Our Trip to Phoenix – Day One (Phoenix Zoo and Game Night)

Since about March of 2020, the girls have been begging me to go up to Phoenix to visit the zoo, the aquarium, and/or Great Wolf Lodge. Until recently though, I just have not felt comfortable enough to spend time in major metropolitan areas. Even when we go to Tucson, we are hitting no more than two stores and staying quite the distance away from everyone. It has been a year though and the girls are doing very well with wearing their masks and staying away from crowds, so I figured it was time to take the plunge and head up to Phoenix for the weekend. And since the Great Wolf Lodge cost/benefit analysis did not come up positive, we were headed to the Phoenix Zoo and the OdySea Aquarium.

I remember the bronze Komodo Dragon being a lot bigger the last time we came here…

After packing the car, charging the tablets, and pouring the coffee, we were off. The drive went well and the cries of “Are we there yet?” only started after we got off the highway in Phoenix. I purchased the tickets in advance, so after putting on our sunscreen, we headed straight into the park.

Not picture: Gabriella way to big for the stroller we brought

We brought the small hiking pack with the normal assortment of snacks, sunscreen, and bottles of water. As we certainly did not forgot, Phoenix is significantly hotter than Fort Huachuca, so you can never have enough water.

“Almost there, Girls! Do not be distracted by the turtles in the pond!”

We got there as soon as it opened because I cannot stand crowds or waiting in line. Neither do the girls, so our timing worked out perfect. And of course, Gabriella sported her Zebra dress for the occasion.

Well played, Phoenix Zoo

I was happy to see that the Phoenix Zoo was taking COVID precautions seriously. There were signs everywhere telling visitors to maintain social distance and to wear your mask, but everything was themed, so it blended in nicely and did not seem overdone.

“Sorry, Girls, but Tomorrowland is not on this map.”

After moving through the gift shops and food stands, a fork in the road presented the girls with a choice: Zebras and Giraffes or Tigers and Elephants? The girls chose the latter, so we took a right and headed towards the Tigers and Elephants.

“Fine, Elaina; I’ll stop yapping and get to the good stuff.”

On the way, we stopped by the Komodo Dragon exhibit, which showed that giant lizards just do not seem to impress the girls anymore (insert sad face).

“Gabriella, do not forget to wash behind your ears.” (Dad joke alert)

While we did not see any Elephants until we made our full trip around their enclosure, the girls were enthralled by the activities on the overlook.

I never get tired of watching Elaina read.

Elaina has a newfound love for the zoo since she learned to read, as there are pieces of knowledge everywhere. She has worked so hard to become the amazing reader that she is and I am so proud of her; she started reading Matilda this week, so that is only a step or two away from introducing her to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

“Well, it looks like the girls have a sitter, so I am off to see the Rhinos.”

We then took a slight detour to visit the Children’s Trail. After being woefully unimpressed with the Warthogs, Monkeys, and Tree Sloths, the girls stumbled upon an area full of life-size animals to take pictures with and climb on.

After finding out her greatest fear, the girls never miss an opportunity to send a picture of an Ostrich (real or fake) to their Mom.

The girls were particularly happy to see a full-sized Ostrich in the exhibit, as it gave them the opportunity to take pictures with it to send to their mother. Their mother is afraid of Ostriches (rightly so), so any trip to the zoo or the Ostrich farm requires a plethora of pictures with the creatures that I have to send, which then requires a follow-up FaceTime call to make sure that she got them and was scared.

And now she controls lions… great.

The girls really enjoyed this area, as we probably spent about twenty minutes in this small exhibit alone. After a while though, they wanted to move on and get back to seeing real animals.

Elaina posing in front of her favorite bird, the Roseate Spoonbill

After passing a few Tortoises and some temporarily-closed playgrounds (“Darn you, COVID!”), the girls started to get a little bored and wanted to do something else. So I picked them both up and headed towards the Camel rides.

I know that there is a big smile under her mask, and that has made all the difference

This was the highlight of the Phoenix Zoo for the girls, as they had been talking about it for about two weeks. Unfortunately, Elaina got a little scared while we were in line, so Gabriella ended up riding by herself.

First a lion and now a camel… I really hope she does not try to ride a turtle at the aquarium.

And of course it was everything that she dreamed it would be. She definitely wished it was a little longer, because as soon as she dismounted, she started pleading with me to go again. Elaina decided that she wanted to ride later in the day, but her and Gabriella both changed their minds after I had purchased the tickets… kids, right?

The pre-lunch Dippin’ Dots rest break is a must in the Phoenix heat.

As per my promise, the girls got their Dippin’ Dots. And since none of us were really acclimated to the Phoenix heat, I let them partake in dessert before we went to lunch. While certainly not a regular occurrence, they appreciated the break to cool down.

This is what happens when you say “At least look a little happy to be here.”

To further illustrate how hot it was, about twenty minutes after our break and after passing the Zebras and Giraffes, we were taking another one to cool down with more shade, water, and snacks. No ice cream this time, but at least the girls were doing a great job staying hydrated.

“It’s Mother Nature’s tank, Girls! How are you not impressed?!?”

After passing the African Lions (sleeping, of course), we visited the Rhinoceros enclosure. While the girls were not particularly interested in the animals, they stayed a little longer so that I could watch the creatures in all their awesome glory.

Cockroaches and Scorpions… why did it have to be Cockroaches and Scorpions?

We then arrived at the Bug Enclosure, which housed the Snakes, Insects, and Arachnids. The girls immediately had to point out the Cockroaches and Scorpions, which sent me to the other side of the room. Diamondback Rattlesnakes? No problem. Kodiak Bears? Bring it on. A tiny monster with armor plating, razor-sharp pinchers, and a murder needle? No thank you.

About five seconds after this was taken, the Mandrill slammed its head against the glass and gave Gabby quite a scare.

After passing the Cheetah and Baboons, the girls stopped to interact with the Mandrill for a while. It had just received its Easter surprise from the zookeepers (lettuce in Easter-colored boxes and egg cartons) and must have been a little protective of it, as it slammed its head against the glass and bared its canine teeth as Gabriella approached the glass. It shocked Gabriella a little, but the girls understood why that happened after I explained it to them.

The stuffy container at home is getting mighty cramped…

After the second attempt with the Camel ride, the girls were getting a little hungry, so we headed towards the exit to go grab food in Phoenix. But not without stopping at the gift shop to get some stuffies. Gabriella ended up choosing an Elephant (obviously to compliment her Zebra dress) and Elaina came away with a Tree Sloth that wrapped around her leg.

This is all she ordered, but she devoured it, so who am I to question it?

We decided to eat at Cracker Barrel as Elaina told me that she loved it there and that, and I quote, “Gabby will actually eat there.” She ended up with a baked potato while Gabriella ate her two hamburgers. I am still at the point where I consider it a win if Gabriella eats anything outside of our normal rotation of food.

Yes, they are both D&D gateway games (don’t judge me!)

We then checked into the hotel before heading to a local game store in Phoenix. Since every game store has a different selection of product and inventory, I was not going to miss the opportunity in a different city to snag something that I wanted. As per usual though, the girls each came away with a game and I left empty-handed. We then grabbed pizza on the way home and brought it back to the room for dinner.

Fun Fact: They are both much better than me at games involving unicorns and gemstones.

Since the pool was closed by the time we finished dinner, we went straight into family game night. While Elaina and I each took a game of Unicorn Glitterluck, Gabriella simply crushed us at Dragon’s Breath: The Hatchling. I am glad the girls are getting into board and card gaming, but we are still working on good sportsmanship; Elaina needs to learn how to lose gracefully while Gabriella needs to stop rubbing it in to Elaina when she wins. It was good end to a great day though, where we all got to see some beautiful animals and each win a board game. While we have been very active for the last year, especially given the circumstances, we still generally kept to the Fort Huachuca / Sierra Vista area. That is changing now. I am vaccinated, the girls wear their masks without complaint, and we are choosing on venues carefully. Team Calkins is getting out there again and we are definitely being safe about it, both for us and for others.

And Gabby just beat us. Time to get more money out of the ATM…

Thanks for checking in on us.


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