For a while, our “direction” in Arizona was simply to drive dotted-line roads on the map, those roads designated as scenic.
After driving very scenic 89A from Flagstaff to Sedona with sharp turns and steep drop-offs through spectacular red rock formations, we continued south. Googling “Phoenix attractions,” we found the 28th Annual Ostrich Festival was in Chandler the next weekend. We were flexible and broke rule #7. We had a destination.
At one time, women’s ostrich feather hats were extraordinarily popular. In 1914, there were 6000 ostriches in the Phoenix area. A. J. Chandler, founder of the town, owned 550 on his ranch. But the boom went bust in 1915, and part of the ranch is now Tumbleweed Park where the festival started in 1989.
We visited in the afternoon when it was clearly a family festival. Events and activities were child-friendly. We especially enjoyed watching pre-school “jelly-breaders” and their parents interacting with them.
There was a huge carnival complete with rides for both adults and small children. Four stages offered a continuous round of music, entertainment and education.
On “Food Truck Alley,” booths offered just about every type of food, but there was a distinct Southwest flair. For example, one offered “green chili Philly cheese steaks.” There also were ostrich burgers.
We didn’t get to the pig races, but we did see ostriches, zebras and camels race. Professional employees rode the animals. Between races, children were brought out to “race” emus and ducks, chasing behind the animals.
“Moto Maniacs,” a motorcycle show, a sting ray exhibit and a science exhibit were on the stages.
Not having the energy of a four-year-old, we limited what we saw. After the races, we watched dogs chase Frisbees and the “Pirates of the Sky” bird show.
Structured as a competition, dogs first chased 20 Frisbees thrown out in rapid succession. The dog had to catch one, locate the next, drop the first and catch the next. The winning dog caught 16. Another dog, that was supposed to be able to catch three at a time, had a hard time concentrating, but still managed to get two in his mouth. Finally, the trainer threw two Frisbees at a time, one red and one green, and two dogs competed to catch the most of their designated color. The trainer said they could follow the color, but the red was always to the left of the green.
The bird handler from Las Vegas maintains a facility to rescue, rehabilitate and breed birds. Among others, he had a Central American parrot with an amazing repertoire of songs, an Australian pink-breasted cockatoo that did tricks, and a rare African eagle that he said he got from magicians Siegfried and Roy.
We were most delighted to see a South American condor. We had seen one high in the Chilean sky, but it was very interesting to see the bird with a ten-foot wingspan up close. The owner said the federal government imported South American condors to experiment breeding them to prepare for a program to breed California condors. It sounded like a typical unnecessarily complicated federal program. When the program was successful, the Feds no longer wanted the South American birds. So our entertainer was able to get government surplus condors. He said he hoped to breed them and send the chicks back to South America. But when he put the female we saw in with a male, “she wanted to eat him.” If you held out a dollar bill, the cockatoo would take it and put it in a box for “the condor program” to help the endangered species.
Click on photos to enlarge.
For next year’s festival, go to http://ostrichfestival.com/.