More than 100 exotic and endangered animals can be seen at Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch, an educational, nonprofit wildlife ranch licensed by the USDA and featured on the Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs. Knowledgeable staffers pilot a fleet of safari trams that ferry guests across the park's sprawling pastures, dispensing enlightening wisdom as they pass zebras, kangaroos, emus, bears, and monkeys. The staff brings patrons face-to-face with many of the exotic critters and often stops to allow guests to pet and get to know the animals. Interactive presentations and small-animal habitats further educate visitors on the menagerie of rare creatures.
McKinney, Texas’s Chestnut Square Historic Village recreates life from 1850-1930 on a campus that features six historic houses, a one-room schoolhouse, a chapel, and a general store. The surrounding buildings also include a blacksmith shop, a smoke house, and a chapel, all filled with period artifacts from the 19th century. Visit during a Living History Day to see costumed actors farming, baking, embroidering cushions, or tending to the old-fashioned gardens. Visitors can even step inside the old schoolhouse for a lesson on the region’s history or argue in favor of putting James A. Garfield on every piece of U.S. currency.
For a more in-depth look at the square, follow a guide on a daytime tour, which delves into the buildings’ pasts. On the Village’s haunted tours, you can try to catch a glimpse of an apparition with a lantern light. Patrons can get an additional taste of the past at the weekly farmers market, which showcases fresh vegetables and is visited by Chester the Cat, the square’s resident feline who normally hangs out at Dixie’s Store.
The Chisholm Trail Heritage Center educates old ranch hands and rootin’-tootin’ greenhorns about the cattle drives of the 19th and 20th centuries with multimedia presentations and interactive exhibits. Wannabe bovine chaperones can try their hand at roping a steer, learn how to tell the age of cattle, and watch animatronic cowboys discuss life on the trail and successful ways to impersonate humans. Inside the multisensory Experience Theater, viewers are transported along on a cattle drive as they smell the flowers of the prairie, hear the sounds of cattle, and feel the wind and water of a storm. An interactive video game lets kids play the part of a rancher trying to get a herd to the railroad, and a branding station helps exercise creativity by marking property, such as video games or siblings.
It's a scene you'd expect to find on a private island. A canopy shades a beach party, where guests pull cold beverages from a cooler and munch grilled meats prepared over open charcoals by cooks. Just off the shore, a boat blasts music, giving a soundtrack to the festivities and making nearby pirates regret canceling their satellite radio subscription.
North Texas Lake Charters' crew creates this oasis at Lake Ray Robert's party cove. Another one of their boats ferries party guests to and from the ramp at Isle Du Bois State Park. From this launch point, the company's captains take passengers on various aquatic adventures. Speedboats pull wake boarders and water-skiers, while fishing boats carry anglers out in search of a prized catch.
While Trail of Fear is now Oklahoma's largest haunted attraction, Hauntworld.com reveals that the original format was a small, roadside hay maze operated by a father and son in 1998. Today, a three-story pyramid looms above the theme park's frightful environs and prowling actors. Creators Bob Wright Sr. and Bob Wright Jr. supervise a staff of more than 100—a vast increase from their first crew of approximately 15 people and a few rusty table fans—as they guide visitors through four nightmarish worlds. Though the majority of these helpers return to the job each season with fiendish devotion, their strategies for harvesting screams evolve every year to surprise even the most loyal fans.
The Voodoo Bayou has proven to be Trail of Fear's most intense experience, where ghastly creatures dart from their swampland dens to spook trespassers and ask directions to the nearest zombie hoedown. Elsewhere, a maniacal ringmaster oversees the disorienting maze and murderous clowns of Cirque de Morte, and malformed test subjects rise from The Experiment's excavation and lab sites. Laughter and gasps join the chorus of screams at the Crispy Family Carnival, where performers inject dark humor into their classic sideshow acts, which can be viewed at the Thunderbird Trail of Fear.
On the Halloween Midway, Boo House BBQ supplies fuel for brave souls in the form of burgers and brisket. Fairground games embrace macabre twists; past activities include a severed-head toss and live-zombie target practice. For younger children, Pumpkin Junction entertains with scary stories and magic tricks on select nights. A portion of Trail of Fear's proceeds go to benefit a specific charity every year, contributing thousands of dollars to community causes.