CUMBERLAND, Ohio — You dine by the light of an outdoor fire, sleep in a yurt and wake up for a safari to see antelope, zebras, rhinos, giraffes and camels.
When your adventure ends, you return to your car for the short trip back to the world outside — in Ohio.
It's all part of an experience offered at the Wilds, a sprawling wildlife conservation center on nearly 10,000 acres, or about two-thirds the size of Manhattan, about 80 miles east of Columbus.
Two years ago, the Wilds opened Nomad Ridge, an encampment of yurts — circular tents, perched on stilts anchored into the side of a wooded ridge.
The inspiration came from more portable, nomadic dwellings observed by former executive director Evan Blumer and other members of the Wilds' staff while working on projects in Mongolia.
"It was just an interesting structure that we thought tied a lot to our field work, tied a lot to our programs, fit the landscape, and was something that would be really different for people, particularly in this part of the world," Blumer said.
The difference is, these yurts, unlike those found in Mongolia, are luxury tents with all the comforts of an upscale hotel room, including running water and electricity.
The Wilds' nine "woodland yurts" are available for booking throughout the week, May through October, plus one larger "grand yurt" with heat and air conditioning that the others don't have, allowing it to be used year-round.
An overnight stay is packaged with dinner the night of arrival and breakfast the following morning — meals created by the facility's professional chef and featuring Ohio game, produce and wines — plus a guided safari around the grounds to see a wide array of animals from either an enclosed bus (the Wilds prefers the term "transport") or an open-air vehicle. The experience is limited to adults 21 or older.
If you go
The evening is relaxing and informal, with guests sipping drinks around a fire and watching from a deck as the sun goes down on bison and deer clustered in the pastures below. At night in the yurt, the canvas outer wall is whipped by winds slapping against the ridge, and in the morning after breakfast, you depart for the safari. The free-roaming exotic animals are observed over the course of a couple of hours.
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The Wilds is a partner with the Columbus Zoo, and conservation of endangered species is part of its mission. Its animals include onagers, endangered horse-like animals native to Iran and other Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Two onagers were born at the Wilds last summer.
"I felt as if I had traveled a long way and was transported to another place even though it was only 2 1/2 hours from my home on the outskirts of Circleville, Ohio," said Carolyn Seitz, a former teacher who enjoyed a yurt stay and safari last year with her husband, to celebrate his birthday.
Seitz's reaction is common, Blumer said.
"We're not fooling ourselves, you're not in Africa, you're not in Asia, but it's sure a heck of a lot easier, a whole lot faster and doesn't require a whole bunch of vaccinations," he said, adding that the experience is "an amazing escape" without having to go too far from home.
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