Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure, west of Salina, is a unique combination of zoo and museum that gives you an up close and personal look at rare and endangered species. The facility started with one man’s mission to house unusual animals and provide education to the local community. It has grown to a large wildlife “experience” with conservation programs and a menagerie of animals you probably won’t see in most local zoos. It is a great day-trip, or if you are just passing through Kansas on I-70, it is close enough to the highway to make an easy detour if you have a few hours to spare.

The best place to start at this unique animal adventure is the museum, which opened in 2005. Inside, you will find a collection of wild-stuffed animals displayed in their natural habitats. The large assortment of taxidermy has an interesting history of its own. Much of the collection is the work of Jack Perry, who originally had it on display at the world wildlife museum in Stockton, CA. After the museum closed and the collection was warehoused, several natural history museums bid on portions of the work. The Rolling Hills Wildlife Refuge was the only one that agreed to take the whole collection. The museum’s collection also includes animals from the Smithsonian and other privately loaned pieces. There are over 400 animals in the collection.

A walk through the museum takes you through seven regions of the world. Mechanical humans from these regions explain the habitats and how the animals interact in their lives. There are huge waterfalls, large Polar bears just a few feet from the path and animals in mid-hunt nearly close enough to touch. There is also an educational room with a lot of interactive toys where the kids can play and explore. The whole focus is ecology and preservation of endangered species. It’s really fun. My kids loved it.

After you see the museum, head out to the zoo to see the live animals. To tour the zoo, I would recommend a tram ticket. I have explored this zoo both with and without the tram, and since the facility covers a lot of ground, the tram is really worth it. The tour guide on the tram will also provide a lot of extra information about the endangered species living at the zoo, and of course the kids get a kick out of going for a ride instead of all the walking. The big difference between this zoo and a zoo in your hometown is the unusual animals you will find. Nearly all of the animals are endangered or vanishing species. Some of the most unusual include coati, which look like a very skinny raccoon or ring-tailed lemur but are in a class by themselves; The Andean bears, which are the only South American bear; and the Greater One-horned Rhino which an extremely rare zoo find. Inside viewing is available for really hot and really cold days.

If you or your kids like animals at all, then this is a great stop. It can easily take three to four hours. They do have picnic facilities on the grounds as well as a restaurant within the zoo. Have you been to see this adventure? If so, what did you think of it?

Karen Ridder is a freelance writer living in Topeka. A former News Producer for KSNW-TV in Wichita, her work can also been seen in print publications including: Topeka Magazine, TK Magazine and the Topeka Capital-Journal. She has written for several national blogs and was recently recognized as one of the 2011 winners in the Annual Kansas Factual Story Contest. Karen has lived in Kansas for 15 years and married a native Wichitan. Together they are raising two little sunflower boys and a dog named George.