My two boys, ages 5 and 6, are both on the spectrum. Any parent of autistic children knows doing things in public can be, let’s leave it at, challenging.

My 6-year-old tries to elope (when a child with autism suddenly out of nowhere runs away from you at breakneck speed and will not stop if you call, scream or beg.)

So for me to decide to bring both these little guys by myself to a public zoo on the Fourth of July when I had every reason to believe they could be packed was maybe, let’s leave it at, ambition.

But, because it was Turtleback Zoo I’m so glad I did! It was almost an hour drive from where I live but well worth it.

First of all, when we arrived we got incredibly lucky that there was a rockstar parking spot open literally a few feet from the entrance gates. Had never gotten lucky like that before. But, no worries, they do have plenty of parking. The lines were not long like I feared. Just two people in front of us. The park was busy but not slammed.

Our first stop was the reptile house and Atticus (the older one) was fascinated. At 4,000 square feet and nearly $5 million he should be. At some point the zoo even added a Komodo dragon to the exhibit. Which always makes me think of the movie “The Freshman.”

Next we went to something more Cooper’s speed. The giraffes. This picture isn’t great because I was too busy worrying about his brother bolting to take a good one, but you can see the giraffes in the distance.

Jeff Deminski photo
Jeff Deminski photo

But then we got up close and personal and they both got to feed a giraffe big old lettuce leaves. I do wish I had a pic of this but, again, see previous reason.

It was a hot day and a lot of healthy walking for their little legs and they had a blast. If you go, know that the Turtleback Zoo has stroller and wagon rentals, but I wanted them to get their exercise.

Oh, they have those cool water droplet misters along the way, too, which Atticus loved and practically had to be dragged away from.

On their animal adventure they also saw monkeys, a cheetah (which had a dog in the enclosure with it which I couldn’t quite figure out) an alpaca which Cooper calls “pacas” and so much more.

Here’s a pic of their sleepy lion encounter.

Jeff Deminski photo
Jeff Deminski photo

Wish I had a video of when Cooper was roaring at the lion through the glass. The lion gave the appropriate response to a 35 pound kid growling at it. She lifted her head, stared him down, yawned, then went back to resting.

Ah, the pony ride! How could I forget when this was the very place a few years ago that Atti got his knee stuck in the fence waiting in line. The staff couldn’t have been better when that happened.

No such mishap this day. Cooper got his ride in with knees intact.

If you haven’t been in awhile or never been at all, Turtleback Zoo is a terrific place in New Jersey. It opened back in 1963 before I was alive. I remember going on a kindergarten field trip to the zoo back in the day. The improvements made since then are remarkable.

They didn’t have the 1,600 gallon touch tank filled with sting rays back then. Nor did they have Big Cat Country with cougars and jaguars. Or the Amazing Asia exhibit or the African Adventure exhibit.

Put it this way. They now feature over 1,400 animals compared to the 140 when it first started. If you want to check out this absolute New Jersey gem it’s at 560 Northfield Avenue in West Orange, and here’s their website.

Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.

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