Monthly Archives: August 2022

World Zoos

According to Road Affair, the San Diego Zoo is the 3rd best zoo in the world. Ruth & I have been to this zoo twice. It has been several years since our last visit also with children, which was a disappointment. We spent the morning attending animal shows, so by the time we were ready to see some exotic animals they were resting and not to be seen. It was a good lesson. Since that day zoos have fallen out of favor. Many believe that caging animals for human observation is an outdated concept despite the continuing popularity of zoos around the world. Go to any zoo and you will find people looking at rare animals in large numbers. Zoos employ large numbers of staff and many volunteers. The San Diego Zoo is no exception. Attached to another massive attraction, Balboa Park, this zoo was very busy and well attended when we were there both times. As long as people want to see animals, it seems, zoos will be tourist attractions.

I learned a lot about zoos while researching this essay. I did not know very much about them before I wrote it. Perhaps that’s because I grew up in a city with a first class zoo that remains free. You can spend a lot of money, I have learned, at a free attraction. The zoo in St. Louis is certainly one of the best in the world. I was surprised to not find it listed among the 8 zoos reviewed by Road Affair. This is a travel blog that specializes in seeing the world. I like its spirit and its chief ‘come on’ phrase “Stop dreaming, start traveling.”

According to Road Affair, which has been around since 2014 and considers itself a major independent travel blog, it currently has a buzzy lead that promotes visits by travelers to the world’s most beautiful libraries. There are 15 zoos in the world worth seeing according to the couple that started Road Affair. They recommend visits to several zoos I am not familiar with. The #1 zoo they tout is in Vienna, Austria. Among its assets is the fact that it’s the oldest zoo in the world. The #2 zoo is in the United States and one I am not familiar with, the Bronx Zoo in New York City. According to this travel blog, the Bronx Zoo is 265 acres big and exhibits 6,000 animals. Its 3rd zoo is the one in San Diego that they freely admit might be the best zoo in the world while calling it the most visited zoo in the country. They mention its 3,500 animals. #4 is the Singapore Zoo that I know nothing about. The same goes for their #5 selection, the zoo in Beijing, China. #6 is the only zoo in Africa that they recommend. It’s in Pretoria, South Africa, and has a special feature. There are 500 species of marine life in its aquarium. The zoo in Pretoria has been around since 1889 and is the largest zoo in Africa. It has an endangered okapi. The zoo in Berlin, Germany, ranks #7, and the 8th is the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. This is the only zoo in the top 8 that Ruth & I have been to other than the San Diego Zoo. Most tourists get to the Taronga Zoo by boat from Sydney Harbor’s Circular Quay. I spent a lot of time while there observing a Komodo Dragon. Ruth got to hold a koala and still talks about this experience. Check out Road Affair, a travel blog, for their other 6 selections.

Visitors to the San Diego Zoo are given a map. Too late I discovered that it also has a Komodo Dragon. The most interesting thing I saw while wandering about it was a trainer feeding an elephant. The helpful zoo map was invaluable. I learned from it how to board the Kangaroo busses and the free tram, that this zoo specializes in Australian animals, and that it has a Red Panda, the most interesting animal I saw in the Australia Zoo north of Brisbane, Australia, run by the Irwin family. I consider it one of the best zoos in the world. How did Road Affair miss the St. Louis and the Australian zoos?


The Best State Museums

Many states have museums that boost their histories and resources. They are usually close to the state Capitol building. The ones in Maine and Wyoming are especially memorable. The Alaska State Museum is now in its capital Juneau but closer to its port than the capitol. It opened in 2016 and seems still new. It’s definitely worth a visit because it encompasses the entire state history and includes all of its native groups, which are many and varied. They range from the Tlingit culture of the Inside Passage to the unique lives of the Arctic natives to the very different people who inhabit the Aleutian Islands.

There are at least 30,000 items of interest on display at all times in this State Museum, and it can be exhausting if you try to view them all. I would suggest limiting your visit in time to 2 hours and choosing areas of interest rather than trying to see it all and failing. Pay special attention to the I Spy game created by Jeff Brown, the so-called Minister of Merriment, for visiting children. Displays seem to focus on the human history of the state, which struck me as wise. Its curators seems to have special interests in the baskets that are unique to each area, salmon fishing, Alaska’s varied animals, its specialized boats, and its totally unique history that still seems contemporary when compared to other states. It is, all in all, worth a visit.

There seems to be more local art on display in this vast new building than is usual for State Museums. There was a hat very similar to the one I was about to see in Haines Sheldon Museum that is both a Tlingit treasure and the star of its splendid collection. It had been recently appraised as being worth more than a million dollars.

The story of Alaska’s native population began more than 10,000 years ago and continues. This museum has wisely attempted to try to tell Alaska’s story, warts and all, from their beginnings when they crossed the Bering Strait and settled in this vast expanse of virgin territory. It goes on to develop and explain its later years when Russians followed the early natives to Alaska and developed a culture with their specific influences that lasted for a couple of hundred years and culminated in the purchase of Alaska from the US government during its Civil War. The story of William H. Seward’s purchase of Alaska is an especially vivid part of Alaska’s history and best told in Sitka at a state historic site I was lucky to visit. Seward was, perhaps, the most important Secretary of State in US history. Many in Washington were very opposed to his purchase of Alaska and vocal about it.

On this trip Ruth and I were lucky to spend time in the town of Seward. This was our first visit to this very Alaskan town, and I was not the least bit surprised to find a museum there devoted to the Good Friday earthquake that severely affected this fishing town. This earthquake was centered only 95 miles from it, and it was in the path of the tidal wave caused by this 9.2 magnitude tremor. The museum about it is in Seward’s library. The most interesting woman we met in Alaska was driving a bus in Seward. She was a long-term resident of Unalaska in The Aleutians and was only in Seward for this one summer. It was a treat to talk to her, and I’m sure she doesn’t often get the chance to talk to someone who has spent some time on her island.


Alaska’s Irreplaceable Capital

The State of Alaska has the United State’s most unusual capital, and it was fun to be back in it after a long absence. It’s a city of 33,000 people without an exit. You can only drive 190 miles to see all of it, and that does not include Douglas Island. It’s large in land area but in Juneau you’ re limited to the city itself. You can’t go to another town from it and probably will never will be able to.

Ruth and I have thoroughly explored Juneau during previous visits, so we had no need to rent a vehicle to see more of it. Once you have seen salmon spawn on Douglas Island, been to the Mendenhall Glacier, and climbed this city’s many staircases, you don’t feel the need to see more of Juneau. We limited our time there to the dock area and the closed State Capitol and feel like we have seen enough of it. Our son-in-law, a frequent visitor to Alaska, encouraged us to explores its many trails and go to the top of Mount Roberts. We had time but limited ourselves to town instead. We felt as if we had seen enough of Juneau by the time we had spent several hours exploring the town.

The dock area offers much to do. After walking uptown to see much more of Juneau and having a coffee and sandwich at Heritage, we were content to stay in town and ride the tram up Mount Roberts, Juneau’s biggest attraction, like everyone else.

There are many monuments now on this waterfront, and I really liked the memorial to Patsy Ann. Patsy Ann has a noted sculpture on this waterfront now. She was a bull terrier that was deaf from birth, met ships regularly, and was everyone’s pet. It’s an easy walk from her image to the tram up Mount Roberts, where we spent a lot of time watching a bald eagle survey the area from a tree and greeting a newly married couple who chose this local landmark as the ideal place to merge their fortunes.

What else is there to do in Juneau’s dock area for tourists besides entry to the Goldbelt tram? There is a visitor center, several other sculptures, great views of cruise ships, an easy walk to Juneau’s new and must-see Walter Soboleff Center, and a short stroll to the comprehensive and also relatively new Alaska State Museum on Whittier Street.


Towns Named Kirkwood

Some town names simply fall out of favor. Kirkwood is one of them. There are said to be 18 of them in the world, but most of them are very tiny or have become part of larger communities. There is one true international Kirkwood in the world. The name derives from Scotland where it means “the wood near the church”. There is only one Kirkwood of consequence. It is in the Saint Louis area as a major suburb and Amtrak terminus.

The Kirkwood in West Virginia came into existence in 1902 and was gone by 1939. The Kirkwood in tiny Delaware has been absorbed into the town of Kemps Corner. The Kirkwood in California is almost devoid of people and is the name of a mountain resort south of Lake Tahoe in the Eldorado National Forest. The Kirkwood in Tennessee is 8 miles from the town of Clarksville. The other 12 Kirkwoods are mostly unincorporated towns of little consequence.

That leaves only one important Kirkwood in the entire United States, the town of 27,500 people that has become a satellite community for St. Louis. We have spent a lot of time in this town and like it a lot. It is a very settled community with a fine international food mart, lots of gardens, and regular Amtrak service to distant places like Kansas City. It is definitely a town with many churches. Ruth had 2 friends who resided there and were property owners. The Kirkwood in Ohio is a town of only about 400 people near Lake Erie. Originally called Pontiac, its post office remained in operation until 1913. Its name honors Kirkwood Gillespie who owned a local grain elevator at one time.

The only international Kirkwood is in South Africa. It’s a town just north of Port Elizabeth. About 14,000 people live there. It is near the Addo Elephant Park.


Local Attractions

On July 1st and 4th Ruth and I were restless. We decided to visit some local places we had not been to for years. This included The Maryhill Museum, Cascade Locks, peaches, and a Columbia River Cruise.

We had expected a visit from family that did not happen because we got COVID and they cancelled. We had not been up the Columbia River as tourists for several years. It was time.

The Maryhill Museum is totally unique. It sits high over the Columbia River about 100 miles from our home. It is the unlikliest place for an art museum you could ever imagine. It is closer to Goldendale, WA than it is to Portland because of a man named Sam Hill. Sam dabbled in road construction, utilities, and tourism long before anyone else. He was a railroad executive when trains were just beginning to get built. He had an idea to develop roads in Oregon and Washington in the early part of the 20th century to encourage travelers who were just beginning to hit the road to see the country but not to resettle.

He built his museum way up the Columbia River on a high bluff with an idea to live there and develop farming in the area to attract settlers. He befriended European royalty and modern dancers like Loie Fuller and began building. One of his bright ideas was to re-create Stonehenge near his property. It’s still there and a genuine curiosity. He must have somewhat recognized his folly and decided that a memorial to World War I fighters was needed. He completed Stonehenge in 1929 and invited the Queen of Romania and Queen Victoria of England’s granddaughter to come to Washington to dedicate it. She accepted. His wife had visited Maryhill but refused to live there. Loie Fuller convinced him to turn Maryhill into a museum after construction stopped in 1917. “What the Sam Hill?” you might exclaim.

Maryhill was completed and eventually became a museum. The Queen did show up to dedicate it. Now it is only opened from March 15 until November 15 and has some unusual collections. Loie influenced Sam to collect Rodin sculptures and they are part of what makes this weird museum great. It is also the repository of some unusual European and American paintings by still unknown artists, objects from the Queen of Romania, some unique international chess sets, and mostly local Native American artifacts. It is certainly eclectic.

We stopped in Cascade Locks for soft-serv ice cream at a place called Eastwind that is both very old and highly popular. It is one of the few places where people still stand in line to get ice cream. Then we decided to take the river cruise that we had planned to use for visiting grandchildren. This was a mistake. We didn’t complete the cruise that began in Cascade Locks and went up the Columbia River passing the town of Stevenson before returning to the dock. For tourists a longer cruise is possible. It goes down the river to Portland and under some downtown bridges of note. This takes up to 7 hours, may be worth doing if you are unfamiliar with the area, and is accomplished by Bigfoot jet-boats.

We were too early to buy local peaches.