Colorado · Day Trip · Denver · Eastern Colorado

February 2017: The Wild Animal Sanctuary

Our second Resolution Destination led us to take a walk on the wild side (yeah, we just said that). We were still feeling like staying a little bit closer to home was the smart thing to do, but we also wanted to do something a little more out of the ordinary and hopefully exciting. Corrie was talking to a friend one day and the conversation turned to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, CO. After mentioning the conversation to Cameron, it became an easy choice for February’s  destination; neither of us had been before, it sounded exciting, and it supports a worthy cause (saving big cats and other predators from private collectors, circuses and failing zoos). So, we waited for the perfect, sunny, February day and ventured out to the plains.

Knowing how awesome we are to hang out with, we decided to share this month’s adventure and invited Corrie’s sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew to join us. We thought the kids might have fun seeing all the large animals in their simulated natural habitats and Corrie was excited for Cameron to spend more time with her family. Admittedly, the day started out a little rocky with a brother-in-law who gets flustered over other people’s directions (picture sitting on the side of a highway on-ramp looking at Google Maps and lots of arm flailing). But we got past that speed bump and finally reached our intended destination.

We pulled into the large parking lot (no need to panic park here) and the first thing we noticed was the long, elevated walk way into the sanctuary’s habitats dubbed the “mile into the wild.” We learned that standing high above the animals keeps you out of their line of sight, allows them to act more naturally and eliminates the stress of having humans around. Apparently, unbeknownst to us at this time, acting naturally for these animals is to spend most of the daylight hours snoozing in the sun. We jumped out of the cars, got the kids settled into strollers with snacks and raced (and by race we mean walked leisurely) to the fronts doors to pay our admission fee. We couldn’t wait to get out on to the “mile into the wild” to start watching the animals running around, roaring and playing. We rushed through paying the admission (which is the donation that solely supports the sanctuary, so we were happy to pay), hurriedly used the restrooms, reveled in our excitement butterflies and…got stopped to watch a 10-minute mandatory video about the sanctuary and the animals. Buzz. Kill. But we guess it’s important to know how the mission started and how it continues to thrive, so we sat and endured. Some of us more patiently than others.

Once the video ended, it was off to the animals. The sanctuary is set in the rolling grasslands of Colorado. If you ignore the snow-capped mountains to the west you can almost imagine that you’re on an African Plain – minus the lack of heat of course. And until we can afford a real African safari, this is a much easier destination to reach.

Feb 3
Sleeping pride of lions

As we wandered along the walkway we quickly discovered that we were in for a game of eye-spy as we stopped to admire foxes, coyotes, grizzly bears, lions and tigers; almost all of whom were napping peacefully.

It’s a good thing for Corrie that she brought along a man who likes to go full out dorky-tourist. As she watched Cameron stroll the walkway with the sun haloing him, wearing his oversized backpack (containing plenty of snacks, water and cold-weather layers) and sporting not one, but two pairs of binoculars around his neck, she couldn’t help but think to herself “damn, that’s my man! Mmmm mmm!” And secretly she was thankful he had the two pairs of binoculars so she too could spot the animals in the further away habitats.

As we continued our mile-long march we were a bit disappointed that the animals weren’t very active and were often hard to spot (even with the sexy binoculars). Some of the sanctuary staff pointed out that the animals are much more active at dawn and dusk when they prowl around howling, bellowing and roaring. We made note to come back another time to see the sanctuary during its active times.

But all was not lost. As we approached the end of the walkway we started to hear ferocious roars coming from the very end. When we got closer we saw that we were approaching the tiger house.

Feb 1
Standing above the tiger house

This is the area that they bring new tiger residents to acclimatize to the sanctuary before releasing them into the free-roaming prides. These cats are put into smaller pens, which actually caused them to be more active than the others. We were treated to two tigers playing chase and “get the hell out of my pool” with each other. Watching two enormous 500-pound tigers launch onto their hind legs with claws and teeth flashing as they jump at each other’s throats was quite a thrill and made us feel small in the grand scheme of nature.

One disappointment we realized when we were at the end of the “mile into the wild” is that to get back to the car we had to walk the full mile back. If the animals would have been more active, this wouldn’t have been as much of a disappointment. Thankfully we had a little beast of our own to keep us entertained… Corrie’s one-year old nephew. We were kept thoroughly entertained as he raced up and down the walkway trying to run through our legs (even if most of the time he ended up face planting into someone’s butt). Watching the pure joy of a boy in the wild is a treasure.

Feb 2
Photo-bombed by an insistent toddler

He even insisted on being in a picture with us when we got to the end. So, if you’re wondering about the blonde boy in the picture, we didn’t have a child of our own and we didn’t steal him.

As we neared the end of the journey back we started to hear the rumble of another vicious beast… a hungry brother-in-law.And with the rest of us starting to get hungry as well, we decided it was time for lunch. Based on Corrie’s suggestion we decided to head to the small town of Hudson (population 1,500), just west of the sanctuary, for fine dining at the Pepper Pod. There we enjoyed a meal of burgers and beer. Highlight of the meal… when brother-in-law found out Cameron had been carrying snacks the entire time and didn’t offer him any when he started complaining of hunger pains.

Overall the Wild Animal Sanctuary made for a wonderful day! It is not your typical zoo experience; the animals have tons of space and are well cared for by their rescuers. These animals are there to live out the rest of their lives in peace with minimal interference from people. That’s something we appreciated supporting. And in our humble opinions, it was an experience best shared with people we love.

P.S. Just kidding Brian! We love you! And thank you for lunch!

Destination Rating 3.5 out of 5.0

What We Learned

  • DO: bring binoculars (more than one pair if you dare)
  • DO: be prepared to stroll 2 miles out in the elements. Pack based on the Colorado motto – the weather can change at any time.
  • DO: expect lots of ankle bitters running around (nephews included)
  • DO: consider going closer to dawn or dusk when the animals are more active and let us know how it was!
  • DO: dine at the Pepper Pod in Hudson, CO. Best cold beer in town.
  • DON’T: forget to make at least a small donation in addition to your ticket price. It goes to a great cause!
  • DON’T: put your child on leash, no matter how tempted you are as they try to climb the fences.
  • DON’T: forget to offer your brother-in-law snacks when he starts getting hungry.
  • DON’T: lean too far over.

 

 

 

 

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