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Trip Report: a desert rat gets drenched

Discussion in 'United States' started by Arizona Docent, 1 Apr 2018.

  1. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    I am a true desert rat, a term for Americans who enjoy being in a hot desert (see the fourth definition on this list: Desert rat - Wikipedia ). Why would I leave the sunny Southwest in late winter for the bleak rain and cold of the Pacific Northwest? Zoos and photography, of course.

    Here is the itinerary, which includes a first for me: three aquariums in one day. The latter is at the advice of my friend @snowleopard , who lives for these kind of mad dashes in between long drives.

    March 24: fly to Portland (overnight Portland)
    March 25: Oregon Zoo (overnight Newport)
    March 26: Oregon Coast Aquarium, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Seaside Aquarium (overnight Lake Quinault)
    March 27: Olympic Rainforest (overnight Lake Quinault)
    March 28: Woodland Park Zoo (overnight Tacoma)
    March 29: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (fly home)

    Five of the six facilities are new to me (as is Olympic National Park). The only facility I have visited before is Woodland Park Zoo in 2002.
     
  2. blospz

    blospz Well-Known Member

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    Is this for March of next year (2019) or are these supposed to April dates? I look forward to your insight of the zoos either way!
     
  3. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    No, I just got home so the dates are correct.
     
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  4. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Sunday, March 25 (part one)

    Yesterday I worked a short shift and caught an evening flight from Tucson to Portland (changing in San Diego). I am on Southwest, which I invariably use for domestic flights. This recent article explains why many of us are part of the Southwest cult: Why People Are Weirdly Obsessed With Southwest Airlines. After staying at an airport hotel, I am off to Oregon Zoo. It is a cold and drizzly morning, which is to be expected. It will be cold all week, with mid to upper 40's (Farenheit) during the day and upper 30's at night. For the majority of the world that uses Celsius, freezing (0 celcius) is 32 Farenheit, so you can see how cold it is.

    Arriving at Washington Park, I am in a parking lot surrounded by various attractions: zoo, children's museum, forestry museum, and maybe a fourth I can't make out. I am also faced with an indignity: paid parking. In the great state of Arizona all zoos have free parking. All museums have free parking. All shopping malls have free parking. All ...well everything has free parking. To add insult to injury, I have to memorize my four digit parking space and figure out how to use the kiosk to pay. But wait, there's more. The fee rate is based on two hour increments (or a flat fee of $8 for all day). I will be there all day so it's easy, but what if you are going to the museum with your kids and are not sure how long you will be? Seems like a really goofy system to me.

    Oregon is one of the only states with no sales tax and now I know why: they make up for it in parking fees! Anyway I pay my dues and am off to the zoo right at 9:30am opening time.
     
  5. TZDugong

    TZDugong Well-Known Member

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    Very nice! I'm intrigued as too what you saw at the Olympic National Park. Also, which zoo did you like better, Point Defiance or Oregon?
     
  6. agnmeln

    agnmeln Well-Known Member

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    I feel your pain with the parking fees! I only learned to drive last year at the age of 27, and after a lifetime of walking everywhere, this whole new world of needing to take parking fees into account everywhere I go is rather annoying! I try to avoid them as much as possible by parking a little further away and walking in to wherever I’m going, but sometimes it’s easier just to give in and pay it, especially when you’re not familiar with the area.
     
  7. blospz

    blospz Well-Known Member

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    Sorry about that, I was not completely sure about it because your post was in present tense. Thank you for the clarification! I look forward to your reviews.
     
  8. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    I definitely have a favorite, but you will need to wait until the end to find out! :p
     
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  9. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Sunday, March 25 (part two)

    Upon entering Oregon Zoo I stop under a covered pillar to pull out my camera and put on the rain cover. First exhibit area is Great Northwest with a nice mountainside featuring mountain goats. Education graphics explain that they were introduced into the nearby Cascade Mountains in the 1920's by sport hunters and are damaging the ecosystem. Bobcat is a no-show, black bear exhibit is a bizarre design, but bald eagle aviary is magnificent – the best I have seen. Initial viewing is from a top level boardwalk (I am inside the aviary with no barriers). It is built on a lush hillside with a pond at the bottom and when I get to the bottom I find underwater viewing with fish. Just brilliant. Cougar (puma) exhibit is average (and cats are sleeping on a hay pile) but I live near one of the two best puma exhibits so it's not a big deal. Condor exhibit is also average (not as good as San Diego Safari Park) but an interesting sign warns visitors of current carcass feeding.

    Passing a small farmhouse I follow the main path and end up at the new Elephant Lands (Asian elephant exhibit). It is somewhat spacious and better than most, but the standard for Asian elephant exhibits is pretty low, so that's not hard to achieve. I don't love it and like most elephant exhibits the viewing is through thick cables (so photo ops are non-existent). It has a narrow and wide shape, with a main yard and pool in front, a North Meadow yard to the left (only apt if your definition of a meadow is mud), and a South Habitat to the right. All gates are open so the five elephants have access to all yards (and in fact use them all while I am watching).

    An overhead bridge leads to the indoor yard and a more extensive set of graphics. I am particularly fascinated by the care instructions on a set of ivory billiard balls. They state that the balls should be left in the room they are to be used in for at least a week before use, to avoid cracking. They also advise against shipping the balls in winter. An ivory mahjong set is next to it.

    Moving on, Amur tiger is not to be seen but grotto is only average anyway. Neighboring Amur leopard is on the prowl, meaning he is pacing in a large loop. The exhibit is lush and nicely designed, but too small. It is however pretty good for photography and I get shots of him walking towards me.

    Predators of the Serengeti may be the highlight for me. It features lion, cheetah, painted dog, caracal (plus a couple of forgettable indoor exhibits). Viewing is good, overall layout is nice, and wild dogs are very active. The caracal exhibit is the best I have seen and would be the highlight of the day for me except the cats are not visible. I stay for quite a while and loop back at the end of the day and nada. My friend snowleopard says that with perhaps ten visits to this zoo he has only seen them once.

    The Africa Trail is average with a couple large hoofstock yards and a pretty good exhibit for Allen's swamp monkeys and Kikuyu colobus monkeys. I head back to the entrance for lunch at the zoo's premier cafe, the Cascades Grill. I am a huge fan of nice zoo restaurants, especially those that please both architecturally and gastronomically. This one fits the bill, with a massive ceiling resembling a mountain lodge and a decent (but not outstanding) menu. I have clam chowder and a Caesar's salad with grilled chicken.

    I now visit Pacific Shores with decent exhibits for sea otter and harbor seals, both of which are always active and crowd pleasers. The neighboring penguin exhibit draws me in for longer than I anticipate. I can understand why zoos are investing in them – penguins really are fun to watch (especially with underwater viewing). The circular building features three avian species: Humboldt penguins, gray gulls, inca terns. Another fruitless attempt at caracal and I rush through Primate Forest on my way out. Forest is a euphemism as this is by far the weakest area of the zoo. Overall I enjoy my visit. The Oregon Zoo is quite nice - not world class - but nice. If the caracals had been out I would undoubtedly have enjoyed the zoo more and rated it even higher. Leaving via the Great Northwest, I see the nocturnal ringtail actively searching for food that has just been set out.
     
  10. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Since I have been mentioned on this thread, I should state that @Arizona Docent and I have been good friends for many years, which is interesting when one considers that I live in southern British Columbia, Canada, and he lives in southern Arizona, USA. We are approximately 2,600 km (1,600 miles) apart from one another and yet we have met up in the years 2011 (once), 2015 (once), 2017 (4-5 zoos over several days) and now 2018 (two days). Long may it continue! Even though, by European standards of geography, one of us resides in England and the other in Syria, we have a common interest in zoological gardens. :)

    To add to his excellent review of Oregon Zoo, I will point out that the facility has many other species not mentioned and is one of the better zoos in the USA. There are giraffes, zebras, black rhinos, chimpanzees, orangutans, mandrills, gibbons, a small Amazon Flooded Forest complex, the Howard Vollum Aviary with around a dozen species, great underwater viewing areas for beavers and otters, etc. One highlight is a concave enclosure with hundreds of Rodrigues flying foxes, Egyptian fruit bats and straw-coloured fruit bats. A $17 million Education Center opened in early 2017 and it includes a Nature Exploration Station that contains an Insect Zoo. Lastly, Polar Passage opens in 2020 and that is going to be a major addition to the Oregon Zoo.

    I look forward to the other reviews!
     
  11. TZDugong

    TZDugong Well-Known Member

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    Great review @Arizona Docent! Oregon Zoo sounds like a good one and from your review, seems to be rather large. Oh, and I wonder, do you have any pictures of the Caracal exhibit?
     
  12. pachyderm pro

    pachyderm pro Well-Known Member

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    Really enjoying this thread so far, keep up the good work AD. What did you think of the "Forest Hall" (Elephant Barn) in Elephant Lands?
     
  13. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Yes - look in the Oregon Zoo media gallery (I uploaded 19 photos total of various parts of the zoo).
     
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  14. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    The area for the elephants (which they were not using at the time) is mediocre at best (see photo in Oregon Zoo gallery). However I found the educational displays quite nice.
     
  15. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    The signage only indicated straw-colored bats on my visit. There were certainly not hundreds, but maybe two dozen?
     
  16. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Sunday, March 25 (part three)

    It is a pleasant two and a half hour drive from Portland to Newport, my destination for the night. Well the drive is mostly pleasant. As I travel I have an increasing suspicion that my rental car is demon possessed. It periodically starts screaming at me and flashing all kinds of ungodly lights. Allegedly these are modern safety features installed by the Subaru engineers. But I have a sneaking suspicion more sinister forces are at play.

    If I use my blinker to indicate a lane change, the blinking light somehow hypnotizes the unseen minions and they remain dormant. But if no other cars are around I change lanes without signaling because what is the point? This egregious act on my part awakens the forces of darkness and hell hath no fury like an unsignaled lane change. The dashboard view instantly changes from a simple display of my current speed to an aerial view of my car and the painted lines I am crossing without permission. I won't even attempt to describe the horrific electronic noises that burst out of the console.

    At least I am still in control of the car and it seems the gremlins are incapable of actually taking over. Or so I think. That is until I find the cruise control and settle in at a comfortable cruising speed. I am moving along fine until I start approaching the car ahead of me. I am about to change lanes and use the blinker to keep the unseen forces at bay, when they suddenly awaken. This time they take control and the car starts slowing on its own. Why won't my car just leave me in peace? This is not the only indication that my anti-social car does not like other cars. If one passes on the right or left, an evil yellow glow suddenly appears on the side view mirror, warning them to get back.

    Once I check into my hotel in Newport, there is no way I am getting back into the car from beyond. I walk to the nearby Yaquina Bay Lighthouse for a dusk photo (which is not as scenic as I hoped). Then I walk a mile to the old beachfront for a nice dinner at the historic and unpretentious Mo's Seafood and Chowder.
     
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  17. agnmeln

    agnmeln Well-Known Member

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    I think I would have a fit! I’m a terribly nervous driver at the best of times, although I am slowly getting better. I’m so used to my own little car by now, that I am a little nervous about driving a rental for the first time. Going to have to do it at some point soon, however - I have a trip across France that I really want to do!
     
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  18. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I looked up my notes from my last trip to Oregon Zoo (2017) and then I checked the zoo's website and all 3 of those bat species are listed. It would be a great shame if the collection had been significantly reduced, although perhaps you missed one of the signs as there are a couple of them on a pole in the middle of the room that is set apart from the glass viewing window.
     
  19. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    That is certainly possible. I only saw the sign by the glass viewing window. I only kept one decent photo of one of the bats, which I labelled as straw colored, but now I will have to look at the other two species you list to see if I have misidentified it.
     
  20. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Monday, March 26 (part one)

    My motel is a ten minute drive from Oregon Coast Aquarium. It is a Monday morning, it is cold and drizzly, and I arrive just before opening. So I anticipate walking right in and having the place more or less to myself. Imagine my horror when I find myself at the tail end of a ten minute entrance line. What is going on here? It is the first day of Spring Break and every family in western Oregon is deciding to visit the aquarium. I arrive before 10am and when I finally leave at 12:20pm the line is even longer! It's nice aquarium, but the crowds essentially ruin it for me. I would love to go back on a quieter day (a docent tells me Fall is a nice time).

    Once inside you can turn right to stay inside or go straight and see the outside exhibits. Most people turn right so I go straight. Large rocky cliffs create separate pools for sea otter and sea lion and harbor seal, plus a smaller tank for giant pacific octopus (which is hidden from view). There are also views of the natural estuary beyond. I head into the seabird aviary which becomes my favorite section. I enjoy fifteen minutes of serenity before the crowds from the building start flowing in. The large netted structure has two pools with natural cliffs (one on either side) and glass on the pools for underwater viewing. The species lineup is common mure, pigeon guillemot, tufted puffin, horned puffin, rhinoceros auklet, black oystercatcher. As I chat with docents I discover a fascinating fact, the kind of fact that makes ZooChatters salivate. The pair of black oystercatchers are the only mated and breeding pair in captivity in the entire world. They produce an average of three offspring a year (and have for well over a decade), which are sent to various zoological facilities.

    The indoor exhibits are nice, but nothing mind-blowing. There is the requisite touch tank plus a variety of small and mid-sized tanks. My favorite is the sardine tank where I experiment with various shutter speeds to pan for a creative effect. Due to the crowds I don't spend much time inside and don't have a chance to see all the exhibits up close. An additional building, not connected to the main building, has a series of three walk-through tunnels. On a slow day these would be nice but they are so packed that it is nearly impossible to get through. I finish via the gift shop which is quite nice. Is it just me, or are aquarium gift shops on the whole better than zoo gift shops? There is even a large wall of books.

    My schedule is full today and the crowds are getting to me, so after a little more than two hours I am off.