conservation.
The San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park is north of San Diego in the San Pasqual Valley in Escondido. It's an easy drive through country that's an odd clash of strip malls seen from I-15 and a country highway that had "Fresh Ostrich Eggs Here" signs occasionally popping up. It is well worth the 40 minutes to get there. Plan a full day, and don't forget your camera. It's a big park. And it's got some amazing stories to tell.
At 1,800 acres, half the land has been set aside as protected native species habitat. Over 3,500 animals officially call it home, representing over 400 species. Board the "Journey into Africa" tour for a twenty-five minute ride through an expansive area made to resemble the African savanna, and see species of white rhinoceros, giraffes, wildebeast, and cheetahs that will take your breath away. The Tour was free with admission to the park, but you have the option of upgrading it in several ways to get a more close-up experience with the animals, including the chance to feed giraffes and rhinos.
When I left the safari tour, I made my way up to Nairobi Village to peruse the lowland gorillas, lions, and African Aviary exhibits, and got to see a carefree gorilla who was happily snoozing on a rock with his left foot kicked up on his right knee, like a surfer at a beach waiting between waves. As the sun dropped in the sky and the cool air started to settle in, the animals began their own evening rituals. The park, fortunately, has plenty of dining options for humans to engage in their own evening snacking rituals, too.
All in all, the San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park is a spectacular way to spend a day learning about the animals that we share our planet with. The Park itself is great for the solo traveler, because while one may technically "be" alone, one is never really alone at all. It's not like dining alone where you're conspicuous; it's much more like visiting a museum. It's definitely on my must-return-to list for next year... maybe to one of the overnight adventures the park offers - so I can be sure to have enough time! Put it on your solo travel list, too!