Bearizona is a unique zoo that is new to Arizona’s attraction scene, having opened its doors to visitors in 2010. The park still has some growing to do, and they aren’t all that widely known in Phoenix yet, but awareness seems to be growing. What sets them apart from the other wildlife parks in Arizona is that Bearizona is a drive-through zoo. Now, I am no expert on zoos, so I might be wrong, but I think there is a very viable advantage to attractions like this one- they allow people to view animals, while also providing the animals with more space to roam than a traditional park. What’s also nice (from an animal welfare and conservation point of view) about Bearizona is that they have specifically selected animals from climates similar to that of Williams, Az, where the zoo. Bearizona’s mission statement: “to promote conservation through memorable and educational encounters with North American wildlife in a natural environment,” also groups them with a growing number of zoos which have moved away from being solely entertainment oriented establishments, to being places of learning and conservation.
As it stands now (January 2013), Bearizona has two different sections. The first is the main attraction, the drive-through exhibits. Once you’ve pulled off the freeway, and through Bearizona’s beautiful wood gateway, you are greeted by a park representative who gets your ticket taken care of, hands you a map, and most importantly gives you a large steel box to show off on your dashboard.
This box is equipped with the GPS unit that provides you with your own personal guide which narrates as you move through the park at your own pace. As a huge geek, part of Bearizona’s appeal to me was its Jurassic Park feel, which our friendly, automated guide reminded us of along the way. Of course, there is no danger of your family trip being turned into a Hollywood action film, but the sense of adventure is certainly there. This is especially true since many of the animals that Bearizona provides you with the opportunity of seeing are large carnivores such as bears and wolves, and you are repeatedly warned to view the animals only through closed windows (and no feeding them!!).
Besides adding commentary about Jurassic Park, Bearizona’s GPS guide recording was a great source of information on all of the animals that we viewed as we worked our way through the park. It was definitely a great addition to a ride that I thought would be silent besides the conversation between my traveling companion and me. The zoo also did a good job of making their guide friendly for all ages; not only was it informational, but there were jokes along the way, and different ways to get kids involved and interested.
My favorite part of the drive-through trip was the wolves. I appreciate their beauty, their role in the ecosystem, and our connection to them through our tried and true companions- dogs. I have never had the opportunity to view these creatures as closely as I did in Bearizona. One of the arctic wolves was curious enough about my car that it came right up to the window and peeked in at my friend and me.
It was amazing to see such a majestic animal like that. I do have to say, however, that as the person that was at the wheel, situations like this were a little uncertain. On the one hand, the park explicitly states that you should move on if animals approach your car, and I am sure that this is for the safety of the animal as well as the people involved, but in our case it happened so fast that there was little I could do. In fact, I often found myself worrying that I might make a wrong move while driving through Bearizona, because I wanted to respect their rules, and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t pose any sort of risk to the animals. It wasn’t an overly big deal, but worth noting- there is an exchange to be made when you are allowed to get that close to animals, especially in your vehicle.
The drive through portion can take as long as you’d like it too, but there is a walk through section to the park as well (Fort Bearizona). The main attraction here (in my opinion) is the exhibit with the baby bears. When my travel buddy and I were at the park, it was pretty cold, so the little guys were all cuddled up together in their den. The park has a great little viewing room for the den, and we probably spent the most time here, watching the young bears wrestle with eachother, and snuggle up for short-lived naps. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great spot for pictures due to the glass being scratched and smudged by little, wet bear noses.
Besides the baby bears, we also had a chance to see lynx, raccoons, beavers, and some other smaller animals. For the little kids (and people who like to pet animals- like myself) there is also a petting zoo with goats and chickens.
Fort Bearizona is also host to High Country Raptors, a nonprofit organization that seeks to raise support for raptor conservation through education. The organization runs three flight shows daily, but since I travelled to the park during a particularly cold weekend, the shows were cancelled for the birds’ well-being.
Overall, Bearizona was a great place to visit, and I would suggest it to anyone travelling out in that direction. It is a relatively new establishment (as of Jan 2013), and I definitely got a feeling that it was a work in progress while being there. There was obvious evidence of on-going construction, but other than that, it’s a unique, educational park, and well worth checking out.