Feeling cooped up but still want to social distance? Check out the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, just about two hours west of the Best Southwest.
Get up close with an ostrich, hand feed a baby giraffe and try to spot the cheetahs camouflaged in the grass. And do it all without leaving your car. In fact, unless you need to use the restroom, Fossil Rim asks that you absolutely do NOT leave your car on this 7.2-mile self-driving tour of the wildlife center.
Stretched over 266 acres, Fossil Rim sports almost 50 different species of animals from wild turkeys to ostriches and African Spurred Tortoise to Southern Black Rhinoceros. Some animals are as familiar as the roadrunners on the side of the route, while others are as unfamiliar as the curly horned Addax. Don’t worry. When you arrive at the gate, the staff gives you a chart with photos and facts on all of the animals that you might see on the drive.
Advance reservations required
But you have to plan ahead.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fossil Rim tickets are only available online right now. Go to fossilrim.org and order your tickets ($24.95 for ages 12-61; $22.45 for ages 62 and over; $19.95 for ages 3-11; free for guests younger than 3). You will choose the date of your visit and a two-hour window when you will arrive. You will be emailed a bar code that the mask-wearing person at the gate will scan. During May, you will also receive a free bag of food to feed the animals.
For the animals in your own car, you can bring food and drinks (don’t feed these to the animals outside the car) just in case you get hungry. You can also make a pit stop at the Overlook Café for food to go or to use the porta potties, but you are asked to wear a mask if you do get out of the car.
But the real action is along the drive.
Some animals are hard to spot, stretching out in the shade of the mesquite and post oak trees. Others walk right up to your car to panhandle for the bag of treats you got at the gate. Toss the goodies (which look like cattle cake) away from your car or some of the more aggressive ones are liable to try to climb in with you.
Watch out for the ostrich
The staff warns not to feed the animals by hand, except the giraffes. But the ostriches and one super-friendly European Red Deer haven’t gotten the memo. The deer was working cars at an intersection on the path and stuck his whole head inside one car. The ostrich stationed itself at the end of the route to get all of the treats visitors have left.
One of the highlights of the drive are the giraffes, which walk right up to the car and eat treats out of your hands. These gentle creatures approach vehicles slowly and lower their heads to your open car window to see if you have treats. There are new babies to see, too.
Along the drive, you also see two large cheetah enclosures. You’ll know when you’re close because of the high fence. It’s kind of exciting to see a cheetah stationed on top of a mound looking at you like you could be dinner. The road is so close to the enclosures that without leaving your car you could be within a few yards of the fastest land mammal on Earth. And then you read the posted signs that cheetahs can leap 20 feet in one jump – and roll up your car window.
As you wind along the route, you start to appreciate the beautiful country in Glen Rose, which is the start of the Texas Hill Country. The road leads up to an overlook where you can see the rolling hills covered in trees, wildflowers and exotic animals.
You can’t miss the rhinoceros
Near the end of the route are the rhinos, stationed behind fences with sturdy bars. One massive rhinoceros was alone in an enclosure, while several adults and babies roamed over a larger area together. Even in your car, you’re only feet from these huge, powerful animals.
After you leave the park, there’s another row of porta potties, just in case you have to go before you go.
And don’t miss the bison grazing in the field along County Road 2008 at the beginning of the park.
The whole drive takes about two hours, but can go as fast or slow as you would like. The park is open daily at 8:30 a.m. and the last visitor has to be out of the park by 6:30 p.m.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, check out one of the restaurants in Glen Rose, like Hammond’s BBQ on Highway 67 or Pie Peddlers in the historic downtown.
If you need more adventure, get out of the car and walk where dinosaurs left their footprints permanently encased in the Paluxy River at Dinosaur Valley State Park. You’ll need to make advance reservations to get into the park, though. Go to https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/dinosaur-valley or call (254) 897-4588.
With some advance planning, you and your family can have some really wild adventures just a couple of hours from home.