Bear at Bearizona wildlife park
By Karin Leperi
In the historic town of Williams, Arizona – less than 60 miles from the South Rim entrance to the Grand Canyon – is the only park of its kind in the Southwest. Billed as a drive-thru wildlife park and conservation adventure, Bearizona is an outdoor thrill that appeals to all ages – from toddlers to seniors and everyone in between.
A wild wolf - yes, wild!
Bears, Bison and Wild Animals – Oh My!
I decide to stop at Bearizona on my way to the Grand Canyon to see what the buzz is all about. A gated haven for various North American animals in their natural habitat, I am anxious to see the bear, bison, wolves and mountain goats – especially the albino bison.
The 160-acre wildlife park opened May 22, 2010, and is the vision of Sean and Dennis Casey, two brothers from South Dakota. This is the same family that developed Bear Country USA back in 1972.
For $16 per adult and $8 per child over three years old, you drive through a three-mile security-gated enclosure and experience a close-encounter with icons of the North American plains and wilds. In addition to the bear and bison, Bearizona is home to Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep, Dall Sheep, and American Burro. The free-roaming animals give you the feel of being on safari in the forest. And where else can you witness herd and pack life from the safety of your car and a managed wildlife park?
During the drive-through portion of the park, you’re not permitted to get out of your car as this is for your own protection. Neither can you roll down windows to pet or feed the wild creatures. (Some people seem to forget that these animals are wild.) Obscured fences and metal cattle-guards separate the different habitats so that the bison, bears, and wolves don’t enact the laws of survival in front of your eyes.
I watch transfixed as first burros, wolves, and sheep, then bison, and finally bear prowl the grounds and wander around the vehicle, posing periodically for my camera. There was really nothing between these creatures of the wild and me – other than a vehicle and rolled-up windows that were washed spotless before coming.
After completing the three-mile drive, I next come to a 20-acre walk-through area, where bear cubs, bobcats, red fox, and lynx are on display in enclosed habitats surrounded by rock walls and trenches. A first-class raptor show is also staged here and it’s best to time your visit around this crowd-pleasing presentation. After the show, the trainer brings out a hawk, owl, and kestrel for close-up photos and will entertain any questions about raptors.
Accreditation and Green Practices
Bearizona recently received accreditation from the Zoological Association of America in recognition of their excellent park facilities, continuing conservation efforts and educational programs as well as Bearizona’s standards for great care for the animals.
But it doesn’t stop there. Bearizona also subscribes to best practices for economic, environmental, and social sustainability. For example, Bearizona has been designed to showcase environmentally friendly construction such as their use of recycled materials and vehicles in developing many of the animal habitats.
A recycled RV was used for the security cabin while old busses and cars, about fifty tons of recycled scrap material, have been used to create a giant waterfall and rock sculptures in various habitats. And a water reclamation system collects 120,000 gallons of rainwater annually while solar photovoltaic cells produce 20,000 kilowatts of solar energy each day.
Somehow, it’s just nice to know that my visit to Bearizona not only permits me an encounter with the wild, but that it is also focused on sustainability and compatibility with the environment.
TIP: It’s best to go to Bearizona in the early morning or late afternoon, when animals will be more active and feeding times arouse and stimulate the hungry, complacent and elusive wildlife. Plan to spend about 1-3 hours to experience both parts of Bearizona.
Pine Country Restaurant
Top Off the Day with Pie from Pine Country Restaurant
After my wild encounter at Bearizona, I head into Williams for a home-style meal and slice of homemade pie at Pine Country Restaurant. Amazingly, it is Sunday night about 9:00 pm and the place is humming and hopping. (Note to me: A great sign regarding the food.)
This is a family-owned operation, where owner Dee Seehorn prepares generously-portioned meals and whips up or bakes around 50 types of scrumptious pies – all in-house. My friend and I are on a mission to find the best pie. In the process, we sample five different slices and agree that the cherry-apple-peach combination with a scoop of vanilla ice cream is absolutely tops. Runner-ups include: double butterscotch, cappuccino cream, and Oreos and cream.
Cherry Apple Peach Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream from Pine Country Restaurant
A sugar-free pie is featured each day for those watching calories and sucrose intake. Be sure to ask about this guilt-free option.
IF YOU GO:
1500 E. Rt. 66
Williams, AZ 86046
Pine Country Restaurant
107 N. Grand Canyon Blvd.
Williams, AZ 896046