I live nowhere near St. Louis, Mo., but if I did, I’d spend much of my free time at Forest Park. In my two trips to the Gateway to the West, I only managed to discover a taste of what the nearly 1,400-acre park has to offer.
In addition to the St. Louis Zoo, the park supports a number of open spaces. Take a walk around the Emerson Grand Basin and head up the hill to the Saint Louis Art Museum.
The art museum sits atop Art Hill, and is worth walking by, even if you don’t have time to stop inside.
A large, bronze statue of Saint Louis adorns the patio and looks over a collection of lakes and several fanciful bridges.
The art museum itself contains more than 33,000 objects from ancient Egypt to the present. If you are short on time, find a map and hit the highlights.
If you manage to stop by the museum in the evening, take a second to check out the architecture. Dusk transforms the museum into a piece of artwork itself.
I was lucky enough to visit the St. Louis Zoo twice this year, and while it includes a number of fascinating animals, my main reason for visiting is seeing the big cats. Jaguars, I discovered, can still be found in parts of the southwest.
Tigers are more rare, however. Several sub-species, including the Amur tiger in St. Louis, are critically endangered. Tigers are also the world’s largest cats, and used to be my favorite, but there are so many lovely big cats, it’s difficult to pick just one!
The snow leopard on display was content to “hide” in its tree all day. I say all day, as I was there for five hours, and the lower branches of the tree were where it stayed.
But I was delighted to find the Amur leopard awake, and so close I could see its golden eyelashes as it paced. I could watch big cats all day, and on this visit, I nearly did!
I’m like a kid when it comes to the Z-O-O. Mention those three letters in succession and I am prowling the Internet, in search of snow leopards and polar bears.
My husband’s latest assignment landed him in Saint Louis. I was able to visit after a few long months, and my first outing (after we spent a chilly evening exploring the city around the hotel), was to the St. Louis Zoo.
Bordered by Government Drive and Wells Drive in 1,371-acre Forest Park, the zoo is family-friendly, and mostly free. I parked on the outskirts, in order to bypass the parking fee, and walked nearly a mile before I asked a parent the grown-up equivalent of, “Are we there yet?” Just around the corner, was the reply, so I knew then I was heading in the right direction.
Looking back at the map now, I could have saved myself some time in finding the objects of my affection, because I apparently took the long way around. But there was much to see around every corner.
I found the Bird House and Bird Garden, which included a burrowing owl, and several Collie’s jays. I took pictures of both, but the jays are extremely lively and the owl was a bit too far away to get the snapshots as clear as I wanted.
I did manage a few peeks at Kali, the new bear on the block (he has lived at the zoo for less than a year). Popular with children, Kali was looking for treats that afternoon, and quickly found some.
Once I made my way to Big Cat Country at Red Rocks, I began my search for snow leopards. I found one, sleeping comfortably, in the crook of a tall tree.
I also found a gorgeous Amur leopard, also napping the afternoon away. Amur leopards are even more rare than snow leopards; they are nearly extinct in the wild.
No less beautiful, but more intent on exploring its habitat, was a nearby jaguar.
I made a few more trips to see the snow and the Amur leopard before I left the zoo. I missed seeing the cougar (who must have been sleeping away from prying eyes), and the tiger was awake, but not wanting to sit still for pictures.
The male lion, however, obliged.
All good trips must come to an end, and I had to find my way back to the car. I headed out, as I had a long walk. I was amused on the way out by a gorilla, who was tossed a bag of goodies by a zookeeper. He grabbed the bag and ran, to enjoy his snack, out of sight.
If Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Mo., had been open, there’s a chance we may not have even thought of going to the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park when I visited my husband in St. Louis last week.
My time there was limited, and my first stop (of course) was the Saint Louis Zoo, which I explored Wednesday while Bill was at work.
We headed out to the caverns on Friday. I was excited, because the last (and the first) time I saw anything like that was on the way to Washington, D.C., with the rest of my sixth-grade class.
Upon finding out Meramec was undergoing repairs of some sort, we pulled out our guide which listed 25 Free Things to Do in St. Louis. When I noticed the World Bird Sanctuary, I Googled it and found it was on our way back.
We stopped first at the Visitor’s Center, but not before noticing all the wild birds taking advantage of the nearby bird feeders, and a cardinal, singing his heart out (probably taunting all the raptors who couldn’t get to him). I managed a half-way decent picture.
Inside the Visitor’s Center, were a number of cages containing various owls. I fell in love with Lief, a little Northern saw-whet owl, who hid behind the greenery hanging at the top of his cage. His big, round, orange eyes seemingly asked for privacy, so I did not take his picture that day.
Next was a bigger owl; I didn’t take his picture, either, but I was delighted when he engaged me in conversation. After heading outside, we discovered a number of raptors in a very large, open-air cage. They were all tethered, and as it was chilly, they were not too active at first. When the sun warmed the air, though, they all seemed to wake up and become more interested in their visitors.
Several caught my eye, as well. There was Ivory, a quiet but attention-grabbing white hawk. We discovered Chrys, a dark-feathered long-crested eagle, who jumped around a lot, but I did manage one decent shot.
And there was an adorable barn owl. The sanctuary has several, and I didn’t take note of this one’s name while snapping photos. I did notice he/she wasn’t too happy with the tethering situation on that particular day, but did stop pecking at the leather long enough to pose for a few pictures.
Not to be forgotten was a red-tailed hawk, of which the sanctuary also has several.
After admiring these birds for a good, long while, we meandered back to the outside exhibits, where we saw a number of stunning eagles, some pigeons, snowy owls, and this guy, who looked like he couldn’t wait to get into some trouble.
Somehow, we completely missed the Nature Center and Gift Shop, which is what happens, I guess, when you forget to look at the map.
It was, however, a very satisfactory self-guided tour; one well worth taking.
Postscript: After posting this, a reader asked me about tethering. The ones tethered were on display. The birds have large cages they stay in, which include shelters for when the weather is bad. Many of the birds at the center are rescues, and some have lasting injuries to wings or eyes which would make it difficult for them to survive in the wild. The World Bird Sanctuary is a non-profit organization, and accepts both donations and dedicated volunteers. They have a great website: www.WorldBirdSanctuary.org.