Monorail rider: a view from the top

It had been far too long since I’d ridden the monorail, two years at least. Last week’s conditions were perfect: full sun, with enough fallen leaves to uncloak ponds and meadows but plenty of color still clinging to trees. I hopped aboard for the 25-minute trek around the Northern Trail and beyond, into the zoo’s undeveloped woodlands.

This pond runs alongside the Northern Trail, next to the exhibit space where the camels often hang out and where two giraffes spend their days when we have them on temporary summer exhibit once every few years. On the opposite side of the trail and the train, I got a rare zoom-lens view of an animal that can be hard to see well from the walkway:

Pronghorn have several special traits. They’re the fastest land mammals in North America at 45-55 mph, sometimes covering 14 feet in a single leap. (Worldwide, only the cheetah is faster.) They’re native only to this continent, while many other species crossed over from Europe or Asia on the Bering Land Bridge. And they’re the only animals whose horns are pronged or branched, a quality usually associated with antlers. Females have horns, too, but just tiny spikes; the group above looks pretty girlish. Pronghorn areĀ  a smallish prey animal, not much over 100 pounds and about three feet high at the shoulder. As prey, they have eyes on either side of their heads, not up front and close together like a predator’s eyes. Excellent eyesight gives pronghorn a long-range view of predators in their native prairie domain. As ruminants, they often lie around chewing their cuds. I’m not sure if they normally groom each other’s faces, or if the one in this photo just happened to feel kissy.

Sitting up front in the monorail’s only “quiet car” (no talking!), I could hear every word of the driver’s narration, and my ears perked up as we headed beyond animal exhibits into the wilds of Apple Valley. I knew that two-thirds of the zoo’s 500 acres was undeveloped, as she told us, but not that the acreage included twelve ponds. This one is Reflection Pond. I love its stillness and its carpet of lilypads.

I’m also quite fond of this half-hidden meadow. I wonder if it was once a wetland, or if it’s becoming one.

As we approached the end of our loop and returned to the zoo’s developed acres, I caught a backside view of the bridge from which I took all those swan photos a month ago. The two swans must have tucked themselves into some nook or cranny of shoreline.

And then we all enjoyed an aerial perspective on Central Plaza, just before the train slid back into the station and its riders came back down to earth.