I had been kind of on the fence about Zoo Atlanta because I've heard some bad things about it, but I thought it was great! I mean, sure, there were some old and run-down areas, but it appears they have done major renovations of most of the aging zoo. I'm guessing the haters are jealous of all their giant pandas. It was a perfect zoo day- just warm enough that all the animals were outside, but cool enough that they were all active. The pandas had just been fed and all four that were on display were eating and moving around. The year-old baby was bouncing all over the place and cute as can be! We watched the pandas for a long time. Other highlights were two young kangaroos boxing and some very interactive ground hornbills that kept trying to present us with chunks of mulch. They were adorable! We spent a few enjoyable hours and saw everything. It was a nice, compact zoo with lots of impressive animals.
We headed out of town and followed my MapQuest directions to Hiwassee Wildlife Preserve. Except my directions took us to the WRONG Hiwassee area and some extremely nice girl at the only tiny store in the tiny town of (I think) Reliance, helped me google the proper directions and helped us out of a beautiful mountain area by the beautiful Hiwassee River. While I was in her store, some men drove up with a gigantic feral hog they had just shot strapped to the back of their truck. They told me about what a problem hogs are in that area and it was sort of surreal. Anyway, if I hadn't been so eager to see my cranes I could have stayed in this area and hiked and birded the river. It was gorgeous! Unfortunately, we had about an hour trip ahead of us and the sun was going down way too quickly. This time the directions were perfect and we made it to the cranes with plenty of light.
As usual, this prime wintering area for sandhill cranes was nothing like I imagined. It just looked like a not huge, not small lake area on a small river, surrounded by fields and trees. There was nothing too amazing about it, but there were thousands upon thousands of sandhill cranes. They were flying and calling to each other. They were just standing there. They were in the water and on the land. There were so many that even Gene and the kids were impressed! There were probably 20 other birders there and I think I was the only one who just wanted to see the huge numbers of sandhills. They were all hoping to spot the Asian crane or whoopers. I would have liked to have seen both, but was very satisfied with just the sandhills. We stayed about an hour and then drove on to Chattanooga for the night.
The kids swam for an hour and a half while Gene and I took turns watching them. We finally found a hotel with both a pool AND queen sized comfortable beds! The places we've stayed the past two nights have had full sized lumpy beds, so the good old Hampton has been luxurious! We're planning to do one of the touristy things in Chattanooga today and then possibly drive all the way home. We'll see how we feel. I think a lot of touristy things are closed tomorrow so we might not have a lot of options for things to do. I'd love to go to one of the state parks in southern Illinois and hike and bird, but I'm guessing I'm the only one who wants to do that :) We'll see... Oh, and the kids want to stay up until midnight tonight and celebrate the new year. I'm pretty sure the only way I will accomplish that is if we're driving, lol.