Drive an hour or two north from PHX and you can escape the boiling cauldron that is the “Valley of the Sun” and into the promise land of rolled down car windows, fresh cool air, red rocks and pine trees.
Drive another hour or so further and the crisp air has a slight chill (for a desert dweller like me anything below 80 causes an involuntary shiver) the altitude change is noticeable, the Grand Canyon is within reach and if you stop just outside of Wilson, you can drive next to bears.
So… we did.
Jay and Stacy did Bearizona.
Now, I have to catch you up on a few things.
Jay and I have been married 20 years. From the day we met it was instant attraction turned almost immediately into love and grew from there. Far from perfect or easy, growing in to an “adult” through 20 years alongside another human, no matter how much you love them, is hard. Life is hard. If you don’t understand that sentiment read no further.
I have called Jay “my bear” for most of our 20 years for various reasons, but recently “bears” have been prominent in our life, more so than ever before.
The little school Jay started teaching at last year and that I now volunteer at as their resource/librarian are called the “Bears”. As we continue growing this new little school by building golf and table tennis teams and science programs, the word “bears” appears over and over again.
So, with school out for the summer, a good 3 +months in the desert with no rain just triple digit heat and our anniversary month at hand, Bearizona needed to happen.
Coming from Gold Canyon thankfully, and not downtown PHX, gave us the instant opportunity to take a more scenic and much less traveled route up north. Sadly, we did see the effects of the drought in certain hard-hit areas as we drove alongside what were once campsites near smaller lakes now diminished or entirely evaporated. A sobering reality when you live in the desert continually hearing about months of no rain, 3% humidity and looming fire danger.
The fact that AZ has such a wide variety of plant and animal life specific to our desert that can thrive in such extreme climates is awesome. If you can drive through untouched areas covered in Saguaros and not be awed by them
A: you have no clue what you are looking at
B: you need to learn that what you are staring at is possibly 100-200 years old, can weigh over 3000 lbs and took 10 years in the first part of its life to grow 1 to 2 inches hidden by a protector plant, those “arms” drawn like cartoons take more than 50 years to appear and Saguaros only grow in our desert.
C: you are not in my car
Wilson sits just outside of Flagstaff. High Desert Country with beautiful mountains that do see snow, Wilson is a wonderful stop over to launch from if you want to explore or head to the Grand Canyon or go to Bearizona. Literally 10 minutes from town, Bearizona opens daily at 8 am.
Having worked for the PHX Zoo I knew first thing in the A.M. was the time to go. The animals would be up and getting fed or waiting to be. Either way makes for great viewing.
Sure enough, we were not disappointed.
Now again, having worked around wild animals and around worse, the creatures that come to see those wild animals, I knew better than to “expect” anything. Animals do what they do. Food motivates them just like it motivates me. I get it. Don’t bug a wild animal when it’s eating. Period. Take pictures all day long just don’t touch it, harass it, poke it yell at it or be an ignorant human at it and 9 and out 10 times all goes well.
Also like me, once we get a full belly we nap. Who cares that we just got up a few hours ago! Full belly equals naptime. Same goes for animals.
Our first drive through Bearizona was everything we could have asked for. All enclosures were clean, well maintained with relaxed, healthy appearing animals. We saw no stress, just a lot of mid-way shedding and velvet antlers and a few infants depending on the species. Bearizona houses more than just bears and half of their animals are rescues.
The bear portion of our drive was intense, exciting and everything you probably shouldn’t be doing that close to that many feeding bears. Bearizona takes no responsibility for you or your car once you pay to drive in. They give good sized, free roaming bears, treats like oranges along the sides of the roads of their large habitat to encourage viewing.
If you are completely stupid you could get killed in seconds by getting out of your car. This is no joke. There is really nothing to stop you except signs warning you not to do this combined with your own common sense that’s hopefully better than God gave a Goose and a normal persons will power to not be mauled by multiple bears while on a two day road trip.
I videoed just how close bears were to our car and my door and just how easily it could have been a horror show in seconds.
Would I do it again?
Hell yes I would! We drove around again immediately!
Also not a huge surprise, after we made our first drive through and went in for lap two, the experience was entirely different. Now fed, the animals were heading off to regular nap zones away from the continual drive bys. No signs of any snacks, bears had their full.
There was only one straggler bear trying to bother the gate attendant by acting like a bear escape just might happen on this watch. It didn’t.
Inside Bearizona is more of a zoo experience with again natural enclosures that felt large enough for who they were housing. The only animal who had any obvious signs of “stress”, if you call it that, was a younger male bear new to his enclosure debating if escaping via the moat was worth the attempt.
Again, having worked where I have, I simply asked a keeper. Oh yes, that male is a handful and now housed with a sibling. We laughed knowingly, yep, seen my share of animals who only sort of cooperate with their keepers.
We enjoyed Bearizona.
Is it family friendly? I would say yes for the most part. If you don’t want to risk your car or feel like that is too much intensity for your family, they have free bus tours. Inside, the walking portion was clean even though obvious construction was adding new attractions.
Is Bearizona safe?
Who knows. The freeways to get there weren’t. The 17 has more wrong way drivers than what seems even possible. We saw mayhem on the 60. I take my chances everytime I get behind the wheel. Bears made no real change in that fear but upped the excitement and adrenaline factor for sure.