Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch
11670 Massey Rd., Pilot Point
940/686-4600; sharkarosa.com Hours: 10am–5pm Saturday–Sunday from March–November. Last admission is 4pm. Open Monday–Friday by reservation only. Admission: $10 adults; $8 children ages 3–12. Parking: Free
The lush green fields of the Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch seem to fit right in with the serene setting of Denton County’s horse country – that is, until you hear the bawl of a restless camel and catch a glimpse of the roaming zorse and zedonk – half zebra and half horse, and half zebra and half donkey. And yes, they really do exist.
About 120 exotic, rare and endangered animals – including capuchin monkeys, an African crested porcupine and a few others you may have never heard of – live at the nonprofit zoo, on 126 acres just east of Ray Roberts Lake State Park in Pilot Point. The ranch’s rural setting and programs, structured for maximum face time with the animals, give Sharkarosa a big personality and make the hour drive from Dallas well worth it.
Throughout the day, meet and greet the educational animals, including a baby kangaroo from the ranch’s marsupial habitat and a baby ring-tailed lemur native to Madagascar (yes, like in the movie) during animal talks presented by tour guides.
Pile into the Safari Tram for hourly runs through open pastures to see the Clydesdales, dromedary camels and a pot-bellied pig roaming with deer and the zebra hybrids. Once the tramcar arrives with feed troughs that hang off the sides (a little bribery never hurt anyone), the animals come running, bringing them within arm’s reach for a perfect close-up view. One endangered animal you’ll see is a Père David’s Deer, which is indigenous to China and now exists only in captivity. You may have seen it on the Season Six premiere of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, when ranch owner Scott Edwards taught Mike Rowe how to catch one.
Though your family’s visit won’t be nearly as “dirty,” you and the kids can get washed up for lunch at the hand-sanitizing area. Grab a hot dog or homemade taco cooked on site at the concession stand or bring a picnic and sit under the two large shaded pavilions. Sharkarosa has well-kept portable toilets but no changing tables, so you might want to bring a diaper-changing pad. From open to close you can take a short ride on the kids’ barrel train, stop by the photo booth for a professional photo or get an airbrushed face painting of an animal, maybe even one that looks like an exotic new friend you’ve made at the ranch.
Three More Things
Walk the nature trails that overlook the animal pastures and pitch a tent at the primitive camping sites, open to large groups.
Named for Sharkarosa’s two newest residents – rescued black bears Barnaby and Bailey – an on-site restaurant called the Bear’s Den is scheduled to open in October.
At Trail Dust Steak House in nearby Aubrey, order classic American chow from the kids’ menu and slide down the restaurant’s indoor slide.