Our 2010 Road Trip, Part 12: Mandatory Zoo Visit

Panamanian golden frogs!

Panamanian golden frogs — critically endangered, rather poisonous, and adorable hanging together from their little leaf shelter.

Before writing this chapter, Anne and I watched the first episode of the BBC’s inspiring, horrifying, utterly gorgeous Planet Earth II on Netflix, and now I’m ashamed of every inadequate animal photo we’ve ever taken. But let’s proceed with another batch of zoo memories anyway.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, marvels, history, and institutions we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Beginning with 2003’s excursion to Washington DC, we added my son to the roster and tried to accommodate his preferences and childhood accordingly.

After the record-breaking nine-day epic that was our 2009 trek to the farthest reaches of South Dakota, we decided to scale back in 2010 with a shorter drive in a different direction. We previously drove through the corners of Pennsylvania in 2003 and 2004 — through Washington in the southwest corner on our way to Washington, DC; and through Erie in the northwest corner on our way to Niagara Falls. This year, that extra-large wooded state would be the center of our attention.

As one of America’s original 13 colonies, Pennsylvania contains multitudes of U.S. history and authentic places and things from centuries past. For the three of us, we figured it would do well. Anne is a big history buff. I’m willing to drive just about anywhere within reason. My son would be dragged along for whatever ride until such time as he developed a separate life and identity.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Day Five in the late afternoon brought us to our annual vacation compromise: another zoo. This time, slight prestige was involved. Billed as “America’s First Zoo”, the Philadelphia Zoo didn’t seem a radical departure from any other that we’ve seen in previous year, except it’s been in continuous business since 1874 and boasts an above-average population of endangered species compared to its competition in other states. Also, scenes from Rocky II were filmed there, including the part where Rocky proposed to Adrian. Visually its most distinctive feature was the balloon we saw from the interstate on our way into town that morning

Philadelphia Zoo Balloon!

Alas, “balloon ride” remains uncrossed-off on the ol’ bucket list.

…which might’ve been a fun experiment if we hadn’t been rejected by this sign at the front gate. Their colossal balloon wasn’t taking passengers that day. Slight disappointment.

Balloon Canceled!


That meant we had to settle for looking at all creatures great and small. Primary objective: accomplished.

hourglass tree frog!

An hourglass tree frog vying for our attention.

Naked Mole Rats!

Naked mole rats, a familiar concept to fans of Kim Possible.

Prairie Dogs!

Prairie Dogs, familiar friends — and looking as paranoid as ever — from our previous vacation to South Dakota.

Snake Standing!

This snake of indeterminate species was likewise wary of our presence, as if we might pose a threat to it.


From the Eastern Hemisphere, a pair of hamerkops, which would also be a great name for a German crime drama.

southern ground hornbill!

A southern ground hornbill, generally regarded in southern Africa as a major loudmouth.


Either Galapagos or Aldabra tortoises, depending on whether or not the nuchal scute is present. No, YOU’RE trying to master herpetology through hasty Googling.

white-faced saki!

A couple of white-faced saki, one male and one female, both looking as though one said something mean to the other that morning.


Gorilla on the move.


Cheetah with nothing better to do than lay around the pen.

Lego Penguins!

Fake animals also abounded, such as these Lego penguins.

Lego Golden Lion Tamarins!

I can safely say we’ve seen Lego Golden Lion Tamarins nowhere in the world except at the Philadelphia Zoo.

Lion Statue!

If you don’t prefer Lego as an artistic medium, there’s this metal sculpture of a mother lion feeding a warthog to its cubs and nightmares to any underage onlookers.

Parrot and Anne!

Interactive bird-feeding is always a big hit at your average zoo, and Philly’s was no exception.

Bird Feeding!

Same, but with this writer instead of his cuter wife.

We look happy in those last two photos, but that attitude was harder to maintain as the afternoon wore on and temperatures refused to drop. Beaten down by the nearly-100-degree heat and let down by numerous offscreen animals that refused to dance for us in said heat, we took our leave half an hour before closing time. We missed one trolley by less than a minute, watching the driver glare at us and rebuff our desperate waves. We crouched down next to some malnourished shrubbery and tried to make the most of this extended opportunity to approach heat exhaustion even more daringly.

To be continued!

[Historical note: some of these animals no longer appear on the zoo’s official site or their Wikipedia page. I’m not sure if that’s because they’ve changed exhibit spaces over the past eight years, or if they’re simply out of season at the moment. Hopefully nothing terrible happened to any of them.]

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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