Exploring the geography of hope

As the longer days of spring and the warmer travel season approach, I’m reminded that I always hope for the best. Perhaps I’ll see something I’ve never seen before or do something I’ve never done before. My motto is, “Where there’s hope, there’s adventure.”

Two years ago, for example, my wife and I visited friends in New Mexico. We survived a nighttime lightning storm as our tram descended from Sandia Peak. We hoped we wouldn’t see any rattlesnakes, despite signs at every rest stop reading, “Beware – Rattlesnakes!”

Sometimes it takes years returning to the same place to see a particular species. It took me nine years to find a Swainson’s warbler in West Virginia’s New River Gorge. This year I plan to visit Ohio’s Magee Marsh in mid May to find a migrating Connecticut warbler. It’s the only eastern warbler I’ve never seen.

And then there are hoped for surprises. One year we crossed the Texas panhandle on I-40 when we saw a sign for Palo Duro Canyon State Park near Amarillo. We had never heard of it, so we checked it out. Teeming with prairie dogs and Southwestern birds, this little–known gem remains one of our favorite discoveries.

I have yet to decide where to travel this year, but I do plan two return trips to places visited years ago.

The West Virginia State Wildlife Center is only about two hours from home, so a late April trip sounds good. The Center is essentially a zoo featuring West Virginia wildlife. The grounds include a picnic area and a fishing pond.

A 1.25-mile wheelchair- accessible interpretive trail winds through a mature hardwood forest and connects spacious enclosures. The trail provides excellent photo opportunities for many species on display.

The Center is located in north-central West Virginia about 12 miles south of Buckhannon on State Route 20. For more information, visit www.wvdnr.gov/wildlife/wildlifecenter.shtm or call 304-924-6211.

The other location I plan to visit is The Wilds in Ohio, located south of I-70 between Columbus and Wheeling. The Wilds is a 9,000-plus acre safari park and conservation center located on reclaimed strip mines.

The best way to enjoy the Wilds is on an open-air tram tour. You will get great looks at larger species in their expansive enclosures, and periodic stops give close-up looks at the smaller species.

You’ll see familiar species such as ostrich, rhinos, giraffes, zebras and cheetahs and new or less familiar species such as African painted dogs, Przewalski’s wild horses, Persian onagers and Sichuan takins. And the open expanses that comprise the Wilds provide excellent birding for native grassland species.

For more information, visit www.thewilds.org or call 740-638-5030.

While we’re in the neighborhood, a side trip to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (www.columbuszoo.org) will be hard to resist. It’s one of the country’s great zoos. The favorite part of my most recent visit was the best bear exhibit I’ve ever seen.

Finally, for a four- to six-day road trip, I suggest driving 400 miles along U.S. Route 6 across the northern tier of Pennsylvania from Lake Erie to the Delaware River. Among the highlights along the way are the Allegheny National Forest (www.fs.usda.gov/allegheny), the Lumber Museum in Coudersport (www.lumbermuseum.org) and the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon (www.pacanyon.com) near Wellsboro. The canyon runs along Pine Creek Gorge and measures 1,500 feet deep at some points. A strenuous mile hike leads into and out of the gorge.

If you’re not in a hurry to start the Route 2 crossing, begin by combing beaches and birding trails at Presque Isle State Park (www.presqueisle.org). Then take a quick jog northeast to visit the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, N.Y. (www.rtpi.org). It celebrates the life and career of the iconic artist, writer and naturalist. And the nearby Audubon Community Nature Center (www.auduboncnc.org) is a great place to enjoy 5 miles of hiking trails through a 600-acre wetland preserve.

So when warmer weather returns, take Willie Nelson’s advice and get “back on the road again.”

Dr. Shalaway can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3 to 4 p.m. Sundays on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com. Visit Scott’s website www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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