Reunion Trip: Day Nine

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Day Nine: Ashland, NE to Niobrara, NE (Driving time: 4 hours)

The big event of the day was going to the Omaha Zoo.

  • Ranked #1 Zoo of the World by Trip Advisor (2014)

  • World’s  largest indoor desert: 13 stories tall, desert dome

  • America’s largest indoor rain forest

  • The aquarium: 1.3 million gallons of salt water

  • There’s an orangutan forest and there’s a gorilla valley

This zoo lived up to it all. We spent the WHOLE DAY here and still didn’t see everything!

DESERT DOME

This was our first stop, but it set the tone- HUGE. This building is actually a glass dome… and there are no cages. DSCN4454 small

You are literally walking on trails through the desert.

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Critters are scurrying around on their own.

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There are caves up in the cliffs with animals clearly lounging inside. No bars, no glass.

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Small streams running past with schools of fish.

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Outside the dome we were able to pet a corn snake!

Photo cred: Almost every animal picture was taken by Ashlyn

WILD CATS

This is always Matt’s favorite part!

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It turns out that wild cats are also Ashlyn’s favorite! I bet we have the MOST pictures from this section of the zoo, because every time we passed another kind of cat Ashlyn would say, “I love tigers!… I love albino tigers!… I love cheetahs!…. ” and would promptly try to take the best picture of that animal!

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These animals were either behind glass or outside in a deep area with no chance of jumping out, of course!DSCN4486 small

We were glad so many of these cats were awake!DSCN4489 small

A tiger, grooming himself just like a very large, meat-eating kitty cat.

GORILLA/MONKEYS

Giraffes and primates are the animals I love to see at the zoo. Giraffes have blue tongues (it’s like sunscreen- keeps them from getting a tongue-burn), they have exactly the same number of neck bones that we do (they’re just bigger), and it is fun to watch them curl their giant tongues around their food when they’re eating. Plus, they lick the wall a lot and I think that’s funny! Maybe the walls at the Hogle Zoo are a little salty?

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Primates are just intriguing. I love to watch them play and climb. When I see them doing any of those things, I think “my kids would love to do that!” These monkeys loved grooming each other. They are fast! They’d rifle through each other’s fur and you could tell they’d done it a million times.

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For some reason, we seemed to catch their eye.. a lot.DSCN4551 small

I was walking with Ashyln and this gorilla came charging to the window. He was definitely trying to get our attention and kept banging up against the glass! When he got our attention he just kept staring right at us! You can tell it freaked the girl out behind us. If we moved, his eyes followed us! It was intense, and it was just Ashlyn and I.

THE AQUARIUM AND STING RAY BEACH

The aquarium was amazing! We spent a lot of time here and Ashlyn spent a lot of time trying different settings on the camera. It is so hard to take pictures in low light!

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And then she hit the sweet spot where pictures stopped being blurry! For some reason this was the bathroom break portion of our day. I’d get one person to the bathroom, I’d find our group, and then another person would have to go and we’d backtrack all over again! I was glad Ashlyn took over photographer duties 🙂

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My favorite part was the jelly fish room. They are beautiful and delicate! Ashlyn had my camera so this is my cell phone pic, but I never realized there were so many kinds of jelly fish! There are these giants shown (it’s not as big as it looks), but there are clear jelly fish that are teenie-tiny and you can see every little part, and there’s even a kind the moves upside-down. Tanks and tanks of different jelly fish!

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After the aquarium we went to Sting Ray Beach where you could pet the sting rays!DSCN4518 small

Alison and I! The way I can get into one of these pictures 🙂DSCN4526 small

Cayden helping Alison

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Jackson, thrilled to try it! Sting rays LOVE to be petted! They go out of their way to come over to you and swim past your hand if they see it in the water. Very playful!

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I found out that you could buy shrimp to feed the sting rays. Jack really wanted to try! He stuck  a shrimp between his fingers and put it in the water. Now, sting rays’ mouths are on their bottom side so you can see this ray had to really maneuver (and practically flip upside-down) to try to get his mouth to the shrimp! After this, the man next to Jack (you can see his hands) showed Jackson how to do it the right way! First you put the shrimp between your fingers with the shrimp sticking up through the top.  Then you put your hand in the water so low that the sting rays swim over your hand and slurp it up! Everyone who wanted to gave it a try!

PETTING ZOO

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Everyone enjoyed browsing through one of the gift shops but we decided not to get anything at this one. We turned around and Megan had her arms full! So cute! She had a hard time parting ways with these guys! We took her to pet some real animals after that!

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I didn’t realize goats could get so hairy!

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Alison was a little nervous to pet this turtle, so Dylan showed her how to do it.DSCN4501 small

Alison getting brave and using one finger to gently pet it!DSCN4502 small

Why does this goat keep running away? (As she corners it)DSCN4504 small

Ha! Now I can brush this little goat!

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This was the highlight for Alison and Megan! They could have brushed these goats all day!DSCN4510 small

Ashlyn was always there with Alison and Megan!

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Dylan and Jackson were hoping that goats like hay. No, they do not like hay.

Not pictured: Matt and Cayden, who had no interest in the petting zoo and stayed outside and relaxed!

RAIN FOREST

This was my favorite part of the whole zoo. We did it last, and honestly almost didn’t go. Everyone was hot and tired from the petting zoo, Cayden was still feeling a little sick and was ready to go, but the rain forest caught my eye and who could resist? This was two stories of rain forest! You walk in halfway up in the rain forest! You follow dirt trails- you are truly immersed! No bars, no cages- there are animals everywhere!

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The trail went around these sticks, but if you were Alison (and Dylan’s) size you could squeeze through them!

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It wasn’t too crowded but there was always a line for the bridge 🙂DSCN4615 small

I can’t believe how excellently this was planned out! We could watch the staring contest with the pygmy hippo and the turtle, feeling like we were in the middle of the nature. There’s no danger of them getting to you because they’re in a recessed water area with a steep embankment. You’re not worried about it but you get to be right there!

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Tarzan!

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Waterfalls!

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Literally feet away from macaws

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Then we went downstairs and it really felt like you were exploring the jungle floor. We passed rivers and pools teeming with water creatures.

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We walked the base of waterfalls. Not pictured: Jack, who felt like he was the expert zoo explorer and left our group and walked the whole giant loop twice while we walked slowly trying to find him. He was proud (he knew exactly where he was) and we were not (stay with us).

CAMPING

This park had an old rickety playground that Matt was convinced would kill or maim all of the kids. I don’t know if they’d ever played on an old-fashioned merry-go-round before and they loved every second!

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No one was killed or maimed, but eventually Matt banned them from it so he didn’t have to stress about it. Luckily they had old rickety swings and a long metal slide!

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I got a few minutes to myself and went exploring and found this beautiful scene. I won’t lie that I did a thorough tick check afterwards.

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After walking all day at the zoo, we put exhausted kids to be and then relaxed around the campfire. DSC_0048 small

It’s mesmerizing, right?

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Cayden and Ashlyn stayed up with us until we all just had to go to bed!

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