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The Grand Canyon Deer Farm is the only one of its kind in Arizona, says Randy. The deer live to be in their late teens and early 20s, and the farm is home to a 23-year-old reindeer affectionately referred to as “Grandma.” Visitors (about 40,000 each year) walk along a paved path and can purchase pellets to feed to some – but not all – of the animals. Randy and Pat take care of their brood with the help of only one other caretaker. “We have visitors who came here when they were kids and now they return with their kids and grandkids,” says Randy. “People love it out here.”
Grand Canyon Deer Farm & Petting Zoo is located 25 miles west of Flagstaff and eight miles east of Williams at Deer Farm Road on I-40. Open Oct. 16 – March 15, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; March 16 – Oct. 15, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; the park is closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Admission is $8.50 for adults, $7.50 for seniors, $5 for children ages 3-13, free children 2 and younger. For more information, call 1-800-926-DEER or visit www.deerfarm.com.
It’s one thing to observe black bears when there’s a sturdy fence between you and the bear, but it’s another thing altogether when the bears are casually wandering around your vehicle while you’re inside of it. That’s what you will experience at Bearizona, Williams’ newest attraction. The vision of Sean and Dennis Casey, two brothers whose father opened Bear Country USA in South Dakota in 1972, the 160-acre wildlife park opened May 22, 2010, says Vanessa Stoffel, the park’s chief operating officer. Bearizona has two distinct components: a three-mile drive through the Kaibab National Forest where you will observe animals from your car, and a 20-acre walk-through area.
“We’re different from a zoo,” says Vanessa. “We have a regional collection of North American wildlife, and we focus on conservation success stories – black bears in the wild are at pre-settlement numbers. We’ve also built our enclosures around the existing forest. Everything is natural and oversized compared to other institutions.”
At the time of our visit, Bearizona was home to 74 animals (67 were on exhibit); half the animals come from sanctuaries or rescue organizations and the other half come from breeders. As you pull onto the compacted dirt road that winds its way around the drive-through portion of the park you’ll pass through areas of burro, buffalo, snow-white Alaskan tundra wolves, Dall sheep, white bison, bighorn sheep and, the grand finale, North American black bears. We were skeptical about the chances of seeing all of these animals from our car but, with the exception of the Dall sheep, we got an up-close look at every animal. The black bear, fat from packing on 20,000 calories per day during the summer, strolled in front of our car, scarcely paying us any attention. Park keepers distribute food throughout the black bear enclosure to mimic a bear’s natural habitat; they have to roam to find their next meal. (Note to photographers: You are require to keep your car windows rolled up in the wolf and bear areas, so make sure your windows are clean before you head into the park.) The buffalo and burros are fed along the side of the road, so there’s no chance of missing these animals. Fences and metal “cattle guards” separate the habitats.
The walk-through area was a real treat during our visit. Ten-month-old bear cubs were playing high up in the pine trees while 6-month-old bobcats and red foxes slept peacefully. Javelina foraged for food and Sassy the skunk wandered the perimeter of her home. Benches are strategically placed, so visitors can sit a spell and watch the animals in action. Vanessa says late this winter, raccoon and lynx exhibits will be added to the walk-through area and a mountain goat habitat is planned for the drive-through portion of the park. Future plans also include a juvenile bear exhibit where visitors can peer through glass windows and see into a bear cave. A nocturnal building is also in the works; expect to see opossums, flying squirrels and bats in that exhibit. Within five years, Bearizona will boast a restaurant, hotel and 3,000-square-foot gift shop. Currently, a stand serving snacks as well as a temporary gift shop are located near the walk-through area.