Monday, August 10, 2009

Wild Kingdom

Several years ago, we were told that Omaha was a nice city to visit, especially with children. After putting off the trip several times, we decided to take a long weekend and travel north as our summer was coming to an end.

We spent quite a bit of our trip walking around town. On our first day in Omaha, we strolled through the Old Market, to the Heartland of America Park (located alongside the mysterious and sinister ConAgra Headquarters), and along the Missouri River to the Bob Kerrey Bridge, linking Nebraska and Iowa. Most of our intense walks were confined to the morning hours as the heat was searing during our stay.

Omaha is a difficulty city to describe. Its downtown is spotless and well maintained, yet many pockets have a decidedly seedy feeling about them. It has an old urban vibe with many contemporary accents: pristine early twentieth century buildings sit alongside modern glass towers and newly-constructed parks, statues, and fountains. The real gem is the zoo.

We have visited several zoos in the US and abroad. While the San Diego Zoo is still tops in terms of the diversity of animals and layout, Omaha is a close second. Its special features - the indoor desert, jungle, aquarium, and butterfly exhibit were outstanding. The zoo's literature touts the desert pavilion as the largest indoor desert environment. It encompasses several above-ground and below-ground displays featuring flora and fauna from the major desert areas of the world. The underground space is dedicated to nocturnal animals and has a particularly extensive bat area. Other highlights included the aquarium's shark reef area - like a long glass tube with glass walls and ceiling - where visitors could view sharks, rays, and other creatures on all sides.

The Children's Museum was another highlight. Carter spent most of his time in the special Sesame Street body exhibit (apparently, muppet anatomy closely matches human) and in a room teaching children about gravity, propulsion, and other concepts with small plastic balls. Carter was particularly obsessed with a machine that collected balls from air-propelled, hydraulic, and pneumatic tubes and dispensed them from the ceiling like rain. He was convinced that if he could organize all of the kids, they could "beat the machine" and clean up all of the balls before it could drop them from the sky. Undeterred by his parents' suggestion that this might be a quixotic venture, Carter ran around the room, collecting balls, and yelling "we can do it!" As in many science fiction treatments of robot apocalypse, the machines won.

As with all of our trips, we researched interesting places to dine while in town. We particularly enjoyed ice cream at Ted and Wally's, breakfast treats from Pettit's, traditional Ethiopian food at the modest Ethiopian Restaurant, and a massive East European meal at the Bohemian Cafe (be sure to check out the Bohemian Cafe theme song). We were fortunate to catch up with relatives at the 11 Worth Cafe on our last day in town. We spent an all too short breakfast exchanging stories with Erik's cousin Paula and her husband Ken.

Following are some photo highlights with brief commentary.
Carter has always loved ramps. This one above near the ConAgra headquarters was a particular treat - a kind of pedestrian Lombard Street. He yelled "squiggly ramp" while running up and down.

Straddling the border between Iowa and Nebraska on the pedestrian bridge.

Learning about human and muppet digestion.

"We can do it!" Carter tries in vain to organize the children against the machine. The machine wins, though Carter claims to have twice beaten it.

While visiting the zoo, Carter enjoyed playing with some of the animal statues situated all over the grounds.

The carousel was a quest objective for Carter. He was unable to ride the carousel at the recent Douglas County Fair, and was looking forward to the zoo trip so that he could finally take a spin. As soon as he mounted his lapine steed, he told Lea that he was scared. Immediately after the carousel started, he was hooked and wanted to keep going.

Lea and Carter decided to cross the rather slimy rope bridge in the Omaha zoo's "jungle."

Lea and Carter soon tired of Erik's efforts at photography (evidenced by Lea's expression). Below are some especially photogenic residents of the zoo.

1 comment:

Kristin said...

Spider shirt is a Herron boy (am including George here) fave. Best pic is carter and jellies. I should ask Brent to comment on your travelogue of his hometown.