Aside from a trip to the local zoo, the only way to see an elephant up close and personal is to maybe take a trip to Africa or Asia, where the largest land animals in the world make their home alongside lions and tigers.
Well, how about a place right down the road in the Texas Hill Country where you can not only meet some elephants, but even help give them a bath and take photos with members of a small herd of the massive, gentle creatures.
The Preserve is an elephant habitat open year-round in Fredericksburg, about a two-hour drive from Killeen-Fort Hood, that is “dedicated to expanding elephant education, knowledge and conservation.” All ages are welcome to come and visit the facility’s five 10-ton Asian occupants, including:
Tai, a female who enjoys napping and eating, especially bananas. This fascinating creature is also a Hollywood star, with movie and commercial credits including “Water for Elephants,” “Larger than Life” and “George of the Jungle.
Dixie is known as the wise “little old lady” of the bunch. She is a bit of a food gourmet who can be both grumpy and cute, and enjoys relaxing in the sunshine.
Kitty is described as “Miss Personality” and then some. She likes to “talk,” loves people and attention, and is always first to line up for a little petting or nice chunk of watermelon.
Rosie, named after her rose-colored cheeks, is also a movie and commercials veteran, with such credits as “Zookeeper” and “Evan Almighty.” Believe it or not, this girl enjoys painting and hula hoop. Her favorite snacks include cantaloupe and carrots.
Last but not least, Becky is the youngest in the family, and is easily recognized by her “delicate” build, abundance of hair and long eyelashes. She makes squeaky noises to get attention, loves to munch on apple, and follows her best friend Tai all over the place.
A visit with the elephants lasts around an hour-and-a-half, and includes helping with a bath, petting, observing all-important foot care procedures, learning about elephant care and conservation, and taking plenty of photos. Cost is $95 a person, with children three and under admitted free
To comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines, each elephant “experience” consists of several family groups maintaining social distancing from other groups. Face coverings are required, and hand sanitizer is available and encouraged. Tables, restrooms and other high-contact areas are frequently sanitized, and the gift shop follows the same guidelines
For more information, including reserving your trip, go to www.visitthepreserve.com.
Adventures closer to home
If an afternoon with elephants is not your cup of tea, Fort Hood’s Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area (BLORA) is open 24/7 for Department of Defense identification card holders. Available activities include sightseeing, bird watching, horseback riding, hiking, biking, hunting and fishing. Face coverings are required if six-foot social distancing cannot be maintained.
Sparta Mountain and Belton Lake, one of the more popular hiking trails at BLORA, is a 7.5-mile loop rated as moderate in difficulty. The trail is accessible year-round, and is primarily used for hiking, running, nature trips and mountain biking. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on leash. For more information, contact BLORA offices.
Miller Springs Nature Center offers hiking, jogging, rock climbing, mountain biking, picnicking, wildlife observation and fishing. This 260-acre scenic area managed by the city of Temple parks and recreation department, Belton parks and recreation department, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is located between the Leon River and 110-foot high bluffs, immediately east of the Lake Belton Dam. It is open to the public at no charge every day from 8 a.m. to dusk.
Pets must be on a six-foot leash, and glass containers, firearms, alcoholic beverages and loitering are not allowed. Go to www.ci.temple.tx.us/2602/Miller-Springs-Nature-Center for more information.
For a little indoor peace and relaxation, Fort Hood’s Apache Arts and Crafts Center, 761st Tank Battalion Avenue and 62nd Street, Building 2337, offers active-duty soldiers a quiet area on weekdays until 5 p.m. to create original artwork free of charge by way of its Resiliency through Art program. Available materials include wood and leather projects; pens, pencils, markers, paper; paints, chalks, and clays; beads, feathers, buttons, yarns and thread.
To participate, sign in at the Hobby Heaven Sales Store. Soldiers may take their work with them or leave it at the center to be displayed and provide inspiration for others. Contact MWR for more information.