A watering hole glows in the early-morning sunlight, which renders the grassy slopes and scattered trees a particularly vibrant green. A long-legged sandhill crane stands motionless on the opposite shore, then a sturdy, spiral-horned addax emerges from the trees, followed by another, and another. The only sounds are trees rustling in the breeze and the distant call of birds.
This could be the wild African savannah, but I'm actually about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth, near Glen Rose, at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. This sprawling facility participates in worldwide efforts to preserve species at risk. People help fund that work by visiting for tours, bedding down at Fossil Rim's Lodge, or spending a couple of nights in the Camp's faux tents–actually canvas-covered cabins with twin beds, air conditioning and heat, and a private bath–as I recently did with two of my children.
We weren't considering good works when we unpacked, just looking forward to a good time. We accomplished both. Surrounded by fields of exotic animals and far from obvious signs of modern-day life, we spent a quiet night in our cozy quarters, roused at sunrise by a cacophony of bird calls. Over a generous breakfast buffet, we watched animals such as wild turkeys, waterbucks, and axis and native white-tailed deer through the glass walls of the dining room. Properly sated, we climbed into the back of an open, safari-style vehicle for a behind-the-scenes tour. The thoroughly knowledgeable guide regaled us with facts about the animals, like which ones were born at Fossil Rim and how those who weren't got here, how cheetahs like the high ground, and the way a prominent white ring around each waterbuck's rump helps the young ones keep up in thick brush. The tour swung through the Intensive Management Area, 400 acres closed to the public for the more-reclusive animals, where we glimpsed lean wolves and gazed upon lounging cheetahs. Then our driver made a lively dash around the rest of the property, partly following the self-guided-tour route but often veering into uncharted territory, always armed with generous helpings of feed–a healthy alfalfa mix. The kids in our truck shrieked when a giraffe took bits of the crayon-shaped feed with a long, agile tongue. Then we all watched, amazed, at the ripple traveling down her neck as she swallowed.
From the March 2007 issue.