Very Tiny Voyage: ZooLights

2013-12-13 19.33.23

I am not a big Christmas person. I am, however, dating a big Christmas person. What this means is that I’m experiencing twenty times as much Christmas this year as I have since I was a small child. And not all of it is terrible! For example, this past weekend we checked out the delightful ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo here in Chicago.

I love Lincoln Park Zoo in the warmer months, because it’s free and it’s easy to get to on public transit and there are penguins, sea otters, lions, and an aardvark. Have you ever seen an aardvark in person? It’s one of the cutest things in the entire world. I highly recommend it. During ZooLights, though, none of these animals are available for viewing. In reading the word ZooLights, you should put all of the emphasis on the Lights portion. It is, after all, presented by ComEd, and in the dead of Chicago winter.

We saw these animals:

One (1) tufted lynx. It was marching back and forth in its cage with a look on its face that clearly said, “I would like to eat all of these children’s faces.”

Two (2) primates of indeterminate sorts sitting totally still in the far upper reaches of their cages. They were done for the day.

Other than that, the animals were all made out of lights. Besides having all of the trees decked out in colored lights and a pretty elaborate lights show timed to Christmas carols, there were displays set up here and there, among the ice sculptor and the kiddie train and the Santa photos and the hot chocolate stands. These displays did include the two most famous Christmas animals:

The traditional Christmas dragon…

2013-12-13 19.27.17

…and the Fruit Stripes zebras.

2013-12-13 19.22.23

When the weather isn’t utterly freezing, it makes for a nice, festive stroll. If you’re in the area, check it out over the next couple of weeks. It runs through January 5.



What is it?

Welcome to Go Go Go’s newest venture, a photographic explainer of unfamiliar things seen while traveling.

Without further ado, here is today’s photo:

What is it? Glad you asked.

This is an animal overpass in Banff National Park.

What happens when a transcontinental highway is built right through a wilderness area, where wild animals migrate and look for food, or just wander about, doing their wild animal thing? Roadkill. And a lot of it.

And not your usual roadkill of squirrels, raccoons, or skunks. In places like Banff, it’s often bears, elk, and cougars.

The “ecopassages” help animals maintain their usual migratory paths or daily feeding routines without the danger of wandering across several lanes of traffic. The ecopassage in this photo crosses the Trans-Canada Highway, and the entire length of the highway is bordered by very high fences that make it possible to cross the highway only by way of the overpass.

According to National Geographic, the animal overpasses in Banff are among the most successful in North America, leading to a 96% decrease in the deaths of elk and other hoofed animals. Ninety-six percent!

Banff is the first park  I’ve seen with such an impressive amount of infrastructure designed for the protection of wildlife. Banff also has the widest, fastest-moving, busiest road I’ve ever seen in a national park. Most park roads are two lanes through forested areas or following the winding curves of mountainsides. Animal overpasses or tunnels under the roads aren’t always possible in the parks, so it’s up to drivers to go slow and watch for wildlife.

Even in Banff, once you’re off the Trans-Canada Highway, the fences and overpasses largely disappear, and in our short time there we witnessed a car totaled by a caribou that probably bounded out into the road leaving the driver little time to react.

Hitting a wild animal has got to be the worst feeling in the world. I hope I never know that feeling. And finding yourself stranded miles from anything and likely without cell service because your car is trashed is no way to spend a vacation. So please take care, obey the speed limits, and be alert.

Yorkville 4-H Welcomes You Swine to the Racine County Fair


Summer in the Midwest is county fair time, and visiting one as a city person is essentially going to a foreign land. A adorable, delicious, shockingly fun foreign land. I went to the Racine County Fair in Union Grove, Wisconsin, over the weekend, but I think you can use this as a field guide to any standard-order county or state fair.


County fairs are separated from the typical suburban fun fair or city street fest by the showing and auctioning of farm animals. A stroll through the barns is odoriferous but also pretty impressive—pigs, for example, are massive (and really funny when sleeping on their sides, kicking their legs, having little piggy dreams). But a good county fair will also have a petting zoo. I felt a little weird going into the petting zoo as an adult, but there was too much cuteness to walk by. The stalls, run by local 4-H kids who think it’s hilarious that you, city-dweller, don’t know the proper way to hold a duck (on your lap, duh, and also those things are super squirmy), are full of chickens, kittens, puppies, ponies, and baby goats. Baby goats! Did I mention one-week old baby goats?


There are more exotic animals at the county fair (and I’m going to avoid making some kind of horrible condescending hillbilly cheesehead joke here, but you can insert your own if you like). The Racine County fair had the Tiger Show, which definitely included some very sad looking tigers but really didn’t count as much of a show. Watching it was a mixture of feeling awful that those tigers are likely not having a great life and being scared that they were going to get loose and eat my arm. A woman standing next to me asked her husband, “Is this making you nervous to watch?” in a way that made me think she was alluding to a previous tiger incident in his life. I wanted to ask, but I didn’t want to provoke a flashback.


County fairs are made for grazing. There’s just too much good food. Some of it is just plain old good-good, like home-baked chocolate eclairs (made with Real Dairy because this is Wisconsin) or this incredibly juicy and flavorful Italian sausage.

And some of the food is ridiculous-good. Fairs are known for the trend of deep-frying everything. I saw fried shrimp, fried Twinkies, fried Snickers, and fried Oreos. But I couldn’t pass up fried bacon-wrapped tater tots.

Yeah, that’s nacho cheese dipping sauce.

And, obviously, fried cheese curds. Again, it’s Wisconsin.


There are three main buckets o’ fun at a county fair: rides, games, and shows. My considerate travel companion didn’t make me go on any rides after I told him I’d probably cry and throw up simultaneously, and we tried to play Skee-ball, but a bunch of punk kids were hogging all the lanes, having come prepared with bags of quarters and an insatiable thirst for stuffed prizes. But we did make it to the Big Show, what we really came for: the demolition derby.

I’d never been to a demolition derby before, and I wasn’t sure what I’d think or even really what I was getting into. I was surprised by how quickly I got into it, picking a favorite car based on how they were decorated or, in the second bout, the gender of the drivers (the announcer kept telling all the women in the crowd to support their fellow ladies). I was also surprised that it wasn’t all that violent. The cars definitely got wrecked to bits in amusing and smoky ways, but there wasn’t a point at which it seemed like anyone would get hurt or that anything would burst into a ball of flame. It was just like overgrown bumper cars, and I dug it. Wanton destruction in the name of good, clean family fun was the perfect capper to an all-American day at the fair.

The Wilds: Africa in Ohio


Recently, my wife and I were invited to take an open-air tour at The Wilds, a wildlife conservation and research center located about an hour east of Columbus, Ohio. If you’re unfamiliar with The Wilds, it is a cross between a zoo, a safari, and Jurassic Park.

Once a large strip mine owned by American Electric Power, over 9,000 acres of reclaimed land were donated to promote the management of both animals and habitat in 1986. In 1996, The Wilds opened its gates to visitors with drive-though tours. Today, the park has expanded to include overnight stays in yurts, zip-line adventures, horseback rides, gift shops, food stands, and Wildside Tours—a chance to get up close and personal with the 25 non-native animal species.

We did the open-air safari, a two and a half hour guided tour, winding slowly over rolling hills and gravel roads.

The day started off with overcast skies, which offered good lighting for photos. A slight drizzle and 70-degree weather gave us a comfortable ride. We did, however, receive occasional gusts of rain, urging us to wrap our seven-month-old baby, Huxley, in his momma’s scarf. We like to call the look “Lawrence of A-baby-ia.”

Adorable *and* a pun

Adorable *and* a pun

After passing through the electrified gates, the Pere David’s deer were the first animals that we encountered. They look like the offspring of a common whitetail deer and a western elk. Our guide told us the story of how they came to be named: A French missionary living in China, Armand David, sent specimens of the deer back to Paris in the late 1880s. Once in France, a biologist studying the specimens referred to them as Father David’s deer, and the name stuck.

3-Pere_Davids_DeerWe watched as the deer sauntered around their enclosure—a wide-open area with a few scattered ponds. They seemed at home in this environment and paid little attention to our safari truck as it bounced along a ridgeline. Apparently, the males decorate their impressive racks with clumps of dirt and grass to attract mates, or maybe as a snack for later.


“Keep your eyes open for any large rocks,” the guide said as we ventured into rhinoceros territory. It wasn’t long before one was spotted about 150 feet away from us. Rhinos really do look like large rocks from a distance. The “Oooohs” and “Aaaahs” on the bus gave way to squeals as a smaller gray rock stood up. It was a baby! We took a few photos, wishing that they were closer.

5-American_BisonWe rolled along for a little while without seeing any exotic species and enjoyed the scenery instead. At the next stop, our guide pointed out some brown-looking bushes on a very distant hillside—a herd of American bison.



6-GiraffeLater on the tour, we came upon a giraffe that was walking down the middle of the road. He stared at us as we passed and then broke into an awkward sprint. We had never seen a giraffe run. 7-Przewalskis_HorseSeeing the fellow’s ungainly gate really confirmed the difference between seeing animals at a zoo and taking a trip through The Wilds. While obviously not as natural as viewing animals in their native habitats, The Wilds offers the chance to see exotic and endangered species—like the caramel-colored Przewalski’s horses—grazing, socializing, and roaming.

The only downside to the wide-open landscape is that you don’t necessarily get to see all of the animals. That was the case for us at the Carnivore Center. We saw three African Wild Dogs tussling in the sunlight, but the cheetahs were napping and the Dholes were hiding from the shame of being named Dholes. 

The last few miles of the tour offered glimpses of several African creatures including a herd of Sable antelope and some zebras. While some of the animals played near the road, others preferred to lie in the tall grass, offering only a peek at horns, ears, and snouts.




At the end of our journey, we could see the welcome center and gift shop, causing us to reflect on our two and a half hours spent in company of beasts.

No dinosaurs were present on the tour, but we couldn’t help but make references to Jurassic Park each time an electric gate swung open. Fortunately, unlike in Jurassic Park, no one on the tour was maimed by a T-rex when we stopped to take a restroom break.

[Ryan Grundish is a carpenter in the Hocking Hills area of Southeastern Ohio, where he was born and raised. He attended Ohio University for graphic design and enjoys fishing, kayaking, playing airsoft, and planning a food truck empire. He is married to his childhood soulmate, photographer Elizabeth Nihiser. On 12.12.12 at 12:01 a.m., they welcomed their son, Huxley Finn, into the world.]