Family Adventures

A Fresno Chaffee Zoo Adventure

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We took a drive to Fresno recently. The goal was to get Ryan to a very important job interview while the boys and I went shopping for groceries and farm supplies. In the end, the interview was a bust (they called Ryan to advise him that the position had been filled before we had even left town yet) and it really shattered my husband’s spirits. Apparently the interview itself had gone so well that the CEO of the company had told Ryan that he was “positive” Ryan would get the job and immediately scheduled a follow-up interview with the regional management for the following day… only to make the dreaded apology call a few hours later.

Unless Congress changes the laws, our unemployment extension expires in a few weeks. When that happens, we’ll lose our only source of income. Ryan and I have both been fighting a daily battle of looking for job openings, submitting resumes, filling out applications, doing skill assessment tests and going to interviews…but to no avail. This recent blow hit Ryan even harder than usual though. Maybe because the deadline is creeping up on us so soon. Maybe because it’s only a few weeks before Christmas and we can’t afford a tree. Whatever the reason, he was physically depressed. And the kids were feeding off of his misery. Something had to be done to brighten everyone’s spirits. Mom to the rescue…

We’ve lived in the Central Valley for a full year now and Ryan had made it clear (the day we moved!) that he wanted to take the boys to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo “one of these days”. Unfortunately it hadn’t been in the budget…and still wasn’t!…but we were already in Fresno and 60% of the budgetary concern had always been the gas needed to make the one-hour trip. So I spoke the words Ryan had been waiting twelve long months to hear:

“Why don’t we go to the zoo?”

Ryan lit up like a baby with a birthday cake! His sad slump was immediately replaced with a dad who was giddy to show his boys some tigers. So off we went to park the car, load the stroller, buy our tickets and venture into zoo awesomeness.

We visited the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in the early afternoon on a weekday, so other visitors were few and far between. This is an ideal time for Zoo visits when you have two young children. Less people means less distractions, less background noise, less contagious illnesses (especially since its flu season!) and less people giving you dirty looks when there’s a tantrum on hand. Less is always more.

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As soon as we walked through the gates, a sign directed us to the different animals with colorful arrows and illustrations. Charlie immediately zeroed-in on the wolves until I read him the part about the giraffe feedings. Seeing a giraffe eat became his momentary obsession so we followed the signs to the giraffes.

What we stumbled upon next can only be described as “what three-year-old’s dreams are made of”: Children hand-feeding leafy branches directly to the giraffes! For just $2, a parent can approach the fence and, with the help of a zookeeper, assist their child in feeding the giant animals. JD and I stood back with the stroller so his unpredictable squeals wouldn’t startle the giant towering creatures, but JD still giggled and clapped as he watched Charlie and the giraffe in action.

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Next stop was the “small animal encounter” (aka petting zoo). It was remarkably clean and spacious, as far as petting zoos go. Charlie and JD spent a few minutes petting the sheep and Pygmy goats but neither seemed overly impressed by them. Maybe because they see similar animals every day in our neighbors’ yards!

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Instead, the highlight was a big red calf named “Buttercup” who was laying in the middle of the pen. She was extremely affectionate and wanted to be pet and brushed. After a while I had to practically tear the boys away from her…including Ryan!

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But we still stopped to pet the llama on the way out.

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After a brief stop for some cotton candy, we took a few pictures of the Christmas tree. The Chaffee Zoo was just starting to prepare for their “Zoo Lights” evening events, so the whole place was strung up with lights and Christmas displays. I can only imagine how beautiful it would look at night! Although we couldn’t see it lit, we still enjoyed the holiday atmosphere that it provided during our visit.

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Our local Petco has been running a promotional sale on baby guinea pigs lately, so we can’t walk past the store without Charlie begging to go inside to see them. He’s even given nicknames to some of his favorites! Needless to say, he was stunned when he first laid eyes on a Capybara at the zoo.

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“Whoa. BIG guinea pigs!!!”

And I couldn’t imagine a little boy more full of excitement and wonder as he watched those Capybaras …until a Giant Anteater emerged inside the same enclosure and sauntered right in front of the Capybara. Before I could say anything, Charlie dropped his cotton candy and excitedly yelled

“Oh my God! A DINOSAUR!!!!”

His statement spread like wildfire and soon the children surrounding us (at the railing to the enclosure) were all chattering loudly about the “dinosaur”. I updated my Facebook status:

“Thanks to my kid, a lot of parents will be having conversations with their kids about dinosaurs and anteaters today…”

I can kinda see the similarities:

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The rainforest and bird enclosures were fantastic. Most zoos only let you see their exotic bird assortments from outside the mesh-lined cages so I was pleasantly surprised that they let us go inside with the birds. I was even more pleased to discover the convenient stroller-accessible wide pathways inside! Charlie and JD were both enchanted by the close encounters with the beautiful birds and more than once I had to remind Charlie that we can’t touch or hold them like our chickens…especially when I’d catch him talking to them in his quiet, reassuring “I’m going to round you up so I can pick you up but I don’t want you to panic and flutter your wings when I grab you” voice. Luckily he obeyed my dirty looks and left those birdies alone!

The newest section of the zoo is their “Sea Lion Cove” and it was a real treat to take the boys to. It reminded us of all the trips we used to take to San Francisco where we’d always make a detour to buy fudge and eat it on the pier while watching the barking Sea Lions. The “cove” is clean, beautifully constructed and sets a realistic ocean atmosphere for the sea lions…including lots of faux “starfish” for Charlie to count. Be warned that this is the most popular attraction at the zoo right now, so be patient. This especially applies if you’re pushing a stroller because the crowds can easily cause a traffic jam. Don’t let this deter you from walking all the way through the exhibit though, or you’ll miss the most fantastic part of the cove: The underwater viewing area. We could’ve stayed there all day watching the sea lions “fly” through the water.

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We later walked past the kangaroos and I was reminded that our recent movie venture (we took the boys to a matinee showing of “Rise of the Guardians”) was still fresh on Charlie’s mind. A large male kangaroo was lounging fairly close to the railing, in perfect view of the kids. Charlie was ecstatic:

“Oh WOW!! Zoo caught THE EASTER BUNNY!!!”

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Several times I said “No, kangaroo!” and several times Charlie corrected me “No, EASTER BUNNY!!” In his defense, the animal did look a LOT like Hugh Jackman’s Easter Bunny. The character in the film was also extremely defensive about being called a kangaroo.

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All-in-all, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo was extremely enjoyable. It was clean and well-kept, beautifully landscaped and had all the conveniences needed to honestly accommodate families. The prices were very reasonable too! Most importantly though, is that the animals all looked healthy and comfortable. Aside from the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Ryan and I have also had the pleasure of visiting three major zoos in our lifetime: The Oakland Zoo, The San Francisco Zoo and The Great London Zoo. I can honestly say that the Fresno Chaffee Zoo is hands-down our favorite. The emphasis is on the animals, instead of rides and amusements. The most most memorable attractions were actually the animal interactions available: Feed a giraffe, brush a calf, touch a stingray, get pooped on by an exotic bird. …OK so maybe that last one isn’t technically a *good* thing, but it means they’re flying all around you, which is incredible. I highly recommend a visit and I vow to bring my boys back whenever we’re in Fresno. I also hope and pray that we can go to one of their Zoo Lights nights because it even looks amazing during the day.

The Details:

Attraction: Fresno Chaffee Zoo
Breakdown of Costs:
$5.00 – Parking
$14.00 – Two adult admissions @ $7.00 each
$3.50 – One child admission (JD was free)
$2.00 – Feed the giraffes
$2.50 – Cotton candy

Total cost of zoo visit:$27.00

Seeing the look on my son’s face when he saw a giant guinea pig, a dinosaur and the Easter Bunny for the first time: Priceless.

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