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January excursions in Texas

Discussion in 'United States' started by Zygodactyl, 28 Nov 2016.

  1. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    I've decided that I've been in Texas too long to have not seen any of the AZA zoos near me. There's six within driving distance. San Antonio and Cameron Park (Waco) are both an easy day trip from me, but in opposite directions. The Houston Zoo and Moody Gardens and the Dallas Zoo and Fort Worth are all more of a stretch. (I made hour-and-a-half day trips in New England myself with regularity, but have never made three-hour day trips.)

    The smart thing to do would be to take two extra days, spend a night each in the Metroplex and Greater Houston, and leave refreshed. However I'm both cheap and not possessed of a surfeit of disposable income, so I don't want to spend over a hundred dollars on hotels.

    What I want to try to do instead--if you haven't already guessed it--is to do the Houston Zoo and Moody Gardens in a single trip, and Dallas and Fort Worth in another. Again, being a Yankee, I want to do this in January, which I think of as "the only time of year the weather in Texas is nice enough for long pants," but of course trying to do this in January means that I can't take advantage of zoos' summer hours. Fortunately, Moody Gardens' two zoological exhibits are open until 8 PM, however Dallas and Fort Worth both close at 4 PM.

    I'm also not a morning person. The earliest I might leave the house is 7:30 (if I pack the night before and get up at 7:15, which means the earliest I might get to my first zoo is 10). Realistically, I'm terrible at getting out the door on time and usually get places an hour or more later than I intended if I don't have to meet anyone. And then there's the question of getting across large metro areas in the middle of the day, and getting out of them during rush hour. (In DFW I may find a library and chill there until 6:30 or so rather than try to get out of the Metroplex then.)

    On the other hand, I'm also largely indifferent to most marquee exhibits and hoofstook. I spend my time at zoos trying to find species I don't recall seeing before, watching birds (especially birds that like to climb like parrots and mousebirds), and seeing species I like but have already seen and aren't birds (such as meerkats, prairie dogs, and squirrel monkeys), roughly in that order of priority.

    I've never spent longer than three hours at a zoo before as an adult, but that's likelu a combination of generally going with family members who have limited patience for the time I like to spend gawking at birds, and being a gigantic lard-ass who can't stand standing for extended periods (walking around is oddly fine, but stopping to stand is where I run into difficulties, so I sit whenever I can). So spending an hour or more in traffic should give my poor feet plenty of time to recover, however large walk-in aviaries usually also have benches I could sit on and still see a fair bit.

    I guess my questions are: for people who've been to these zoos:

    1. Could I see the birds and most unusual attractions in Dallas and Fort Worth--including getting between them--in about six hours?
    2. Given the large number of other zoological attractions in DFW, what else would you most recommend if I did two days? (Sadly, while I know two people in Greater Houston I could potentially ask to stay with if I wanted to spend longer there; I don't know anybody in DFW.)
    3. Are there any really cheap motels (or better still, camping cabins) around the Metroplex? As in, cheaper than the gas it would take me to drive from Austin to Dallas and back one day, and Fort Worth and back another?
    4. Can I see the birds and unique attractions in Houston and Moody Gardens in nine hours, including the time spent driving between them?
    5. Are any of the other Greater Houston zoological attractions which are really vital to see?
    6. Is Waco's Cameron Park Zoo worth taking time to visit in the middle of the week, or should I just do that on the weekend some time?
     
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  2. jayjds2

    jayjds2 Well-Known Member

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    1. It depends how meticulous you are when visiting. The main birds in Dallas are African- a walk-through aviary, a few stand alone aviaries and there are some larger birds (most notably secretary bird) on the monorail. Fort Worth has a few rows of aviaries, some rarities like Storm's stork and palm nut vulture. If you want to really experience each zoo, 6 hours may not be enough (depends on traffic, but it'd be close).
    2. Since you like birds and oddities, the Dallas World Aquarium is a must-see for you. I visited five or so times, and still didn't see all the unique birds of the facility. Again, the visit time depends on how thorough you are. Would you want to spend the time to find all seven euphonia species found nowhere else in captivity in the country (or perhaps, the world)? You can visit multiple times and see something new each time. They've also apparently got a yapok right now, that's something not to miss.
    3. I never stayed overnight in Dallas, so I can't help you there.
    4. Certainly. MG doesn't have much in the way of unique animals, and the aviary rows at Houston are fairly straightforward, and the rest of the zoo is nice but not overwhelmingly large.
    5. Not really. The aquarium is really not that great, and there's a crocodile place too that seems ok. Depends on if you like them.
    6. I'd say the weekend, or whenever you have free time. It's not too far from you, but it's a small collection.
     
  3. Trowaman

    Trowaman Well-Known Member

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    Speaking as an Austinite who grew up in Houston and went to school in D/FW:

    1) With the drive time, absolutely not. 8 hours, maybe.
    2) Dallas World Aquarium. For your interests, mark 3 hours or more. This place was designed for you.
    3) hotels.com
    4) I think so. Drive time should be around 1 hour 15 minutes. Do the zoo first, then rain forest pyramid, then aquarium.
    5) Nah.
    6) Eh, whenever. You can finish the whole thing in 2 hours. Great zoo, but not a lot there, no real bird houses so not much for your interests either.

    Also, try and find time to get to the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi and Fossil Rim in Glen Rose.
     
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  4. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    Thanks guys. It looks like it might be slightly cheaper to do Dallas Zoo and Dallas World Aquarium one day and Fort Worth another. Slightly cheaper, but since that also involving an extra 5 hours of driving I may just do a hotel (best price I found had one-star reviews, next-best price is a trailer rental at a trailer park, which seems interesting to do just to say I did it). Either that or skip the Fort Worth Zoo entirely for now.
     
  5. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    Last edited: 28 Nov 2016
  6. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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  7. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    I tried hostels in Turkey and it's not an experience I wish to repeat.

    Any rate, the Dallas World Aquarium looks incredibly awesome (more like the Montreal Biodome than what I think of as an aquarium), and I think I might want to live in the Orinoco exhibit. However there are two things about it which confuse me, based on the website.

    1. They mention that they're the third zoo in the US to breed Andean cock-of-the-rocks successfully, which suggests that the originals were probably imported from the wild. So why did they use Andean cock-of-the-rocks in the Orinoco exhibit?
    2. Why is the shoebill in the Borneo exhibit?
     
  8. jbnbsn99

    jbnbsn99 Well-Known Member

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    1. The Cocks-of-the Rock are in an aviary above the Orinoco exhibit, so part of it, but separate.
    2. The Shoebills can be seen from the entry exhibits (New Guinea - not Borneo anymore), but are actually connected to the outdoor African area.
     
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  9. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Moderator Staff Member

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    Two years ago I published a book called Zoos of the Southwest which includes all the major zoos of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico (plus one in SE California). So I spent several years beforehand visiting zoos of Texas. Here is my take...

    San Antonio Zoo has exhibits that range from mediocre to good (lots of new stuff in recent years). However the bird collection is one of the best (if not the best) in the country. There is an entire outdoor boardwalk just for cranes, including the only whooping cranes on public display. If you love birds go there and enjoy dinner after on the famous Riverwalk, which may be the most pleasing downtown area in the United States.

    Houston Zoo has a great variety of animals and also one of the premier bird collections in the country. Something for everyone and a definite hit for bird lovers (including a nice large shoebill stork aviary).

    Dallas Zoo is the best zoo in the Southwest with outstanding exhibits. However the bird collection is their weakness, but it is worth visiting for elephants, gorillas, etc. At unannounced times a crowned crane is flown across the hoofstock savanna.

    Fort Worth Zoo is also quite good with a decent bird collection (though not in the same league as San Antonio or Houston). The reptile exhibit MOLA is the best in the country.

    Cameron Park Zoo (Waco) and Caldwell Zoo (Tyler) are two of the best small-medium sized zoos I have ever seen. Both outstanding and both underrated. Nothing spectacular for a bird fanatic, but just good overall.

    I have not been to Dallas World Aquarium myself as the small size and lack of large mammals has no interest for me. However there are some rarities, including birds, and based on your interests it might be worthwhile.

    As for budget motels, Motel 6 is reliable and has basically the same quality everywhere. Nothing fancy, but you know it is not a dive.
     
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  10. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    @Arizona Docent : Have you not been to Moody Gardens? Any rate, thanks for the feedback. Having looked at the website the Dallas World Aquarium is probably top on the list of zoos I'm excited to visit. In terms of thing I haven't seen but want to, only San Diego (which I saw but didn't spend nearly enough time in) and Cincinnati seem to top it in the US.

    In particular, I'm excited about the three-toed sloth, the capuchinbird, the boat-billed heron, and the large variety of toucans they keep (including saffron toucanets, emerald toucanets, red-billed toucans, and--most excitingly--plate-billed mountain toucans).

    Tyler--like Abilene, Lufkin, and Corpus Christi are all just outside the range of how far I'm normally willing to drive in a day trip That said, I will consider driving to Corpus Christi after the Texas State Aquarium finishes its $50 million dollar renovation project.
     
  11. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Moderator Staff Member

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    I have not been to Moody Gardens (or to DWA as I already mentioned).

    Yes you do need to get back to San Diego, especially after Africa Rocks opens next summer.