Bearizona: Get up Close to Western Wildlife

Located near the city of Williams, Arizona, along the famous Route 66, Bearizona is a free-range zoo, a place you can explore from the comfort of your vehicle. There’s also an open-top bus called the Wild Ride Bus Tour, if you’d like to take advantage of this option along the three miles through 160 acres of a beautiful Ponderosa pine forest.

bearizona sign

The directions given at the entrance were brief and simple but sufficient: “Drive slow, keep car windows up when instructed to do so and if an animal does charge your car, move forward slowly and stay calm. And you can go around as many times as you want.” The only thing that wasn’t mentioned was the best choice of music for the drive. I preferred silence, while my wife insisted on a nice assortment of soft instrumental tunes.

bearizonaFear and excitement drove a wild set of emotions through me as we passed through the first gate, which exhibited an air of Jurassic Park. We opened the car windows upon seeing a sign that indicated to do so, but the moment ushered a blast of dirt into the car and all over our faces. We strained our eyes to see what was the cause of it, but whatever it was had either just escaped or was simply hiding from us.

mountain goats

The next few exhibits were similar, with some birds, a few sleeping deer, and one buck looking for a place to pee. For some reason, my two, small kids found it hysterical watching it urinate near our car. That being said, the car windows went up so that their boisterous laughter couldn’t freak the animal out.


We came upon the first windows-up exhibit when my wife spotted a small pack of wolves sleeping on the forest ground. They raised their heads as park caregivers wondered freely around them. One of them even stepped over two of these lazy carnivores. “Windows down,” my wife said in disappointment at the site of these docile animals. We stopped the car for a moment, turned down the volume of instrumental music and watched the wolves do pretty much nothing. The kids were excited to see a group of “doggies” napping.

sleeping bearsUpon seeing the bear sign, I let out a “woo-hoo!” like a Western cowboy.  My wife, right on cue, made sure all windows were up as the sign indicated. I also reminded myself not stop if a bear came up to our car. The moment we drove over the ridges on the side of the road, we came across a group of bears. I felt like breaking out in a Dr. Seuss rhyme: “one bear, two bear, brown bear, black bear…” However, I’m sure the Doctor would have done much better.

Some roamed around, while most appeared napping, rolling over occasionally to sniff the air for signs of food coming from vehicles. They were active enough for us to heed the warning and keep close the car windows closed. I had always thought of bears as giants towering over everything. I dreamed of seeing them peer through the car window with huge claws drawn and teeth bared at the moment they were about to kill their prey.  True, the bears were big, but not as big as I had expected, hence my visions of them shattered like a wine glass full of Merlot.

bearsAfter the bears, it was a section reserved for a rarely seen American cow, which was grazing quietly. This also led to the area of the American buffalo, the large beasts that once roamed freely in the millions across the country’s open plains. There was a rather large herd of buffalo with one albino in the group. We were lucky to stop the car close to where they stood grazing peacefully. Their intimidating size demands respect from all who were lucky enough to be so near to them. I’ve heard stories of buffalo charging cars in similar environments, but I had the feeling this was a happy, docile crew, which seemed to pose for the many pictures I took.

american buffalo

We finished with a final drive though the brown bear exhibit. It was a really hot day, so who could blame them for napping. Visitors receive a free, bear-paw sticker upon finishing the drive, a subtle way of reminding you to take the drive again.

petting zoo sign“Our mission is to promote conservation and preservation through safe, affordable, memorable, and educational encounters with North American wildlife.”

petting zoo

We parked the car and headed to the area of the park where visitors are free to walk about. It’s divided into two sections that allow you to observe animals like bear cubs, wolf pups wandering along smaller paths. The best part of this section is the petting zoo, where kids and adults can interact with some friendly goats and fancy-looking chickens.

To finish the day, we attended the wild bird show, in which various birds of pray fly overhead while a guide explains the details about each one. The show concluded with a bird going around to collect tips from visitors. I want to know how I can get one of those money birds.petting zoo animals

It was a fun adventure for the kids to enjoy the animals while being safe in the car, and as a treat to pet some of the animals in the park. I have to admit my favorite part of the whole thing was the one hour-ride back to our hotel, listening to my kids’ interpretation of the park the whole time.

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