Valley View, TX
We were chased by Thor. We took selfies with Princess Leia. We were given the cold shoulder by Chewbacca. We snuggled with Yoda. We cuddled Pharoah. We spent some quality time with Cleopatra. It was just another day at Oak Meadow Ranch!
My husband and I recently spent a weekend in Valley View, Texas (60-90 minutes north of the Dallas area) in one of the cabins on the Oak Meadow Ranch property. I had researched the ranch prior to our visit but still didn’t have all the details, the story of the place and how a weekend works. I will try now to give you the “skinny” on how our visit played out and what we got to see and do.
We drove through the main gates at the 3:00 p.m. check-in time and were met by a hostess who offered us a beverage and gave us a notebook with some basic facts and instructions for our stay. We were shown to our reserved parking space and our luggage was loaded on a golf cart and we were driven to our cabin. We stayed in the Tranquility Cabin, a comfortable little cabin right in the smack-dab middle of the ranch. The cabin was perfect for us, even though Thor (the attack rooster) made certain that we knew this was his territory and we were merely unwanted interlopers! If you choose to do an overnight stay like we did, there are glamping trailers, conestoga wagons, and several other barns/cabins/rooms for rent on the property that can be booked from the Oak Meadow Ranch website.
We quickly settled into the cabin and went on a self-guided tour around the ranch. A bucket of animal food was available for $10. The only rules were to not touch the animals and don’t feed anything other than the provided food. Easy enough. We were off to explore!
There were enclosures and pastures with a llama, donkeys, a zebra, bison, goats, pigs, emus, longhorns, highland cows, water buffalo, camels, etc. on the property. Turkeys, peacocks, chickens, roosters, guinea hens, farm dogs, a cat and rabbits run loose everywhere. The ranch was clean and well-organized. Some areas reminded us of an Old West Town. We wondered around and quickly got the lay of the land. After taking a few animal pics, we headed back to the cabin to freshen up before our meet-up by the picnic tables. Dress code for the entire weekend was “farm casual.”
At 5:15 we met in front of the Whitehorse Steakhouse and signed liability release forms for our “exotic animal experience.” There were approximately 40 other guests joining us this particular evening. We were then escorted into the steakhouse, seated at our reserved table and served drinks while everyone was checked in. In approximately twenty minutes, we took our drinks outside for a meet-and-greet with the owners and staff. Kristin Navarro (owner/manager), gave us a brief overview of the ranch and introduced the animal caretakers before splitting us all into groups of 8-10 with an animal staffer in charge of each group. This is where the fun began!
Our group was led by animal staffer Corey. He led us to our first animal encounter experience, the ringtail lemur enclosure. Instructions were given, dangling earrings were removed, hands were disinfected and shoe booties were placed over our shoes. Corey gave each of us a couple of frozen grape halves to hold out in our palms for the two female lemurs to grab. We were instructed to stand in a circle, shoulder to shoulder. The lemurs hopped on many of our shoulders and quickly ate the grapes that we offered. We had some great photo ops!
Next, we visited Cleopatra, a female African caracal. She was beautiful and very tame. Her enclosure looked like a large, elaborate playground for a normal housecat. She sat and purred as she let us stroke her back and soft fur. A red kangaroo visit followed the caracal. The male and female pair of kangaroos were super-friendly and very comfortable with us in their enclosure. Corey gave us sliced sweet potatoes to give as their food treats. The pair had surprisingly soft fur – much like a chinchilla. I really loved the visit with the kangaroos.
The loudest animals on the ranch seemed to be the camels! Growling, grunting and loud groaning sounds came from Al and Sal – one blonde, one brown. They were very friendly, just very vocal. We fed them special crackers and that silenced them for a brief amount of time. Next to their enclosure was Puzzles, a reticulated giraffe, and rock-star of the ranch. Puzzles knew how to work the crowd, pose for selfies, and win hearts with his good nature. He seemed to take pleasure in hearing the squeals when using his 18-inch-long, sticky tongue to gently remove a cracker from a visitor’s mouth or hand. He is a truly beautiful creature and it is not too difficult to see why he has ambassador status here at the ranch.
After a quick stop to see the young water buffaloes, we headed back to the Whitehorse Steakhouse for a delicious meal. Hands were washed, drink orders were taken and appetizers were offered buffet-style. My husband and I sat at our private table and enjoyed fresh breads with flavored butters and veggies with dips. The food was blessed, a singer took the stage and our meal service began. The first course was a delicious Mediterranean-style pasta salad followed by a palate cleanser of watermelon sorbet. The main course was a perfectly prepared sirloin steak with chimichurri sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes and an edible flower. Dessert was a decadent chocolate ice cream embedded with chocolate bark and a cotton candy topper. Think dessert “tree?” The restaurant decor, table-settings, linens, fresh flowers, lighting, ambiance and gourmet food presentations made for a flavorful and most enjoyable meal. Chef Eduardo Navarro prepared a delicious four-course meal, even with my gluten-free dietary restrictions.
Following dinner, Corey gathered our group back together and we headed to see Sir Winston, the resident two-toed sloth. This was the event that I had looked most forward to and it did not disappoint. We each got to hold Sir Winston for a few minutes and I can best compare it to holding a clingy, sleepy toddler. He was adorable and I loved my sloth hugs.
A little while later, our group headed back to The Mercantile where a baby serval (Pharoah), an adult fennec fox (Yoda) and a young brown lemur were wrapped up like exotic animal “burritos.” We had the opportunity to hold and snuggle with each one for a few minutes. The Navarros were both there to greet us and talk about each of these unusual mammals. Their knowledge and commitment to the animals of Oak Meadow Ranch was quite obvious during this exchange.
Our group soon retired to chairs around the fire pit where s’mores supplies were made available. After a few more laughs and exchanges, we said our goodbyes and called it a day. Thor was sleeping on the railing at The Mercantile so we snuck on back to our cabin without our ankles getting pecked! It had been a most enjoyable day and experience.
The next morning, we had tea and a light breakfast on our porch swing while Thor once again took up residence on our porch and cockle-doodle-dooed for our entertainment. We packed up and walked around the property one last time before checking out at 11:00 and heading back home. A good time was had by all!
One can go online and read the philosophy, history and present workings of Oak Meadow Ranch. I was more interested in the care of the animals and the work the current owners do in regards to animal conservation and anti-poaching efforts in Africa (this topic is addressed on the tour). All of the animals on the ranch have been rescued, rehomed or bought from reputable breeders and hand-raised. The owners openly state that they “do not pretend to be a rescue organization, animal sanctuary or nonprofit.” We were told by our group’s animal staffer that the peacocks were rehomed from Tiger King and Sir Winston was a rescue from a private home situation.
Personally, I would have appreciated more information regarding each of the animals that we interacted with on our tour. Why is the animal here? What is its story? I also think it would be very important to educate the general public and to continue discouraging the average person from purchasing exotic animals as pets. Almost all of these situations end badly, especially for the animals. Educate, educate, educate.
On a final note, our wildlife tour was not without “incident.” There is a definite reason why a liability waiver needs to be signed by each guest. Our group had a lemur bite/scratch, a fennec fox “snap” and an amorous male kangaroo that tried to have his way with a guest. As with any farm/petting zoo/domesticated animal, they can be unpredictable. Be forewarned.
With that being said, David and I had a wonderful weekend at Oak Meadow Ranch. It was great being in the country, away from traffic and noise, and the daily grind. We met some very nice people, ate some great food and had wonderful animal experiences that I will never forget. Thanks for the memories!