Our 2006 Road Trip, Part 11: Mandatory Zoo Visit

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

Day 4: Tuesday, July 25th

Our hotel in Bloomington rewarded us with the largest breakfast buffet of the whole trip. The offerings weren’t all that different, with the notable exception of a positively luxurious three waffle-makers. Their buffet was much more spread out and streamlined, rather than crammed into a leftover nook like those of the previous hotels. Although they offered three times as many tables and chairs as we were used to, they were also just as crowded as the pool had been the previous night.

Once we were tanked up on too much sugar — I know I was, at least — we drove due south to Apple Valley, home of the Minnesota Zoo. This part was a concession on behalf of my son, the wildlife lover. We always schedule one vacation stop for his appeasement, though a zoo was a welcome change of pace from the ride-alike amusement parks of previous years. (Fun opinion I wish I didn’t hold: Six Flags parks are as interchangeable as McDonald’s franchises.)

Birdie on Lake!

Lakes and birdies, hand in hand: Minnesota’s nature scene in a nutshell.

He’d learned about the Zoo in school the previous year, particularly its famous Tiger Lair.

Tiger Lair!

Two tawny tigers, no zoom lens required. They were RIGHT THERE.

The tigers are deviously encouraged to linger around the Plexiglass at the front of their area, both by food placement and by a set of heating/cooling pads installed for their comfort. The crowd can view the tigers from mere inches away, far superior to the average zoo where customers strain to find them in the shade hundreds of yards in the distance, sluggish and visually unverifiable. The way that zookeepers perpetuate that sort of inconsiderate aloofness in their animals, they might as well hire sixteen-year-olds in tiger suits to nap in the far corners of their pens for eight hours a day, like reclining Disneyland characters in more realistic costumes. For all we know, maybe they already do.


More tiger! But without the dirtied glass between us.

The Minnesota Zoo had its own selection of interesting animals — as does every zoo in their own fashion — but was devoid of elephants, African lions, rhinos and the variety of monkeys we’re used to at the Indianapolis Zoo. Nevertheless, it kept the boy happy…


Moose! Bound to happen, since we were mere hours from Canada.


Otter! Because not all lake dwellers are comfortable being out in the open.


Starfish! Representing for the silent, barely mobile animal minorities.

One almost painful exception: the farm exhibit, where the lure of petting a goat led into a near-unchecked hand-severing attempt.

Hunger Goats!

Farm animals seem polite and mild-mannered until it’s time to feed.

See, these are the farm animals we’re used to seeing. That’s much better, you guys.


Piggies! Babe, Gordy, Arnold, and their non-famous friends.

He was also consternated at several large dioramas shaped like popular farm animals and demonstrating examples of the numerous commercial products that Man derives from their respective remains. As there were no big tiger or otter displays showing what products we obtain from those animals — not even so much as a tiger-skin rug or otter-skull maracas — he detected a hint of hypocrisy at the zoo’s implication that a sheep’s life is not treasured in quite the same way as a sea lion’s. Not that he was swayed one bit from our family’s own technically hypocritical carnivorous ways, mind you.

We took our leave before we could find out the details behind this disturbing scene.


“See this skull? This is the last guy who asked me what goes on in here. Not so nosy now, IS HE.”

To be continued!

[Historical note: Tallying up our past experiences: beyond Minnesota and Indianapolis, we’ve also see zoos in San Antonio; Philadelphia; Niagara Falls; Atlanta; Rapid City, SD; and Natural Bridge, VA. Quality and species vary, but each has its pluses and minuses. One felt a little more dangerous than the rest, but that’s a tale for another time.]

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]

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