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Animal outing is one for the ages
We were leery about making the trek across the state to see a zoo. That's why it turned out to be such a great adventure

 Diana and Hunter drop food into the mouth of a buffalo.
CATHY DYSON/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 10/12/2012

By Cathy Dyson

HAD BETTER judgment prevailed, we probably wouldn't have driven 3 hours to get to a zoo on the other side of the state.

But then we wouldn't have had the experience of a lifetime, either.

I took off Columbus Day because the grandchildren were out of school, and I wanted one more excursion before it got too cool. How ironic is it that Monday was the coldest day since late spring?

Because of the weather, we were leery about traveling Interstates 64 and 81 all the way to the Virginia Safari Park in Natural Bridge. The park bills itself as two zoos in one because it's part-safari, part-petting zoo, and is home to more than 1,000 animals.

Diana, my daughter, had wanted to go for some time and take her son, Hunter, who's 19 months old.

My 11-year-old granddaughter, Emily, also was excited about being able to reach out the car window and feed elk, deer and camels.

My 8-year-old grandson, Tyler, didn't want to go because of the long car ride.

I was disappointed about that, and I guess it was part of the trepidation I had Monday morning.

I took a heavy jacket--but not gloves because it seemed too early for them--and was grateful Emily's mother had talked her out of wearing shorts.

We headed to Diana's house, then pointed the car toward the mountains. The interstates were kind to us, and we made good time.

We got to the park minutes before the wagon ride that takes visitors through the park. I grabbed the blanket and flannel sheet I always keep in the trunk, and Hunter got really excited at the sight of tractors. (The boy loves anything with wheels, probably even more than animals.)

That's when we realized how special this day was going to be.

Because there were no other idiots who wanted to brave the cold temperatures--which were even chillier because we were in the Blue Ridge Mountains--we were the only people on the ride. Our tickets entitled us to a bucket of food each, but because the animals are used to getting a certain amount each wagon trip, our guide, Chad, put out 10 buckets for us.


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