Wild Lights at the St. Louis Zoo
The St. Louis Zoo is one of my very favorite places to visit and it's the perfect activity any time of year!
You may think the only time to visit a zoo would be in the summer, and while that's a great time, St. Louis makes sure there are activities happing all year round.
The St. Louis Zoo is free every day of the year, but then they have fundraising events to help support the massive undertaking that is running a top rated zoo.
So to attend the Wild Lights event, you must purchase tickets. You can usually buy them in advance, online and if it's not too crowded, you can purchase them at the gate. (And, head's up, the closer you get to Christmas and New Year, the ticket prices go up!)
Along with entrance to the park- and the amazing displays of lights, which made me happy all by themselves- also included with the ticket price was free parking. (That was certainly a treat because by the time you are finished with the park you're probably freezing and want your car as close as possible!)
You also get admission to several of the houses, like the Penguin/Puffin Coast and the Insectarium. The sea lions cove was open, but the sea lions were all sleeping elsewhere.
They had lots of projects for the kids scattered in various areas and plenty of holiday snacks available along the way. (The lines were crazy long, but, it was cold!). One of the snacks available were S'mores kits, and they came with, you guessed it, two graham crackers, a piece of chocolate and a marshmallow plus a long stick! Around the concession stand, small propane fire pits burned low for marshmallow melting and to warm cold fingers.
They of course, had hot chocolate, but they also had the adult version as well!
This year, I was able to make it out to enjoy the holiday lights they call Wild Lights at the Zoo. A small portion of the zoo is lit up with Christmas lights in various scenes and decorating the walkways. I love Christmas lights! And this satisfies even my need for colorful Christmas decorations. (Let's be real, I'm not decorating the camper like this!)
I didn't have any "littles" with me, but there were also several photo stops to get perfectly precious pictures to commemorate the holiday season.
So, before you ask, nope, the animals were not in any of the outside enclosures. While the zoo wasn't necessarily closed off, it was discouraged to venture further than the decorated areas, but just in case, all of the animals were safely tucked away. The lights bother them and cause them to be agitated.
Holiday music and even a few street entertainers could be found to make everything perfect. If you can't find the holiday spirit while you're here, you're in big trouble.
Extra bonus for me this year, I went with my bff, Tonya. We've been friends for over 30 years. The holidays are such a great time to get out and enjoy these hometown events and create new memories.
If you're interested it is usually open just after Thanksgiving until the New Year. They continually out-do themselves every year, but since I travel (and try to escape being cold), I've missed out the past few years.
For more information about Wild Lights or other events held at the St. Louis Zoo, click here to get all the details.
Garden of the Gods
Colorado Springs, Colorado
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Colorado.
The Beer Garden without the Beer...
In 1859,Colorado City was on the verge of being plotted out. Surveyors, M.S. Beach and Rufus Cable were sent out from Denver to checkout this unseen vast, rocky area. They came upon this space where colorful rocks seemed to have jutted up and out of the ground, leaning and shaped in so many different ways. In actuality, they were formed from erosion, as softer sand shifted about over the years (many, many years) and these beauties are what is left behind.
The story goes, that M.S. Beach mentioned that the space would be perfect for a beer garden... I mean, they WERE planning out the city...but it was Rufus that saw the capabilities. Not just any beer garden, says he... "Why it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods!"
And... history and it's name sake had been made.
Minus the beer part... when the property was donated to Colorado Springs, inside that agreement was an addendum to not serve alcohol... ever...
But Garden of the Gods it truly is. My daughter and I were able to visit in August with the sun shining bright and the blue skies framing every view, you'd think it would be smoldering hot, but it wasn't terrible. Every where you looked, it was absolutely breathtaking!
What was terrible was that I did that thing that everyone warns you not to do... I wore BRAND NEW hiking boots for the trail. While it was not a treacherous uphill climb and most did it with normal tennis shoes, there were even some sandals, I chose to break in my new shoes here instead of on the hikes reserved for another day. (It hurt that next day as well!)
Oh... my feet hurt.
The 1.5 mile path is paved and smooth to make it perfect for walking at whatever your comfortable speed but also perfect for other modes of transportation. It is also wheelchair accessible. (see below!)
At the time I was there, they were reconstructing the parking lots which will be super nice when they get finished, but when your feet hurt (even if it was my own fault) every extra step was grueling.
I was happiest out among the jutting rock sculptures but they also had an impressive Visitor's Center complete with a massive Souvenir shop and the Bean Sprout's Cafe!
I do not mind spending money inside because the entire park is free. Yes, that's right, no fees. No parking fees, no hiking fees, no bathroom fees. (They do charge for other services though) I am happy to support them with the purchase of a souvenir or a snack. (Yes! They even had a small snack bar!)
Choose Your Experience
They have so many ways for you to view this amazing park. I chose to walk, but I did also do a drive through to get one last glimpse of everything before leaving the park. You just don't want to leave because you know once you're gone, the pictures (all 346 of them) just won't do it justice.
Don't let anything stand in your way from seeing this place. It is absolutely breathtaking!
For those more adventurous, there's also rock climbing (with permits) and horseback riding options as well!
The Lonely Dinosaur
In 1878, a professor at Colorado College, James Kerr was doing some digging and discovered some dinosaur bones. He believed them to be of the sea monster variety, and mailed his information of his find to the professors at Yale University.
In 1886, paleontologist, O.C. March came to Colorado and believed the specimen to be that of a Camptosauras. He took the skull and sent it to the Peabody Museum for more tests, but they somehow forgot about it, and the poor dino was left untouched for 117 years!
In 1997, Dr. Kirk Johnson was on the team for the Visitor's Center Museum when knowledge of the Campto was brought to his attention. Dr. Ken Carpenter made a plaster cast of the dino so they could share the news in a new exhibit. The exhibit opened with great excitement and the dino was a lovely addition to the already informative Centre that discussed the Native Americans and the rocks and minerals, but Dr. Carpenter wasn't satisfied. He felt the Capti was mis-identified.
In 2006, Dr. Carpenter and another associate, Kathleen Brill did a deeper study and took another long hard look at their one and only specimen. They ultimately decided that it couldn't possibly be a Camptosauras! They believed they found an entirely new species!
On May 24, 2008 the pair were happy to announce their discovery. It is the only one of its kind. They named the one and only dinosaur, Theiophytalia Kerri.
Theios is of Greek origin, meaning “belonging to the gods” and phytalia means “garden.” Kerri honors the name of the scientist who first discovered this 125 million-year-old skull in Garden of the Gods Park.
You can stop in and see Theios just inside the Visitor's Centre
A Gift to the People
In 1879, General William Jackson Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs, invited his friend railroad magnate Charles Elliot Perkins to bring his railroad out his way and while he was there, snag up some land for himself. Perkins visited the area and was so enamored with it, he ended up purchasing 240 acres including the massive rock formations. Over the years he would purchase more land to amass 480 acres. He never built on it but it had always been welcoming to the public so they too could enjoy its beauty.
When Charles Perkins died in 1907, he had no plans laid out for the vast amount of property. His children, knowing his heart decided to make a gift of the acreage to the city of Colorado Springs in 1909.
The park was donated to the City of Colorado Springs so long as it would remain free for everyone, forever.
It would be known forever as the Garden of the Gods, “where it shall remain free to the public, where no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed, where no building or structure shall be erected except those necessary to properly care for, protect, and maintain the area as a public park.”
The pictures just don't do it justice. If you have the chance to witness the Garden of the Gods, I highly recommend it! As I walked through the twisting trails, I was just in awe with every step. I didn't want to take my eyes away, knowing that their sheer majesty would fade in my memory.
Take lots of pictures and wear comfortable, already broke in shoes!
Elizabeth Bourgeret is an author, blogger, podcast host and full-time traveller. Here is where you'll find her adventures. Grab your beverage of choice, pull of a chair and dive in...