I have taken the advice of ZooBeat member "Boof" and decided to post my road trip notes under a brand new thread. Otherwise it might get confusing for members if I review zoos under their separate threads, and then there will be many postings on a variety of different subjects. I've already had at least 3 responses on the Minnesota Zoo thread, as well as 2 private messages, and so there is obviously some interest in the road trip itinerary. It is slow going posting photos into the gallery from my laptop, and so those might filter in slowly but surely as the weeks fly by. More than likely the vast bulk of the photos will be uploaded towards the end of August. My wife literally took over 300 shots at the Minnesota Zoo, including over 50 of the brand new, $30 million "Russia's Grizzly Coast" set of exhibits. Don't worry, in due time I'll post a sampling of all of those photos...but for now the detailed review of that zoo will have to suffice. My wife and I have already driven through British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada, and we have already been through North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa (briefly) and I type this on my laptop in a Wisonsin motel. We are taking a short drive down to Chicago today, and as long as we can find a cheap motel then we'll be there for 3 nights. We have tentative plans to visit the John G. Shedd Aquarium, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Brookfield Zoo, as all three are found in the city of Chicago. Any questions in regards to this epic, 20+ zoo road trip should be placed here and I'll answer them when I have free time at the end of the day. Here's the first review, which has already been posted on its own thread. Minnesota Zoo Review: July 1st, 2008 My wife took over 300 photos at the zoo today, and I'll probably be posting them towards the end of August once we arrive back from our epic road trip of 20 or more zoos. There is a small chance that I'll post them earlier, but I don't want to spend much time on my laptop when there are zoos out there to see! Hahaha... "Russia's Grizzly Coast" - is quite simply a superb addition to this interesting zoo. The Central Park Plaza is terrific, with a beautiful fountain, lots of metallic animal figures on the grounds, a gift shop, a covered sitting area, a food cafe, etc. I can see that $5 million was well spent on this portion of the zoo, and on a scorching day there were many kids exploring the mini-waterpark. An offshoot of the plaza is where the other $25 million was spent, and for the most part it is magnificent. The entrance is full of plaques and various signs instructing the zoo visitors about the importance of conservation in Russia and elsewhere around the world. The walkway is on a soft rubbery floor, and that continues through the first couple of exhibits. The sea otter enclosure is the best that I've ever seen, and a number of zoos and aquariums showcase these delightful otters in North America. There were 4 sea otters all rolling around in their watery exhibit, and the landscape in the background is gorgeous. There is a massive viewing window with plenty of seats, rocky terrain for land, and plenty of toys, rocks and logs in the water for the otters to mess around with. A beautiful exhibit that should be copied in other institutions. The 3 grizzly bears have another outstanding enclosure, and it is one that will give Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo a run for its money in terms of North America's best grizzly habitat. One of the bears spent the entire 30 minutes that I was there in the water, fishing in vain but splashing around and shaking his head impressively. Another bear was enticed to play with some logs in the background, and every few minutes a geyser of water was shot into the air in the spacious and well-laid out exhibit. The third bear ambled around, dug in the sand pit, and basically ignored the first two bears. It's difficult to tell how far back the habitat goes, but with the large viewing windows, spacious area for visitors and beautifully landscaped backdrop one can almost picture themselves on the Russian coastline! This enclosure is stunning and I have tons of photos to upload to justify my thoughts. The wild boar enclosure is satisfactory but nothing special. Half of it is covered with a mesh wall (which is awkward) but the second half has no mesh and allows for great photos. The one disappointment of the new exhibits is the trio of amur leopard cages. Two of the leopards were hiding and invisible, and the third leopard could barely be seen at the back of the enclosure. I have no problem with animals being difficult to spot, but all three exhibits are far too small for such powerfully large cats. After the spectacular bear and otter habitats the amur leopards are shown in cages that lack the excitement of the rest of the new enclosures. I couldn't believe the tiny size of the habitats, and that two out of three there is thick, ugly mesh obscuring the vision of people straining their eyes as they search for the elusive leopards. Northern Trail - the pair of amur tiger enclosures are apparently the largest in North America, and there were 2 tigers in each exhibit. The habitats were set in a heavily wooded forest, with large meadows adjacent to the countless trees. It took quite a bit of skill to actually locate the tigers, and the enclosures were fantastic for the animals. Again, these are older exhibits but nevertheless outstanding. Many of the paddocks at the Minnesota Zoo are enormous: bison in a 3 acre exhibit, a herd of 5-6 takin in a half-acre paddock, pronghorn antelope had about 2 acres, bactrian camel had 2 acres, mexican gray and timber wolves each had at least an acre, etc. Huge enclosures that brought a smile to my face, as I'm always all over zoos that build exhibits that don't allow their animals room to roam. The bison, camel and moose habitats had huge pools in them, and the musk oxen must have had at least 5 or more acres and a gigantic lake in their enclosure! Discovery Bay - 4 dolphins in a lacklustre 15-minute show in an aging dolphinarium that was so-so at best. The pools weren't quite big enough for such intelligent animals, and the other aquarium tanks (sharks, fish, seahorses, sea turtles) were underwhelming. My first impression at entering the mammoth building was one of delight, but after the novelty of the facades wore off there was nothing but merely adequate exhibits that have been done far better elsewhere. Tropics Trail - a large indoor rainforest set of habitats that showcase a surprisingly diverse list of animals. Red pandas mixed with long-horned gorals in a rocky exhibit, a tamandua with armadillos and cotton-top tamarins, clouded leopard, a stinky binturong with a swimming malayan tapir, golden-lion tamarins with agoutis and a sloth, a fishing cat in a puny exhibit, slow loris, pgymy loris, komodo dragon, water monitor, burmese python, flying foxes, tri-coloured squirrels, lemurs, etc. The problem with this section of the zoo is that every single one of the habitats was far too small. The sun bear indoor grotto is the smallest that I've ever seen for that bear, the red pandas had two trees extremely close to the public to climb on, the fishing cat was in a glass cage that was horribly small, the matschie's tree kangaroos were in an embarrassingly tiny cage, the chevrotains were in a matchbox-sized hole, the ringtailed and red ruffed lemurs were shoved together in a cramped exhibit. The white-cheeked gibbons were languishing in a pretty and yet small (and completely fake) island. Gorgeous animals but in exhibits that were toooo small. Minnesota Trail - lots of adequate to very nice exhibits for North American animals, in which this zoo specializes in. At least 3 wolverines, 5 fishers (which we didn't see), wolves, coyotes, porcupines, a bald eagle, owls, river otters, beavers, lynx, cougar. All fairly well done. Overall - the Minnesota Zoo's outdoor exhibits were without question enormous in comparison to many other zoo's enclosures. Even a solitary moose had a half-acre to itself! The hoofstock, tiger, sea otter, grizzly bear, wolves, etc all had some of the largest and most naturalistic exhibits that I've ever seen. Even the Japanese macaques had an ordinary yet fairly large, grassy enclosure that allowed for the troop to spread out in their own space. Many of these habitats would place the zoo in the top echelon of North American zoological collections. At this point I was over the moon with this surprisingly pleasant zoo...BUT... However, the dolphinarium and small set of aquariums are outdated and not worth much time in exploring. The rainforest set of exhibits is crammed into less than 2 acres, and there are numerous absolutely wonderful species of animals in nothing but tiny cages. The indoor exhibits tainted my overall opinion of what is a decent zoo. With attendance soaring due to the opening of "Russia's Grizzly Coast" then perhaps the zoo can move up in the unofficial rankings of North America's best zoos. The new set of habitats (aside from the amur leopards) are quite amazing, and a candidate for the AZA Exhibit of the Year Award.