We haven't given ourselves much time to get to California, so after a quick breakfast at the hotel, we were back on the road by 8 am. We were returning to a place that Punk and Kooka have dreamed about for the past six years, a place that they have begged to see again, a place that they both insist should be on everybody's bucket list:
It's not the corn, or the sweeping prairies, or the never ending tornado watches that has the clamoring for more, no, it is the simultaneous splendor and terror that is The Henry Doorly Zoo. If you've ever been, then you know what I'm taking about. If you haven't, then forget what you think you know about zoos - seriously, forget it. Henry Doorly is the most bad-ass zoo you'll ever see. From the moment you walk in, you have the feeling that you're not alone - because you aren't.
It's the only zoo we've ever been to that has signs up apologizing for having the occasional fence (because god-forbid there should be a barrier between humans and wild, sometimes venomous animals). The scarlet macaws fly free, as do the giant fruit bats. Don't get too close to the signs, because sometimes they are simply directions to look up, reach into a crevice or watch your step, whereupon you'll find a large spider, a bevy of bats, a pissed-off peacock, a sloth within arms reach, you name it it's there, and it's less contained than you'd expect.
The Lied Jungle allows you to sit right down in the Asian ponds and make friends with the spotted sting rays. Hell, you could probably put one in your backpack and take it home if you want, this is the Henry F-ing Doorly Zoo after all.
We don't even know how deep the "bottomless" pool is, we just know there's no gate to keep your stroller or three-year old, from tumbling into it.
We weren't sure what type of plant has two-inch thorns growing from it, we just know that it appears right at eye level with no warning in the desert dome.
Walking across the boardwalks in swampland, you're greeted by seven foot gators, hissing manically an inch from your toes, separated by only plastic netting and a four-foot high metal fence. It's not enough to keep out a curious pre-schooler, but the hissing was enough to keep most of us (except for Punk) at a distance. All I could think about is that in case of another tornado, this was supposedly the safest place to duck and cover. The though of huddling in the dark with a dozen large gators, several possums, snakes and an undisclosed number of bats, while high speed winds destroyed what little barriers there were between us, was enough to send me heading for the butterfly garden. Better to be cut to ribbons by flying glass than devoured in the dark by a thousand vampire bats.
The icing on the cake was watching not one, not two, but three zoo employees chasing god-knows what with a 5-foot pincher claw, a net, and a broom. The best part isn't that they were frantically chasing something near the food cart, it's the fact that after about ten minutes, they GAVE UP - just shrugged their shoulders and all walked away like, "screw it, this is the Henry Doorly Zoo."
And despite the fact that these may sound like complaints, these are all of the reasons we love this place. It looks and feels like you are walking through the jungles, the desert, the swamp, a'la Steve Irwin. We only had hours, but this is easily a day-long adventure, just maybe not for the squeamish, or people that freak out when bats dive-bomb their heads.
For tonight we are chilling out with a bucket of fried chicken at the Comfort Inn in the cowboy capital of the world - Ogallala, Nebraska. We haven't seen a cowboy yet, or a horse for that matter, but we have over a thousand miles left, and we're patient.