The Blank Park Zoo on the south side of Des Moines is known to be "Iowa's Wildest Adventure" and for the months of April and May of 2021, your adventurous visit could also include taking in the incredible and visually stunning "Wild Lights Festival".
Iowa Adventurer has visited the Blank Park Zoo on a number of occasions over the years, but those were always just to see the live animals in their professionally-curated zoo environments. My most recent visit, however, was to see animals that are not living. I was there to see the "Wild Lights Festival", a traveling art installation exhibit of beautifully illuminated animal shaped Asian-style lanterns.
The Blank Park Zoo has a page on their website that provides a bit more detail about the exhibit and includes a brief YouTube video. Because this is a lighted event, it's open in the evenings. It's best to go when it's dark. Thus, if you are also going with the expectation of seeing many of the live animals out and about, that's probably not going to be the case.
Iowa Adventurer was fortunate to attend on their "preview" evening with a friend. From the moment you park in their expansive parking lot, you can look over and see a gorgeous peacock, which is a nice example of what the entire display is all about.
The pictures hardly do it justice as it changes colors and there is a mechanical feature that allows for the feathers to move.
Once inside the zoo, you follow along the concrete paths to see nearly 35 different installations. Perhaps the highlight for me was the beautiful swans that have been placed in the water. Like all of the animals, they are larger than life and the swans are quite the statement pieces. The two pictures below were taken approximately an hour a part and so you can see that while they are both beautiful, it's even better to go when it is darkest out.
As an Iowa State University alum, they reminded me of Lancelot and Elaine, the two famous swans that inhabit Lake Luverne.
There are other birds to appreciate as well. From flamingos, bald eagles, and penguins to turkey vultures and emu.
From feather to fins, there's also a whole wall of fish.
I also found a few other water-friendly critters such as crocodiles, turtles, and seals.
As you can see, all of these lanterns are mounted onto elaborate metal stanchions. It's obviously tough to tell, but like the peacock, several others of these had movement as part of them including these turtles.
At first, I thought this large creepy creature was a spider but it may have instead been a crab.
There's also a lizard-type creature that is quite large in scope. What is equally impressive with many of these is that it's more than just the animal that is a lantern. The supporting "infrastructure" for these creatures is also quite intricate and beautiful.
If land mammals are more of your thing, there's plenty of those, too. From elephants, rhinoceros, and hippos to various cats, kangaroos, monkeys, giraffes, and much much more.
There's also other flowers and plants that add to the whole display.
All over the place, there are LED displays mixed in that truly to add to the ambiance.
If you are not a member of the zoo, the price is $20 per person. That's obviously not insignificant.
However, it truly is a mesmerizing night out for either a whole family or even works for a date night. It checks a lot of boxes: it is outside, away from screens, and can be socially distanced. I would recommend devoting a minimum of an hour and probably closer to 90 minutes to two hours to really appreciate it in full. If you get hungry or thirsty, there are refreshments available to purchase.
Personally, I think a visit to the zoo is always a good idea. Of course, it's always fun to go see the live animals but visiting these vibrant lamp animals as part of this limited time event is certainly an experience to remember for anyone of any age.
As always, I welcome your suggestions for places to visit and profile whether in Polk County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this site.