I had seen the signs advertising Capital of Texas Zoo as we whizzed along Highway 71 East toward Bastrop several times. My curiosity piqued, I consulted the wisdom of yelp.com, where the few reviews glowed. So on a beastly hot Sunday afternoon, our family bestirred itself to the zoo.
My previous zoo experiences have been almost entirely urban and large – the San Antonio Zoo, the San Diego Wild Animal Park, the zoo in our former hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. To get to Capital of Texas Zoo, however, we turned off of 71 in Cedar Creek and drove four serpentine miles into what seemed like the middle of a horse pasture. “Is this a zoo for ranch animals?” my oldest inquired.
The answer turned out to be “not exactly.” This zoo, which in the last couple years has expanded its hours to 365 days per year, now houses five hundred animals. It’s a childhood dream come true for owner Michael Hicks, who runs the place with help from two full-time keepers, a corps of volunteers, and four teenaged Junior Keepers. Mr. Hicks designed the place to fulfill a dual mission of conservation and education, and he takes his Zoo Show on the road throughout the year.
Upon our arrival, we found the tiny entrance cabin occupied by snakes and a couple of tamarins but no homo sapiens. A sign advised us to “honk if no one is around.” We did so, and finally tracked down someone to take our money (Adults $7.99; children two and up $6.99) and sell us cups of zoo chow.
From there we enjoyed ambling along the shaded paths, engaging a cockatoo in conversation, grinning at the kneeling, toothy camel, and laughing aloud at the so-ugly-only-their-mamas-could-love-’em potbelly pigs. “Is that one pregnant?” we asked a passing staffer, “Or just … potbellied?”
My kids’ favorite attraction was the petting area, where eager goats and a burro craned their necks to eat pellets from our hands as two zebras looked on in the background. “Their noses tickle!” giggled my four year old. Meanwhile, I couldn’t get over the gorgeous plumage of the exotic birds that seemed to be everywhere.
When we approached the lion cage, my first thought was that I had never seen a lion at such close range before. I had to repeatedly remind myself that two layers of wire fence lay between us. Heightening the drama was the thunderous bumping coming from the adjacent cage, where a Siberian tiger engaged in a wrestling match with a washtub. We quite sympathized when he leaped into his pool for a refreshing dip.
Capital of Texas Zoo seems ideal for a half-day jaunt, possibly combined with other eastward attractions (McKinney Roughs; the Dinosaur Park). Families with younger animal lovers will probably find it most impressive, and will welcome the chance to interact with zoo inhabitants without fighting crowds. Bring well-filled water bottles or cash for the snack hut. Better yet, bring lunch and enjoy a picnic among the trees.