The trip itself is part of the fun. Take the scenic route down N.C. 24/27 and enjoy a slice of Americana. In Cameron, look for the brightly-colored barns. More than mere graffiti, they are true works of art, created by New York artist and Cameron native David Ellis and his fellow artists, collectively known as the Barnstormers. Cameron’s streets are lined with many beautiful historic homes that will have you ooohing and ahhhing. As you get closer to Seagrove, pottery shops start springing up like dandelions after a spring rain. But that’s another day trip – today is all about the zoo, and you’re almost there.
The 500-acre zoo is located just off N.C. 159. Visitors may park in North America, an area located at the main entrance to the park or in Africa, at the back end of the park. Parking is free, and a tram is available to take you back to your car.
The North American section of the zoo contains the Cypress Swamp with creatures such as alligators, turtles, giant tortoises, waterfowl and cougars. For children with boundless energy, several playgrounds and “kid zones” dot the paved trails. You also can join SpongeBob SquarePants under the sea on a 4-D ride simulator.
Don’t miss the Rocky Coast where you’ll find polar bears, puffins, arctic foxes and sea lions. The polar bear is sure to entertain you as he swims and plays with whatever he can get his huge paws on in the icy water.
Because the zoo is constructed to resemble the animals’ natural habitat, many of the animals are out of close viewing range, so binoculars and a zoom lens are necessary if you really want to get up close and personal with the larger species. The Prairie, home to the bison, elk and black bears, is one of the spacious areas where creatures tend to roam far from view.
The Sonora Desert, a very warm domed biosphere, gives visitors a glimpse at several exotic species, such as a Gila monster, ocelot, several snakes, spiders and roadrunners, as well as plenty of very large cacti. If you’re parched from your jaunt through the Sonora Desert, take a spin on the carousel to cool off or take in a cool treat at Junction Plaza.
Africa is the next stop along the way and provides plenty of exciting exhibits, including elephants, lions, gorillas, giraffes, ostriches, meerkats and the ever-popular and entertaining monkeys and chimpanzees. An expansion that opened in April provides more room for the elephants, antelopes and rhinoceroses.
As large as elephants are, you’ll still need the binoculars to get a good look at them. But the meerkats and monkeys, housed in the shelter of the African Pavilion, are in your face. The meerkats, curious little creatures who procreate like rabbits, may lead to some interesting observations from younger children.
While it doesn’t take long to trek through the zoo – my pedometer clocked four miles from North America to Africa – you may want to do a little backtracking to catch the animals at different times of the day. The singer who claimed that “the lion sleeps tonight” just as easily might have claimed that he sleeps all day long, too.
The zoo is open year-round, closing only on Christmas. Check the Web site, www.nczoo.org, for special events such as October’s Boo at the Zoo and March’s Egg-stravaganza.