The Serengeti in Texas
When Texans say it's "a jungle out there," they're usually referring to the oil biz. Then there's Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, a1,650-acre wildlife conservation center in northern Texas Hill Country.
Sure, you can settle for a traditional drive-through wildlife park experience. Fossil Rim has that, but we're hunting for something more safari-authentic. And this is where to find it: spending the night in one of seven cabin tents smack in the middle of the wildlife reserve.
There's air conditioning and a private bath, and an eight-foot fence keeps wildebeests from sneaking up on you. Still, at dusk, you can sit in a lounge chair and watch through binoculars as the nearby lake becomes a watering hole. And after the critters have turned in for the night, you can adjust your AC and do the same. Cabins run $200 a night (and rooms at the lodge are $150 and up), but that's a lot cheaper than a flight to Kenya.
If you prefer a day visit, drive 10 miles through the preserve, stopping for close encounters of the animal kind as giraffes and aoudads approach to see ifyou've brought alfalfa pellets. Prerecorded guides help you identify the animals, from addaxes to zebras. The wildlife center's 59 species include13 endangered ones (Fossil Rim works with the government and zoos nationwide to breed some threatened animals). For $35, you can also take a two-hourbehind-the-scenes tour with a naturalist.
Getting There: 75 miles southwest of Dallas-Fort Worth on U.S. 67.254-897-2960; www.fossilrim.org.
Ancient Egypt in Silicon Valley
You know the Rosicrucians—they run those one-column ads in magazines promising answers to life's big questions. Turns out one of life's big questions is: what would happen if you reconstructed the grounds of a Fifth Dynasty Egyptian palace—plus a meticulous reproduction of a Middle Kingdom Egyptian noble's tomb—just south of San Francisco?
The answer to the question is the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and Planetarium in San Jose, California. The Rosicrucians are nuts about Egyptology, and it shows in the museum's massive pylon walls, dramatic peristyle court, and massive bronze doors. It's one of the few places on earth where you can stand in one place and see nothing but classic Egyptian architecture—more than, in fact, in Egypt, where the stuff is all fallingapart.
Besides the buildings and gardens, you'll find thousands of Egyptian artifacts—most authentic, some replicas—collected by the society over 90 years. Trust us, you'll hate yourself if you miss the baboon mummy.
Getting There: Interstate 280 south from San Francisco to San Jose. Admission: adults, $9; seniors, $7; children, $5 (under five, free). Closed on Mondays. 408-947-3600; www.egyptianmuseum.org. (Additional reporting by William R. Newcott)
The Holy Land in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., gets called a lot of things; the Holy Land isn't generally one of them. But miraculously, here you can visit the Middle East's Christian-related holy places (plus Rome's and Lourdes's). About a hundred years ago, when world travel was a dream for most, the Franciscans, whose mission includes preserving Christianity's sacred sites, decided to replicate the holiest shrines at their D.C. monastery.
Your first stop is the simple stone Portiuncula Chapel, which re-creates the shrine near Assisi, Italy, where Saint Francis established his order in 1209.Past Rosary Portico, your world tour begins in earnest. Walk in one direction and you're at the grotto in Lourdes, where in 1858 Saint Bernadette saw visions of the Virgin Mary. Walk in another and you've been teleported to the Holy Land, to the Chapel of the Ascension, erected on Mount Olivet by Crusaders. Nearby is the Coptic House in Old Cairo, home of the Holy Family. And it's just a few more steps to the Grotto of Gethsemane, near Jerusalem.