Alice in Dixieland
If an African safari sounds too challenging, the next best thing may be the 500 acres of African wildlife to be found in a North Carolina reserve.
“She really likes when you rub her behind th’ ears,” says Jim Small in a resonating Southern drawl. He should know. He introduced Alice and me. She has jet black eyes and loves attention. What girl doesn’t? She’s also nearly 5,000 pounds of white rhinoceros-on-the-hoof.
Alice lives at the North Carolina Zoological Park (NCZP) near Asheboro. While I believe she is pretty by rhino standards, she does have a head bigger than the spare tire that hangs on the back of my Land Rover.
“Aw, cuh mown,” Small cajoles as he waves me closer. I hesitate. But cuh mown I eventually did. And as I stroked the surprisingly soft skin behind Alice’s perky rhino ears, I began to entertain the idea of having one of my own. Sure the feed costs would be enormous, but can you imagine the respect I’d get at the doggy park?
The NCZP is a wonder. Its North American and African exhibits alone span more than 500 acres (with 900 acres still in reserve). The zoo uses natural barriers rather than cages. Moving from exhibit to exhibit is a pleasant and comfortable stroll through woods and valleys.
I confess that I am ordinarily not one for zoos. But the NCZP boasts an impressive African Savannah, with elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions, baboons and, of course, rhinos. A wandering North American exhibit contains bears, bison, wolves and elk. There is also a tropical rainforest of biblical creative proportions and a magnificent aviary. If you happen to be south of the Mason-Dixon Line sometime, drop in and go on safari. And tell Alice Guy’s been asking about her.
North Carolina is blessed with a temperate climate even during the winter months. In this part of the country, spring brings out the dogwood blossoms and the fall colors are really a joy to see. Also, the Appalachian Trail runs from Maine to Georgia and part of that 3,000 mile or so trek passes through North Carolina. Read Bill Bryson’ A Walk In The Woods if you want to get a hilarious flavor for what it’s like to try to trek parts of the trail through the Blue Ridge Mountains when you are ill-prepared and out-of-shape.
The NC Zoological Park is a little more than an hour by car from North Carolina’s capital city, Raleigh. You can fly into Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) and head south to the NCZP. I stayed with family in Pinehurst, the golfing capital of the world (it seems). But there are plenty of hotels within 30 minutes drive to NCZP. If you really want to experience southern living, consider staying a night at a traditional bed and breakfast. Browse the Randolph County N.C. website at www.visitrandolph.org for suggestions. To learn more about the history, geography and tourist destinations for North Carolina, try www.ncgov.com.
North Carolina Zoological Society
4403 Zoo Parkway Asheboro, NC 27205
(336) 879-7250) www.nczoo.org