Officially, I am back in the Great White North after a lovely twelve days in Portland, Oregon for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Conference. It's weird to say this, but I'm glad to be back for two reasons: I get to sleep in my own bed where I know I'll be comfortable, and not having to live out of a suitcase with no food in the fridge. Sometimes, I just want a couple of carrot sticks, and there were none to be found in the hotel room. In all seriousness, though, this entry is 99% hockey-free. I want to bring to light some of the cool stuff in Portland and the surrounding areas that we saw, visited, and accomplished. And since hockey is a foreign concepts in Portland, I'll save the little hockey news I have until the end. Skip down there if this doesn't interest you.
First, the weather was fabulous. All we heard on the first day is how the summer has been cold and crappy in Portland, but you saw none of that for the time I was there. It was hot, sunny, and only rained late at night when I was out cold. If autumns in Portland are like that every year, it would be the nicest place to live in the world for that season.
Secondly, there were no bugs whatsoever. I come from the prairies, so I know bugs, particularly mosquitoes. So you can imagine how dumbfounded I was when I discovered a grocery store downtown that keeps its doors open all day. Honestly, there were no mosquitoes, no black flies, no pests at all. It was nearly paradise... without the palm trees.
We hit the Oregon coast on Saturday two weeks ago after exploring the city on Friday. The smell, the sounds, and the feel of the breeze rolling off the ocean is something a prairie kid misses every time he leaves the coast. I honestly loved this area, and the day was amazing. We saw the Yacinta Lighthouse which is still functioning as a lighthouse today. We walked along the beach and checked out some of the tidepools. The igneous, volcanic rocks that make up the beach just keep rolling in with the waves. I'll take a day at the ocean over a day at a beach any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Marine life might be my retirement life.
From there, we visited the Newport Aquarium. Again, as a prairie boy, this is something we rarely see. We were granted backstage access to the tanks where the keepers work, and got to see sharks and flounders and all sorts of fishes from above. The Japanese king crabs were most impressive, and they are HUGE! We also got to touch an octopus, and they are stronger than they look!
Once we finished the backstage tour, we were shuffled to the front where we were let loose on the rest of the aquarium. We saw a female octopus with eggs, massive starfish, seals, otters, seahorses, jellyfish, eels, rays, and crabs. Phew! Lots of marine life, eh?
Huge thanks goes out to the Newport Aquarium for hosting the day. Needless to say, the day was great, and the outgoing staff and volunteers were awesome.
Of course, we spent four days in and out of classes and workshops at the conference. A lot of interesting information was gathered by me, and I'm hoping that we can enact some of the ideas that we picked up. I'm not here to go over those details, though. Let's get back to the pictures.
Last Thursday afternoon saw us at the Oregon Zoo where they had just opened the new Predators of the Serengeti exhibit the weekend before. The gift shop had a photo opportunity that almost everyone took advantage of... except me. We got to tour through the Oregon Zoo classroom where Kalahari, an augur buzzard, was the featured animal. Kalahari, along with a few other feathery and cute animals, are used in the zoo's education program and outreach programs. To get to the outreach programs, they use this well-decorated van that features Scott, the education director of the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, in front of it. Their education program is strong, and is a driving force behind the popularity of the Oregon Zoo.
There were lots of animals at the zoo that I've only seen on television or in books:
- Babirusa - a tusked pig.
- Visayan warty pigs.
- Pygmy elephants.
- A South and Central American porcupine.
- African elephants, including the new baby elephant.
- Mountain goats.
Overall, the Oregon Zoo was an impressive facility that deserves a visit if you're in the northwest. It has a variety of species, and really does an outstanding job in bringing together education, conservation, and the public with their messages.
The next day, we moved north to Washington where we visited Tacoma. Tacoma, located on Puget Sound, is a nice city, and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium offers some amazing species. The only complaint about this day? Not enough time. I could have spent another two or three hours at this zoo. However, let's get to what I had time to see.
On the way to Tacoma, we heard a little bit about Mount St. Helens. We arrived at the redesigned front entrance of the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium by mid-afternoon, and the new look was impressive. Upon wandering inside, the first sight you're greeted by at the top of the hill is Mount Rainier. Looking down, the PDZA has an impressive amphitheatre area, and they put on an excellent educational show. Of course, there were education staff members and zookeepers out with all sorts of animals, including this sloth who was taking in as much sun as possible.
As we wandered through the behind-the-scenes areas, there were some incredible sights. Baby meerkats in the Kids' Zone area drew lots of shrieks from the children watching them. An orb-weaving spider drew a few "yucks" from arachnophobes, but that was made up for in spades by the spider web-themed net found outside the building. The ring-tailed lemurs and wallabies attracted the children in the Kids' Zone due to their curious natures. The Kids' Zone area was a great attraction that gave all the children there something to see and do.
In the Asian area, there were Sumatran tigers, Asian river otters, and Asian elephants to be seen. Honestly, it was a lot hotter than it seemed, and all of the animals were seeking shade and water, so this area was a little deserted. However, it was still cool to see these different animals.
The last place we visited was an area just outside of Tacoma called the Northwest Trek. It is 575 acres of pathways and is a sanctuary for animals native to the Pacific Northwest. We saw a ton of stuff here: golden eagles, herds of bison, herds of elk, mountain goats, big horn sheep - rams, ewes, and lambs, and barn owls amongst all the wildlife.
They did have two monsterous brown bears and a couple of black bears, but photo opportunities for these guys weren't great as they were locked away for the evening. Without doubt, the kodiak bears might be the biggest live bears I have ever seen - perhaps even bigger than the polar bears I've seen in my travels. Or maybe it was just because we were pretty close. Either way, I would not want to run into one of those animals in the wild.
Amazing sights at both these places, and you need to visit them. Like the Oregon Zoo, they are top quality, and deserve your patronage.
So there are all the zoo and aquarium photos that I took. There are a few other things I want to address about Portland at this time.
Being Green: This isn't a choice. It's a lifestyle. Every company, it seems, buys sustainable, locally-grown, locally-produced food, and composts everything that isn't being used. They recycle everything. And anything that can be made out of a recyclable product is. When they say they are the greenest city in North America, they aren't lying. It impressed me to no end, especially at the restaurants.
Rapid Transit: The light rail system is, in one word, awesome. It's fast and efficient, and you never have to wait more than 15 minutes for a train. The bus system, while dealing with a bigger area of the city, was easy to use. And if you buy a pass for the rail, you can use it on the bus as long as it is valid. I wanted to point this out because, in perspective, our transit system sucks. Well done, Portland.
Lastly, if you're in Portland, and you want some inexpensive hockey books, aisle 649 at Powell's Book Store is the place to be. I picked up seven books for less than $60. Retail value of these books? Near $190. Huge savings, and the books are in used, good shape. Very impressed.
Overall, I had a great trip. I missed the hockey coverage that we have in Canada, but that's to be expected since we're hockey mad up here. I'm off now to the fantasy hockey draft that the boys are having tonight, and I have first pick so I can't be late. I'll catch up with everyone tomorrow.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!