Mainly, it’s the alligator and the alligator gar. Though there’s that giant sturgeon, those paddlefish, the piranhas, a couple of electrical eels, and, and, and…but I get ahead of myself.
The other day, I got a wild hair and decided to check out Fair Park in downtown Dallas, since it’ll be inundated by the State Fair in just a few weeks. While I’ll be there to chronicle that, too, it’s good to remember that a lot of the city’s culture resides in the Park — and it’s there every day of the year, whether the Fair is or not. I decided I’d be remiss to let this opportunity to check out some of the attractions pass me by, so I drove down to Fair Park to check it out.
When you visit, you’ll probably have to drive, too; the Park is south of Downtown off Interstate 45, and DART doesn’t have any train stations in that part of the city. You can take a bus to it, though; and during the State Fair, you can catch regular shuttles from Citiplace Station. If you decide to go by car, take Exit 283B and go East on Martin Luther King Boulevard. Now, if you’ve had much experience with the cultural sections of most American cities, it’s not going to surprise you to learn that the Park is located on the fringes of one of the worst areas of the city; land was probably cheap when the city decided to buy there, and it still is.
There’s a lot of good stuff in Fair Park, much more than I could describe in just a few blog entries. Among other things, the Park includes the Music Hall, which hosts all kinds of concerts, ballets, and theater performances; the Science Place, a great museum that has an IMAX theater; the Dallas Museum of Natural History; the Dallas Planetarium; the Texas Hall of State; the soaring (and aptly named) Tower Building; the full-time Old Mill Restaurant; the Leonhardt Lagoon; a great big bandshell; an Herbarium; the Discovery Gardens; the old State Fair midway; and, of course, the famous Cotton Bowl. And right there in front of you as you come in the main entrance is the Dallas Aquarium, a research-based facility that, among other things, happens to be one of the few places that maintains breeding populations of the Desert Pupfish. This pugnacious-looking little squirt use to inhabit springs in New Mexico and Texas, but it’s now extinct in the wild.
The Fair Park Aquarium isn’t all that big inside, but it has some nice exhibits. When I go in, I always turn to the right first, so I can go look at the local fishies: largemouth bass, Guadalupe bas, sunfish — and the prehistoric gar. The alligator gar is my favorite.
This big bastard is eight feet long. And he just sits there at the bottom of the tank. Because when you’re eight feet long, the food comes to you if it knows what’s good for it. Those other gar surrounding it are other local gar species that don’t grow near as large, including the longnose, shortnose, and spotted gar.
Of course, the aquarium also hosts exhibits from other environments, both marine and freshwater. They have Amazon rainforest exhibits (including piranhas), Asian exhibits, electrical eels, morays, stonefish (ugly suckers), sea horses, even what my youngest niece used to call shorks (sharks). I didn’t take pictures of them all, because if I had you’d have nothing but pictures here. If I wanted that I’d post on Flickr. So I saved my camera memory for stuff that I was especially impressed with, such as this:
When I was an archeologist I’d occasionally run into one of these in the field (especially in Louisiana and Florida), and let me tell you, there’s nothing more thrilling than sharing the water’s edge with a giant lizard that can run 35 miles per hour when it’s riled. They’re scarier than wild pigs, and that’s scary. On the other hand, most of the time they lie there like leathery lumps and only wonder how you taste, because they’ve already eaten this week.
They also had this guy in another tank:
That’s a white sturgeon, a representative of the largest freshwater fish species in the Americas. They can grow up to 20 feet and live up to 100 years (this one’s a pipsqueak). Of course their numbers are declining, given their economic significance. Can you say “caviar?” Anyway, he was in a tank with two paddlefish, which are also cool.
Finally, there was this. Take a close look at this one. It isn’t the best picture ever, but can you see that jagged thing in the back of the tank? That’s not a rock or a statue. That’s an almighty huge American snapping turtle, and is the exact reason you should hesitate to go swimming in the rivers and streams of the southern U.S. Some sea turtles don’t get this big.
All this is why I love the aquarium — <> besides the fact that I’m a cheap date, and it only costs $4 to get in. It used to cost $2 a few years ago, but that’s inflation for you. And don’t think that this is all there is to see — there’s plenty. I didn’t show the shorks or the sea snakes or the upside-down jellyfish or the trumpetfish or a hundred other things. Like I said, this facility isn’t huge. I’ve seen bigger aquaria, some with more exciting exhibits, but it’ll still take you a good hour to go through if you check out everything. So go in, support their good works, and enjoy!
In future entries, I’ll introduce you to more Fair Park institutions — and don’t forget, the Fair’s coming up fast.