Saturday, June 22, 2013

Travel Review: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo - Colorado Springs

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Active animals close enough to really (safely) see
Cons: Steep hillside setting for some
The Bottom Line
Zoo on a mountain
You really see animals
Great place to visit

Giraffes at Eye Level and Other Animal Encounters

I'm not much of a zoo person.  Seeing animals up close is okay when they are moving around, but most of the time when I've gone to zoos, I've struggled to see the animals in their enclosure or discovered the enclosure was empty.  So when my family decided to go to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on a vacation in Colorado Springs, I wasn't expecting much.  I was pleasantly surprised.

As you might expect, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is located on the side of (wait for it) Cheyenne Mountain.  It's off Interstate 25 and behind the Broadmoor Hotel.  From there, follow the sings to find it.  During summer (May 1st through Labor Day), the zoo is open every day from 9AM to 6PM and costs $17.25 for adults.  During the rest of the year, it closes at 5PM and costs $14.25 for adults.  Children and seniors are less, and they have military discounts.  These prices went into effect on May 1, 2011, so double check with them for current prices.

The thing that sets this zoo apart from others I have been to is how close you are to the animals.  As you can figure out from the title of my review, the platform for viewing the giraffes is built up so that you are at eye level with them.  And, for additional money, you can even feed the giraffes.  Any time we saw the giraffes, most of them were right up at the walk way looking for a hand out.  Watching my two year old niece feeding the giraffes (with some help from other relatives) was priceless.  As my mom pointed out, it would be nice if there was a way to view the giraffes at ground level so you can get a feel for how tall they truly are, but even so it was incredible.

While that was the closest we got to an animal, we still had some pretty good luck with animals the rest of the day.  The grizzles were being fed when we were there, so we got to see them standing up and diving into their river for food.  The tiger was prancing back and forth in his enclosure.  The monkeys and chimps were swinging from tree to tree.  And the parrots were flying around the aviary like crazy.  They even have naked mole rats (which are very ugly) and a couple of large hippos.  Honestly, they have most of the usual zoo animals, which is impressive for a small sized zoo.

The animals are roughly collected by world region, although that isn't closely followed.  It allows some logical connections for kids (and adults).

I mentioned that the zoo is located on the side of Cheyenne Mountain, right?  I'm bringing it up again because it means you need to be prepared for some climbs.  You'll be hiking up and down hill to see all the animals.  On the other hand, many of the enclosures are large fenced off areas of the mountain, providing some of the most natural looking areas I've seen.  To help with the mountain aspect of things, they do offer trams with several stops around the zoo.

Of course, there were a few no shows and animals not currently out.  My biggest disappointment was the elephants.  They have added a new member to their herd and built a new enclosure for them, so they weren't out right now.

There are some roads going through the zoo, including a public one leading to the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun, so you need to watch for traffic occasionally more than normal.  Most of the time, you are on foot paths.  And as you reach the upper exhibits of the zoo, you get some great views of Colorado Springs.

In addition to the animals, they have two eating areas that serve the usual prepackaged salads, burgers, or slices of pizza.  There's a small play area.  For a little extra, you get a nice length ride on their carousel.  And there is a ski lift type ride that will take you to the top of the mountain, again for an additional fee.  It was closed the day we were there.

We spent about three and a half hours there, and I felt we'd seen most everything.  This isn't a large zoo, but what is there is impressive.

Another thing I appreciated was the conservation signs around the zoo.  Next to some of the endangered animals, were signs that talked about the abuses in the past and the struggles to allow the animals and humans to co-exist now.  Some of the titles were inflammatory, but if you actually read the signs, they left you pondering how to best give the animals the space they need without halting everything that people do.  It's something that needs serious debate, and I felt the zoo was actually interested in adding to the discussion.

And so I wound up enjoying my time at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.  The number of active animals is going to give any other zoo a hard standard to meet.

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