Scales and Tales


This week I am posting a column written 44 years ago by long-time Reptile Gardens General Manager, Jim Campbell. In 1965, Reptile Gardens ran a series of newspaper columns in celebration of the move to our new location on Highway 16. For our first 28 years we had been closer to town but were forced to move when the highway was widened and moved.

Safari Room in 1965

Right smack in the center of the giant dome at the new Reptile Gardens there is a huge, gnarled pine tree, some forty feet high. And lots of it is underground to keep it from falling over.

Cavorting, or resting, in the tree are lizards, monkeys, snakes, and hundreds of beautiful birds from all over the world. [Over the years we tried a lot of different animals in the Safari Room, including monkeys, muntjacs, wallabies, giant fruit bats, and, free roaming iguanas and snakes. Some worked and many did not. JM]

Several times daily someone asks casually, "Where did the tree come from, was it already here?" When we tell them "No, we had to move it in," it is always with the feeling that if they really knew the whole story they might be less casual about it.

At least to someone not in the tree moving business, it was quite a chore. First, Earl Brockelsby selected the tree, down over a hill on Skyline Drive, after several months' search. After obtainingpermission to move the tree, we selected a day for moving. Needed were eight or ten men, a huge lowboy truck, and the biggest truck crane available. Moving day dawned clear and windy. Gusts to...50 miles per hour.

Some superfluous limbs were trimmed away, the crane hooked up, and then a fearless (or foolish, I haven't decided which) workman volunteered to sever the trunk with a chain saw. And then things happened fast. The wind caught the tree as it came free and it started down the hill, lifting the wheels on the far side of the crane completely off the ground.

I recall seeing the man with the chain saw running for his life and I decided to take a vacation myself in the opposite direction, when I saw the crane men rushing to the crane and jumping on the high side. I recall thinking how silly this looked, but I didn't want to seem chicken, so I joined them. But it helped, and this along with some quick action by the crane operator kept the whole mess from winding up in the bottom of the canyon. From then on it was just a lot of slow, careful work to load the tree and plant it where it now is.

The crane crew was very offhand about the whole thing, but I can still see that huge tree dancing in the wind whenever someone asks about it. And the worst was the suggestion of the dome designer who found the tree to be such a hindrance to his planning that he suggested we cut it up for kindling. Not on your life. We'll defend that tree to the death.

[After the fire in 1976 the tree still stood, with the collapsed dome structure around it. It was a bit shorter and singed but still there. Now it is covered with our huge bougainvillea vine. JM]




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Sky Dome

Step inside the Sky Dome to experience a warm tropical climate while exploring our indoor jungle filled with exotic and unique flora and fauna. 

Rattlesnake Gulch Funtier Town

Try your hand at gemstone sluicing, go on a 3D safari, or test your aim at the shooting gallery! Our very own old west ghost town has numerous photo opportunities and activities to keep the kids entertained.

Cheyenne's Habitat

Cheyenne the bald eagle has been a permanent resident of Reptile Gardens for 11 years with permission of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Maniac's habitat

Maniac is our resident giant saltwater crocodile. At over 16 feet long and1,350pounds, he is one of the largest giant crocodiles in the western hemisphere. If you don't see him at his enclosure inside the SkyDome, make sure to check outside!

Prairie Dog Town

Get down to eye-level with these fuzzy little animals and see firsthand what life is like in a typical prairie dog town!

Methuselah's Playground

Methuselah was a giant Galapagos Tortoise weighing in at over 600 pounds, and a long time resident of Reptile Gardens. His memory lives on at this playground featuring a bronze statue of Methuselah himself. 

Snake Show stage

Get up-close-and-personal with our snake ambassadors in this family-friendly snake handling show.

Gator Show stage

Dozens of Alligators, Crocodiles, and Caimans and one keeper...what could go wrong? Separate fact from fiction in this educational, family-friendly show and get a chance to pet Fluffy, our baby gator!

Bird Show stage

Interact with birds from around the world at the Bird Show, where they love to show off their beauty and intelligence. 

Gift Shop

Carrying a wide variety of Reptile Gardens souvenirs as well as educational books for every age and a variety of stunning rocks, minerals, and fossils from all over the world.

Green Parrot Cafe

Hungry? Refuel with buffalo burgers, The Maniac burger, Black Mamba Shakes, Indian Tacos, and more!

Giant Tortoise

Don't miss this photo opportunity! Get up-close and personal with these friendly giants who love to have their neck scratched and are great with kids. 

Tortuga Falls

Take a stroll through this meditative garden, gaze into our turtle and koi pond, listen to the waterfalls, and don't miss Darwin the Kookaburra! 

Walking Garden

We're about more than just Reptiles! Our outdoor gardens are beauty to be seen as they change throughout the season and year after year. 

Living Wall

This vertical garden is a wall of color that grows and changes through the Summer season creating striking patterns and unique portraits as it grows. 

Pet A Python

Don't miss your chance to Pet a Python!  Our snake handlers ar here to talk about any questions or myths you've heard about snakes. Don't forget your camera! Our pythons are very photogenic and love to photos with you!