Exotic Animal Adventure…in Strawberry Plains, TN
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This weekend I was visiting my best friend from college after too long a separation. She’s based in the Knoxville area, so we were looking for things to do. Dollywood was closed (who knew it wasn’t open all year round!?) but she found a groupon for Circle G Ranch Drive-Thru Safari and Petting Zoo. This had all the potential of being awesome and at the least, hilariously funny if it were lame, so we jumped on it.
On Saturday we headed out to Strawberry Plains, driving through a pretty residential area, when we arrived at Circle G a few minutes before it opened. You need to paint yourself a picture of driving through Tennessee countryside with low-slung brick ramblers and fronch porch white houses and then across the street you see zebras and antelope. Totally surreal.
While we were waiting for the gates to open, the cutest little pig purposefully heads over in our direction to check us out through the fence before bustling along to the lake for a drink and then back to the food troughs. An emu also stopped by to check us out. WOW.
So as we’re driving up to the window to pay for entrance the little pig comes back and hangs out around the cars, worrying us no end of accidentally running him over.
We’d seen on the website that for $15 you could rent a jeep. My friend drives a sedan and it would probably feel more like a “safari” in a jeep anyway, so we decided to do it. It turned out to be a great decision as the roads were gravel and steep, the windows soon became smeared with animal drool and occasionally a horn would hit the side. But I’m jumping ahead.
The Jeep wound up being an old Ford Explorer with the brake and check engine light permanently on (a little stressful). We bought 3 buckets of feed and were told we could go through the park as many times as we wished, so I started off driving and my friend would take the second lap so I could experience the animals.
We were the second car to enter the area and we weren’t even across the cattle guard before two emus blocked our way. I start freaking out because I’m inching forward, they’re not moving and I was sure I was going to hit them! Shannon was laughing her head off and telling me it was going to be ok until suddenly the emu came around the side of the car and stuck its evil head right into the window.
She screamed and it was my turn to laugh. We moved forward a little further into the park and were suddenly swarmed by antelope, other cool horned creatures, pigs, and emu.
At that point we were both shrieking as heads unexpectedly invaded the windows and blocked the road forward. It was awesome, frightening, and with regards to driving, extremely stressful and put us into peals of laughter.
This was better than we possibly dreamed. We kept our windows mostly closed except a small crack at the top and enjoyed the site of pot-bellied pigs competing with antelope for the food.
We assumed we’d just be making a small lap around the barn, but as we continued on the trail, we realized there was a good 2-3 miles of road to cover. Hmm…
With antelope running to keep up with the car we headed down the hill (at which point the ABS light came on — YIKES) and saw some zebras coming towards us a trot. Angry, pushy zebras. Some mountain goats (?) also came running. For several minutes we were trapped with noses in the window and big bodies blocking the car, and a good time was had by all.
The highlight was the adorable baby zebra shyly checking us out.
We finally got through and my nerves got a much needed break as we hit a stretch with no animals. I even exclaimed delightedly as a lone mountain goat came down the slope to meet us. Little did I know what was in store.
Huge tongues started licking the windows and we could hear long horns knocking against the car as they searched for food.
10 minutes later we’d cracked the windows open just enough to throw food car away from the car and distract them as we moved on. We had a welcome stretch of about half a mile of forested hills but no animals. At least we hoped no animals.
Then llamas appeared on the horizon, even more insistent then any previous animals had been.
From the llamas were camels behind fences (thank goodness or they probably would have kicked the car) and then donkeys gnawing on the windows.
It took about 45 minutes and I was exhausted from laughing, shrieking, and riding the breaks trying not to hit animals. Now it was Shannon’s turn. At this point the park was hopping with numerous cars out on the road. The animals had had quite a bit more feed at this point and while still aggressive were not quite as terrifying with their intensity, which I thought was totally unfair. Shannon should have had the “full” experience.
But it was nice to go through the areas, although I was still intimidated by the giant insistent noses. Something interesting we noted was cars with kids had their windows all the way down and though the animals were as far in the vehicle as possible there didn’t seem to be any licking or biting.
As we made the second circuit only a few new highlights, a mountain goat jumping and head butting the open window when we didn’t give it feed and the enclosure of strange horned animals.
The fluffiest chickens ever!
And a baby camel who was happy to be petted although after a while the mom was not so happy.
I HIGHLY recommend this awesome experience to everyone! And definitely bring an SUV or rent the jeep. They offer truck rides, but we both found the idea of open benches with potentially screaming kids, and not being able to avoid getting licked, unappealing.
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