Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Across the U.S.: Day 49

by Kathy 11. September 2009 20:46

<< Day 48: Central Iowa to St. Paul, Minnesota  | Day 50: St. Paul to Mitchell, South Dakota >>

St. Paul, Minnesota


Today marked the 7-week point in our trip. We had seen amazing places, visited with family and friends, and had incredible experiences. My sensory levels were full. I needed a low-key day.

Before our trip began, I had identified several possible activities to do in St. Paul today--visit the zoo, explore a historical fort, and tour a flour mill museum. We opted for the zoo, with a free afternoon to enjoy the pool and relax at the RV park.

Genevieve and Sebastian shot off to the playground while Ben and I cleaned the RV this morning. They dug a big hole under the climbing structure.

We loaded into the RV and drove about 20 miles to the Minnesota Zoo.

The Minnesota Zoo was founded in 1978, with the express mission “to connect people, animals, and the natural world.” The zoo has over 500 animal species, and almost 3000 individual animals. Over a million people visit each year, observing the animals in exhibits that are designed to resemble natural habitats. The zoo is also a world leader in conservation efforts. Many displays throughout the park engage children and adults in learning about threats to specific animals and their important ecosystems.

We made a big loop through the zoo, starting with the marine center called Discovery Bay. Several open areas allow people to touch small tiger sharks and other sea creatures. I reached my hand into the water and gave a short gentle stroke against the body of a swiftly moving tiger shark. The shark’s skin felt slick, leathery, and fuzzy—all at the same time.

The tide pool area:

The floor to ceiling tanks held a variety of fish. The "cheeks" on this one were very interesting.

Genevieve was mesmerized by the rows of teeth on the big shark.

The Atlantic Bottle-nosed dolphins were a huge hit with the children (as well as Ben and I!).

Outside, the children ran over to greet the huge bear statues near the water spritzer area.

Our path then led us through a series of exhibits that re-created the Pacific Ocean shoreline of Russia, called “the Grizzly Coast.” The icy waters there are the home of the playful sea otter, whose antics had us all laughing.

As many as 300,000 sea otters used to live around the northern Pacific coastline, along Russia, Alaska, Canada, California and Mexico. About 300 years ago, the soft warm pelts of the sea otter became a hot commodity in the international fur trade. By 1911, when an international treaty finally banned sea otter hunting, fewer than 2000 sea otters remained. Today’s population is estimated to be around 100,000. However, sea otters are fairly fragile, and large numbers can die quickly—for example, the population in Alaska decreased by 80% from the mid-1980’s to 2005. The animals still face constant threats from poaching, oil spills, over-fishing, and disease.

We then entered the caves of the grizzly bears.

Peek-a-boo! (These are my cuddly bears!)

All of the brown bears (also called “grizzly bears”) were napping this morning. The bear in the photo below is named “Kenai”; in September 2006, he was found as a tiny cub on the Kenai peninsula in Alaska. If he hadn’t been rescued, animal specialists believe that he would not have survived—baby bears learn to hunt from their mothers, who they usually remain with for the first 2 to 4 years of their lives.

We learned that brown bears sleep about 7 months in the winter, when food is in short supply. Technically, the sleep period is not called “hibernation” because the bears can be woken up.

Brown bears live all along Russia’s Pacific Coast; they thrive in the cold environment. The bears generally avoid confrontation, except when they are hungry or threatened. Their powerful jaws and teeth allow them to eat just about anything they want.

Kamchatka, one area on Russia’s Pacific Coast, has more brown bears than any other place. However, their population has decreased in half over the last 15 years, primarily due to the poaching and loss of salmon. Sometimes poachers catch thousands of salmon in one day, strip the salmon of their roe (for caviar and use in face lotion), and then dump the fish carcasses to rot on the banks.

Genevieve compared her hand to that of a grizzly.

The bear closest to the camera, below, is named “Haines”; in July 2006, he was found as a cub wandering around the yards and porches near Haines, Alaska.

This sleeping bear is “Sadie”; she was found as an orphaned cub roaming near Sadie Creek in Kotzebue, Alaska. She spent the first two years of her life at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (along with Haines and Kenai). The three bears joined the Minnesota zoo in 2008. Check out Sadie's claws!

The zoo offered a large sand pit with some buried wooly mammoth fossils. Genevieve and Sebastian had to hunt for the bones, of course—their compulsion to dig is almost as strong as their “gotta climb” instinct.

The wild boars here were much bigger than those that I see almost every week while dirt biking in California.

We learned that boars are ancestors of pigs. Wild boars usually live in woods or forests. They have poor eyesight but excellent hearing. Their bottom canine teeth constantly grow forward, forming into tusks that they use for digging through mud or snow, and sometimes killing prey. Boar snouts are very flexible and made of large discs of cartilage attached to muscles; they are great for smelling and digging. Boars are very versatile, and they reproduce quickly—without a strong predator population, their numbers would quickly expand.

Our experience at the Amur Leopard exhibit was so fascinating! The leopard came right up to the glass window and looked at us for at least five minutes.

We were all in awe of this majestic creature.

We were saddened to learn that there are only about 30 Amur Leopards left in the wild. They once lived in large numbers throughout China and the Koreas. Through hunting and expanded residential settlements, humans have decimated the leopard population and reduced their homeland to a 1000 square mile pocket in eastern Russia.

The Amur Tiger exhibit covered a large area.

We could see a tiger relaxing in the distance, seeking privacy among the shrubbery.

Only a few hundred Amur Tigers are left in the wild, primarily along the coast in eastern Russia. They once roamed throughout northeastern China, the Koreas, and a large expanse of Russia. The tigers prefer dense woods with some open fields, and each male covers a territory of 450 square miles.

We left the Grizzly Coast area and wandered the path that would eventually take us to the African animals.

Along the way, there was an exhibit with a few Takins—an unusual animal that looks as if it is a mixture of goat, antelope, and perhaps a small cow.

Takins exist in a category by themselves, as a unique species. They are found in the high altitudes of Bhutan and Tibet (in Asia). Ben and I had seen Takins for the first time last year on our motorcycle adventure through the Himalayan mountains in Bhutan. (You can read about our first encounter with Takins here: ) The zoo also had a small herd of bison (sometimes called American buffalo).

The prairie dogs were very charismatic and social, and we all were captivated by their rollicking play.

We learned that prairie dogs used to inhabit 100 million acres of prairie land in the United States. The animals dig extensive underground tunnels, piling soil outside of the tunnel entrances; they contribute greatly to the health and fertility of the prairie by churning the soil and bringing rich minerals to the surface. Unfortunately, 98% of all prairie dogs were exterminated in the 20th century; they were viewed as destructive pests by people who converted the prairie lands to agricultural fields or pastures for grazing.

The severe decline in prairie dog towns has led to the near-extinction of the black-footed ferret, whose primary food source is the prairie dog.

The giraffes (my favorite animal) were being fed nearby, so we got a wonderful up-close look.

We learned that giraffes love to eat leaves from mimosa and acacia trees. They use their long tongues (sometimes 20 inches) and muscular lips to rip the leaves from tall branches. They get most of their water from the leaves and can go for weeks without drinking.

Here is a young giraffe eating some low tree branches.

Their legs are so long that they have to spread them out in order to nibble on the sweet grass.

Giraffes also have excellent vision and a sharp sense of smell; with their tall height, they are often able to spot predators first and warn surrounding animals. Surprisingly, their long necks contain just seven vertebrae, just like humans!

While once found throughout Africa, giraffes now live primarily on nature reserves and protected parks. The current “wild” population of giraffes is about 36,000.

An ostrich was strutting nearby. I had never before noticed how soft the plumage looked.

The ostrich is the world’s largest bird—generally, 8 feet tall and 300 pounds. While they cannot fly, they can run up to 40 miles per hour. Contrary to popular myth, ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand; however, they do “hide” by lying on the ground with their necks outstretched.

Ostriches almost became extinct in the 18th century, as people hunted them for their feathers (to use as pens and as clothing accessories). However, ostrich farms sprung up in the mid-1800’s, which allowed ostrich feathers to be gathered by plucking without killing the birds.

This wolf had a large habitat consisting of trees and lots of shrubbery.

While we watched, the wolf made several circuits of his/her territory, following the same set path, up and down and around, up and down and around.

Nearby displays addressed the sad plight of the wolves in North America. The Mexican wolf, or “lobo”, was once found in the mountains of the Southwest. It is now extinct in the United States, and listed as “highly endangered” within Mexico.

The “gray wolf” was once common throughout North America, but they were killed and eliminated from most areas by the mid 1930’s. The wolf was finally classified as an endangered species in 1974. Today their range includes Canada, Alaska, and the northern areas of a handful of states (Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming).

As we continued our wanderings through the zoo, we stopped to admire the antlers on these caribou.

With caribou, both the females and males have antlers. The females’ antlers are generally more slender, and the females do not shed them until late winter or early spring. The males have much larger antlers, which they shed earlier.

The antlers on this caribou were so HUGE that he appeared to be having difficulty holding his head high as he walked.

Woodland caribou are now considered an endangered species in the United States. They were once prevalent in Minnesota, but their numbers declined rapidly in the 1800’s from extensive hunting and the logging of the forests where they lived.

As we completed our walking tour of the zoo, we passed by these beautiful trumpet swans.

The zoo playground had many creative elements, such as a tree house, suspension bridge, a spider web, and a hanging bird’s nest.

Sebastian was fascinated by the coin launcher in the zoo lobby; the launched coins rolled around and around the big circular structure until they finally disappeared into a hole in the middle—with all coins going to the zoo’s donation fund.

When we returned to the RV park, we all took a much-needed nap.

Then I had some quiet time in the laundry room, while the kids played in the pool. Ben got an arm workout tossing the children.

Genevieve came and kept me company while I waited for the dryers to finish.

Genevieve had met two new friends at the pool. The girl, Dayton, was six years old; she came over before dinner and invited Genevieve to play at her campsite. Her brother, Mason, was eight. He said that his family were from Iowa and had been here before; he loves all of the fun times that they have in St. Paul.

Mason, Dayton and Genevieve.

After dinner, we all took a leisurely walk around the campground. Then Ben built a fire, and we roasted marshmallows.

Afterward, Ben and I hung out by the fire, chatting quietly and holding hands. It was a peaceful end to our relaxing day.


<< Day 48: Central Iowa to St. Paul, Minnesota  | Day 50: St. Paul to Mitchell, South Dakota >>

Back to Index Page

Back to Home Page

Add comment

  Country flag

  • Comment
  • Preview

Map of Our Journeys

(click the map to enlarge)
Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin