Road Trip 2017 #14 – Bearizona

Mr Pict and I were aware that we had planned our family road trip around the things we though the children ought to see and that meant lots of National Parks and incredible landscapes.  Therefore, when we had a gap in the schedule after Slide Rock State Park, we thought we would let the kids decide where to go next.  They unanimously declared that they wanted to go to Bearizona.  We, therefore, left Sedona and headed to Williams and arrived at Bearizona fairly late in the day but, advantageously, as the air began to cool and most visitors began to depart.

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Bearizona is a wildlife park that comprises a drive-through safari area and a walk-through zoo.  We started with the drive-through safari.  We could have hopped on one of the tour buses but opted to take our own (rental) car through so as to ensure we all got the best views possible.  The concept is that this wildlife park showcases animals from the region and, therefore, presents an opportunity to see the local fauna up close but safely.  I think that theme might be stretched somewhat by the inclusion of Alaskan tundra wolves but we won’t quibble with small details.  As soon as we were through the entry gate, we started to spot critters with ease.  A mountain goat was basking and almost glowing in the sun and a little further on some mule deer were munching their dinner from a trough.  We also saw burros before we moved from herbivores to carnivores.  The wolves were milling around, mostly in the shade of the trees, but one white wolf was so close that it brushed against the door of our car.  The kids thought it was magical to be so close to wolves and I must admit it was pretty cool.  From the wolf enclosure, we moved into the juvenile bear area.  I had thought that we would find it hard to see the bears, that they would keep their distance from the road track.  However, despite them having a fairly large area in which to operate, we saw dozens of bears.  Furthermore, they were very active.  That was probably another advantage to having left it late in the day to visit.  A couple of bears were even being playful and were tearing up pieces of bark.  It was a bit of a wow moment to see black bears that close.  The adult black bears, by contrast, were much less active.  While we could still see plenty of them, they were mostly lounging around in various positions.  We also drove through two herds of bison – one white and one standard issue.  We have all encountered bison before (though the kids and I have yet to see them in the wild) but it is always lovely to see them.

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After the drive-through area, we parked up and entered the zoo area.  First up were beavers.  My 10 year old was really excited to see the beavers and especially because they were in the middle of eating dinner so he could see them using their strong teeth to chow down on carrots and other veggies.  I adore porcupines so I was glad to see them.  I love the way they walk with a rolling gait and their sweet, round faces.  My cat daft 8 year old was excited to see bobcats and thought they looked every bit as huggable as our own pet cats.  Lucky for him and for the bobcats, he couldn’t get near them for a cuddle.  I think seeing bobcats and snoozing ringtail cats might have been the highlight of the road trip for him though.  We also saw javelinas – the hairy wee pigs that live in southwestern deserts – and foxes, an American badger, and some playful otters.

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An area the kids really loved was the barnyard area where they could walk among sheep and goats.  The goats were incredibly friendly and the herd pretty much adopted my 8 year old and let him walk in among them.  Another goat seemed to take a shine to my 11 year old and even touched noses with him.  My son was instantly smitten.  We happened to be in the barnyard when the keeper arrived to feed the goats their dinner so she offered to let my kids help her share out the food.  They gladly said yes and were soon holding their hands out while goats and sheep munched straight from their hands.  They absolutely loved it.

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After a visit to the rear of the gift shop and restaurant to see the jaguar roaming around, it was time to leave Bearizona and head back to our Flagstaff base for our last evening in Arizona.  We had another early start ahead of us the next morning.

I’m no Davy Crockett

I regularly find myself relaxing with a steaming hot mug of tea and looking out of the window as various birds, especially blue jays and cardinals, flit around in the garden.  I am no twitcher (my bird identification skills are too lacking) but I am thoroughly enjoying observing birds in the garden and it is quite exciting when a woodpecker comes to visit.  It is also a joy to watch the squirrels playing around in the garden, their curvaceous bushy tails wiggling after them as they dart around.  Now that Spring has completely sprung, they have been joined by rabbits.  Thankfully these bunnies must keep their burrows elsewhere and are not digging holes all over the garden.  As such, I can just sit back and smile as I watch them bobbing around.

We see deer a lot around here  – though not in the garden – but I have not yet seen a raccoon or an opposum.  I have actually never seen an opposum in the wild ever and have only once seen a wild raccoon.  My husband thought it was a hunchbacked dog.  The kids are absolutely longing to see a raccoon.  It’s almost tempting to leave a bin bag full of edible goodies out just to tempt one but, of course, I am too responsible to do so.  The youngest Pict and I did, however, see a small groundhog today.  Out of the corner of my eye, I thought it was a plump squirrel but when  look properly it was clearly a small, perhaps juvenile, groundhog snuffling around in a neighbour’s shrubbery.  That was fun.

Another wild critter encounter my kids really want to have is with a bear.  Yes, a bear.  As in apex predator.  They completely understand and appreciate that bears are dangerous.  Indeed, when my youngest two set up a cuddly toy zoo in their bedroom, the littlest one reassured us that the bear would “just” eat our heads.  Nevertheless, they want to see a bear in the wild.  Recently a young bear actually wandered along a street that is just a little distance from here.  It was tranquilised and removed before it could meet my four boys.  They were actually disappointed. 250lbs of presumably frustrated, stressed black bear wandering down residential streets and they actually would have been happy to come across it.  We clearly need to have that wildlife conversation again.  Scotland’s apex land predator is probably a fox or badger.  This is a potentially life-saving learning curve for this pack of immigrants.

This reminded me – yet again – that I still have not researched what the current advice is regarding how to react to a bear encounter.  I remember that at one stage the wisdom was to do nothing but flop around and play dead so that the bear did not feel threatened and ultimately became bored and wandered off.  Because if I was a bear I would get probably get bored with something I had mauled to shreds too.  Climbing a tree is also ridiculous advice because I am pretty sure bears have evolved to climb trees in a way that humans have not.  There is no way that even pumped full of adrenalin I would scale a tree quicker than even a decrepit bear.

I have now diligently (as in half an hour of googling) researched what I should do if I happen to encounter a bear in the wild – or a bear encounter me.  There is lots of advice about not panicking.  I expect I might instinctively ignore that advice.  My kids might be overcome with excitement but I am pretty sure I will experience panic on at least some level.  There is also mention of standing your ground on several sites.  That should not be a problem since the aforementioned panic will have rooted me to the spot.  Apparently it is advisable to avoid eye contact with a bear.  How in the heck do I manage that?  I’ve just seen a bear amble towards me and I am supposed to react as if I’ve seen nothing?  I need to look at it to make sure it is not walking with intent towards me while licking its chops.  How on earth do I assess the situation while avoiding making eye contact?  I also have to apparently walk away slowly if the bear is not approaching but the only way to determine the bear’s trajectory is if I look at it.  So look but without making eye contact?  Tricky.  It’s like some weird etiquette guide.  No yelling is not problematic since I am sure my voice will be a frozen, solid lump in my throat but apparently speaking in a monotone voice is best.  I assume several studies have been conducted to come to this conclusion.  So no shrill Miss Piggy shrieking if I encounter a bear.  I get it.  Could be quite challenging if that previously referenced panic strikes.  Flap hands to indicate status as a human.  Oh.  Kay.  I just have to trust that a bear will know the difference between a flapping human and a giant bird.

Some sites do advise climbing trees.  But only if you can get higher than 33 feet before the bear reaches you.  And you have to back away slowly in order to reach the climbable tree.  Hmmmm.

So if all of these strategies fail, it is necessary to follow further helpful instructions such as deploying pepper spray.  Maybe this is un-American of me, who knows, but I don’t carry pepper spray on me.  I actually don’t own any.  So actually the first piece of advice any of the articles about bear encounters should have mentioned was purchasing and packing pepper spray.  The pepper spray should be discarded once discharged because bizarrely the pepper can lure bears.  So walk into bear territory carrying pepper spray as a strangely alluring deterrent?  Mixed message.  If the pepper spray does not dissuade the bear – and let’s face it the pepper spray may just make it extra angry and determined to shred and pulp – then it is advised that the attacked human drops to the ground and rolls up in a ball on their side or face down on their stomach.  Presumably this is to make it more difficult for evisceration to occur.  I am all for keeping my guts inside my body so that’s some great advice right there.  Of course, I would rather not have a chewed head, nibbled limbs or shredded buttocks either.  But the lesson has sunk in: protect the organs at all costs.  But this is advice pertinent to Grizzlies.  If Black Bears attack then you should fight back.  Apparently this is because black bears are more timid than their grizzly cousins.  But I bet they are not more timid than a Scottish woman who is trying to identify what type of bear she has just met while conversely trying not to make eye contact with it and while backing away slowly and figuring out which backwards direction qualifies as downwind.  Then, once the attack is over, one is told to check the bear has left the vicinity  – all while face down, curled in a ball and absolutely not making eye contact – and then go and seek help as rapidly as your munched legs can carry you.

All of this research just leads to the conclusion that my kids can hope for a wild bear encounter as much as they like but I am countering their vibes with ones that involve never meeting a bear.  Ever.

I am sticking with squirrels and birds, thanks.