Our 2009 Road Trip, Part 20: Omaha’s Wild Kingdom


Paranoid owl is ON TO YOU.

Longtime MCC readers know we made a habit of doing at least one zoo or amusement park on every road trip while he was young, as a compromise so he’d have something to look forward to besides history museums and roadside oddities. As for this particular trip, you’d think we’d be burned out on animals by now after our experiences at Custer State Park and Reptile Gardens. Regardless of redundancy or overkill, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo came recommended to us, and gave us a benign activity to kick off what would become yet another day of never-ending driving.

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.

2008 was by far our least favorite road trip to date, and still holds the ignominious title as of 2018. Our next vacation had to be better. Step one was plain enough: we looked at Anne’s brainstorming list of future road trips and chose the one that screamed “dream vacation”. That’s what led to our long, long drive out to the farthest reaches of South Dakota and beyond. At nine days it was the longest we’ve ever taken. The farthest point of 1,180 miles made it the longest drive of our lives. It would be the farthest west we’d ever been up to that time. It was also our first vacation using exclusively digital cameras to record the experience, leaving behind the 35mm film of our childhoods forever. They weren’t expensive cameras for their kind, certainly not the most advanced as of 2009, but we did what we could with the resources and the amateur skill sets available to us.

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

DAY EIGHT: Friday, June 19th.

We don’t watch sports. We don’t participate in sports. As a result, we don’t pay attention to sports events. The College Baseball World Series was being held in Omaha right next door to our planned stop the next morning: the Henry Doorly Zoo. It was a possibility on our itinerary, but a positive review from our friend Chris made it a lock. One major complication: the baseball fans would likely be using the zoo’s parking lot, too.

We bravely traversed those crowded streets and pulled into their lot. The employees were ready with a cunning plan in hand: every car that entered the parking lot had to stay in a line until it reached an employee that asked if the inhabitants were planning to visit the zoo. If you said yes, you paid your admission up front, right there in the car, and then were allowed to go park. If you said no, I suppose they torched your car or whatever, as the sportsmen do.

After parking, we walked up to the entrance, where — before we could reach the front door — a flamingo welcomed us with his feathers outstretched. A few feet down, staffers were shooing a flock of peahens away. We took this welcoming committee as a sign of good sights to come despite the rain clouds looming above.

peahen chase!

They’d be charged with loitering if they weren’t living exhibits.

The zoo’s Desert Dome is advertised as the largest in the country. We have one at the Indianapolis Zoo, but the size and diversity of this one had ours beat.

Desert Dome!

“The largest glazed geodesic dome in the world” — the leading geodesic dome critic at Wikipedia.com.

Cape thick-knee!

A Cape thick-knee is just one of the many exotic animals that I’ve never heard of, didn’t write down, and had to look up just now.


Mama wallaby, thinking of the children.

To us the most original part was their Nocturnal Worlds exhibit. Hundreds of living, breathing bats flew in their own habitat. The anteater was the first we’d ever seen. The star of the section was the armadillo, whose continuous fluid movements all around the cavern floor were as smooth and fleeting as the most expensive remote control cars. I showed my sincere appreciation for this unusual part of God’s creation by making Indy-car vrooming noises every time it flitted past us. I had fun channeling my inner seven-year-old foley artist.

It’s all I could do, because most of our photos from that part look terrible. Lots more small animals thrived in pitch black and refused to be photogenic. Alas, our cameras didn’t cotton to darkness and fluorescence too well. I drained my camera batteries trying and failing to get a single good shot of that stupid astounding armadillo.

Also fun: the Skyfari, a brand new ride that carried visitors above the park and let them dangle their feet a few stories above the wildlife.


I’ve ridden skylifts in other places, but never above animals that might trample me if I fell out.

rhinos below!

A new perspective on rhinos.

giraffes below!

You think you’re so tall, giraffes? NOW who’s tallest? HUH?

We pause here for a selection of random animal photos in random order:


A Siberian tiger had seniority in the Cat Complex, which gave us proximity to all manner of formidable felines.


For some reason I remember reading about tapirs in third grade. At last we met, in the rain forest area.

collared peccary!

I had the collared peccary listed in my notes as “fur pig”. I’m sure they would object.

animal staredown!

Staring contest between a meerkat and a klipspringer, both of which my spell-checker hates.


Meanwhile in the grassier areas, the okapi represents on behalf of animals God made by gluing together leftover parts of other animals.

red squirrel!

A red squirrel that ran laps around its display case at Mach 2.

peacock strutting!

A wandering peacock wondering where all his peahens are at.

Doorly’s Zoo also has one of those great aquariums with transparent walls that surround you. We’ve seen those in other places (Newport, Mall of America, one part of our own zoo), but we never get tired of them.

fish tank!

One of the many kaleidoscopic fish tanks.

fish cylinder!

Fish cylinders: because no one ever said all fish tanks must be cubic.


The penguins swear the zoo gig is just temporary until they can make it big in some Hollywood sequel.

penguin diving!

Penguin showoff. He’s a loner, Dottie — a rebel.

shark overhead!

Possibly the best shark photo we’ll ever take.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[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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