“Keep your windows rolled Up” they remind me as I pull away from the beautifully carved BEARIZONA front entrance and pass the work crews attacking one wall with metal screen and stucco. With mud flying in all directions, rolling up my window afforded protection from both bears and flying construction material. When it comes to making pictures of creatures native to North America, forty species can be seen at Bearizona, that makes it a great find, a real diamond in the rough. A work in progress situated on a beautiful 160 acres outside of Williams, AZ on a Interstate 40 off-ramp about an hour south of the Grand Canyon, the wild animal “safari-style” drive through is the only place where my Sheltie “Chester” in the backseat serves as bait for my next subject to draw them in closer. Once my front wheels break the first electric barrier, I know I am on foreign soil, the sign says DATHL SHEEP but I don’t see anything.
Busting the second barrier things change fast. “BUFFALO!” one large Brown Bison ranging about a 300mm lense off in heavy shadow but moving about, trying to be picturesque. The third barrier, I drop the telephoto and move to the wide angle lens as the action quickened with Lobos — I had a canine on board and they knew it. The White Timber wolves sniffed out my Sheltie and swarming my Xterra seemed to agree it had potential. The Mountain Sheep were cute and their feeder was situated next to the 3 mile drive (Breakfast is dished up between 9am-10am bringing the critters close to the road) that allows cars to pull right off I-40 and drive through a wild animal preserve featuring Bears, Buffalo, Bobcats, babies, Lobos, Mountain Sheep and Raptors. At the end of the drive-through there is a walk through which allows folks to get out to see Raccoons, Bobcat, Lynx, the fab four Bear Cubs plus hibernation caves and the amazing Raptor Show.
Since many of the 12 bear come from different climes, their hibernation cycles vary, bears from Minnesota get sleepy in November while South West natives might stay up later, into December.
The Park closes during January and February and opens March first when the bears start wandering out for something to eat in early Spring. Driving through the Bear enclosure visitors are told to roll up their windows and to drive away if a bear approaches their car. Usually the bears sleep, roll around and some pace back and forth in the sunshine. Few paid much attention to the vehicles rolling through their enclosure. Drivers are warned in case of car problems, to stay inside the car, turn on their emergency flashers and honk the horn. Never get out of the Vehicle. Help will arrive! Cameras cover the whole drive and park and reviews say help arrives fast. Fort Bearizona is the old west log fort design in a semi-completed state, the drive through is about 70% complete hopes include a future Elk enclosure soon and since the Grizzly Bear and Mountain Lion “are far too dangerous for the drive-through” the walk-through area is only 35% of the final plan which calls for Grizzly Bear, Mountain Lions and Armadillos enclosures with a restaurant, an expanded gift shop, and a 800 room hotel.
The Park this spring birthed it’s first Bear Cub and named it “Doc” after Doc Casey, father of Sean and Dennis Casey, owners and operators of Bearizona. The brothers have entertained more than 100,000 visitors since their “soft” opening May 2010 and have spent a reported $15M to get the park off the ground, new animals arrive as their enclosures are completed. Bearizona Raptor Show engages the spectator. Spectators at Raptor Show
The Casey family developed the original Bearizona USA which today is the 4th largest tourist attraction in South Dakota second only to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills–the brothers hope to duplicate that success “out in the wild west” and to build green using solar and water recovery, reuse and not to mention access to all that traffic headed to the Grand Canyon. The Park provides the perfect opportunity to see many of the wonderful creatures that wander the trails of North America and a place to get out stretch your legs and look around. I rather liked the flute player but some folks are less tolerant ! Everyone likes the four bear cubs in the kindergarten, two are rescues and two were born at Bearizona. Those big, beautiful bisons, Irma, Yankee, Doodle, Dandy ! Are all beautiful and standouts and worth the drive without the bears….they move in and out of the shadows close to the road, their size force me to use a wide angle to include their entire 1200 pounds! Bearizona has built shallow animal enclosures that keep the creatures close to the road with greater access for photographers half of the inmates are rescues and half are from private institutes like zoos or preserves, so most have seen people before and have a level of domestication and enjoy posing.
Location: Williams AZ, Bearizona has easy access located just south of I-40 at Highway 64 (Historic Route 66)
Only 58 miles to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and 25 miles west of Flagstaff, 216 miles southeast of Las Vegas
Directions: Take U.S. Highway 93 south for 103.8 miles. Merge onto Interstate 40 via the ramp on the left toward Flagstaff/Phoenix and travel 112 miles. Take Exit 165 (Williams/Grand Canyon). Go south for 0.25 miles. Bearizona is immediately on the left.
Visitors should allow one to two hours for their Bearizona adventure.
Hours: Open daily at 8 a.m. from March 1 through Dec. 31.
Closing time varies based on daylight hours. Park may close because of inclement weather.
Visitor rates: $16; $15 for seniors; $8 for children ages 4 to 12
Free for children 3 and younger. Season passes are $125.
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