Buffalo herd at Custer State Park, courtesy South Dakota Tourism
Published March 31, 2014
You don’t have to travel too far to find America’s wild side.
The United States’ diversity of climates and terrains allows for a wealth of wildlife, some of which cannot be found in any other part of the world. What could be a better way to appreciate our nation’s wealth of fauna than taking a tour to see nature up close?
Rather than visiting the nearest zoo, go straight to the source and see animals in their natural habitat. No need to fly halfway around the world to see exotic wildlife; you can appreciate a variety of amazing species here at home in the United States.
Whether you’re looking for a family-type, an educational or a fun hands-on experience, these wildlife tours have you covered. The guides are well-trained experts in their fields and, in many case, native to the community. Whether it runs, flies or swims, the animals speak for themselves on these wildlife encounters, offering groups a chance to connect to nature in a personal and impactful way.
— Ramsey Canyon —
Located just nine miles from the Mexican border, Ramsey Canyon became a preserve of the Nature Conservancy in 1975 due in large part to the donation of land from a local family. The Huachuca Mountains within the Upper San Pedro River Basin, in which the canyon is situated, is characteristic of mountains south of the U.S. border. This means that its plant and animal life, including an array of migratory hummingbirds, is similar to that found in Mexico.
The preserve offers guided nature hikes that Brooke Gebow, the Southeastern Arizona Preserves manager, said would delight birders and family groups alike.
“The guides are volunteers but are very good birders and know the canyon like the back of their hand,” she said. “The tours can last for hours. If the group wants to keep going, the guides keep going.”
In the summer as many as 12 different hummingbird species, as well as rare birds like whiskered screech owls and sulphur-bellied flycatchers, can be seen. You may even see something unexpected, like a colorful trogon. March, April and August are the prime months for seeing hummingbirds, but Gebow noted that the canyon is beautiful in November as well, when the maple and sycamore trees turn colors.
Gebow hopes that visitors appreciate the beauty of the canyon and its biogeographical importance. The preserve is great for families and even offers a summer program for kids, and the staff works hard to help visitors young and old appreciate the beauty and importance of the natural area.
— Assateague Island —
Ocean City, Maryland
Many people have read “Misty of Chincoteague” by Marguerite Henry, a book based on the true story of a family that raises a wild horse on the island of Chincoteague in Virginia. Today, you can tour the local islands by boat or kayak and see the horses for yourself.
Captian Mark Coulbourne, a former Park Ranger for the National Park Service whose family has lived in the area since the early 1800s, directs the tours. Groups leave from his grandfather’s dock and travel a short distance to the nearby island of Assateague where the horses roam. Locals believe that the horses came to America in the 1600s by way of a Spanish shipwreck and have run wild ever since.
Coulbourne said the tours are special because they are on the water and far from the traffic of the road, offering a unique look at wild horses.
“Most people don’t get to see how family groups of horses live,” he said. “A stallion will have about 10 mares, and the foals are born in the summer. They move in their family groups and interact with each other.”
Coulbourne said the wildlife is what makes an impression on visitors. About 300 horses live on the island, and birders will appreciate the bald eagles, ospreys and shorebirds. Visitors may also see dolphins and stingrays in the water. Whether you choose to take a ride on one of the boats or kayak around the islands, you’ll see the animals in their natural habitats.