HOUSTON — Recently, I took a drive to Houston to visit my twin brother and his Family. After a short conversation, I learned that my niece, Lexi, had never visited the Houston Zoo. So, we all packed into the car in the wee hours of the morning (I’m not kidding – some people wake up before the sun comes up on Saturdays), to ensure the latest addition to our Family had her first experience at the zoo.

As a young lad, I remember my own parents taking our horde to the Fort Worth Zoo and was more than a bit curious to see what Houston’s version had to offer. I told the elder niece, Lila, that as long as I saw the aquarium I’d be happy. Speak of the devil, as soon as we got inside, the fish portion of the zoo beckoned our group immediately (I think the air conditioning helped too). Immediately, we noticed Lexi’s fascination with the fish folk. She took a particular liking to the jellyfish, which drew verbal surprise from her mother, Jennifer.

Next, the seal required attention. Fortunately, we found the avid swimmer floundering around in and out of perfect photo opportunities. It seemed a little camera shy, or not appreciating all the eyes it had attracted, as it propelled itself around its watery habitat.

From there, we went off to find the elephants. Lila and her mom wanted to see the baby elephant we learned about from a slight bit of research before going into the zoo. While not out in the open at first, only one elephant roamed the main area. We did manage to get a pretty good view (and several photos) of the little pachyderm in a smaller area behind glass. I assume elephants appreciate air conditioning just as much as humans and it looked like we caught the parade during breakfast time.

After that, we were wandering around the primates’ home and noticed a few gorillas taking a stroll of their own. One even paused, in no rush to go anywhere, to allow many onlookers to observe his majestic nature and take a few photos.

At this point, temperatures kept rising, so the kids needed a bit of cooling off. The group headed to a splash pad to beat the heat for a bit. The children seemed to have a good time, but a plethora of people showed up around lunch time and the rising heat seemed to make the place too crowded.

We had a few more stops to make, the bug house (which my sister-in-law volunteered to skip), the giraffes, ostriches and zebra (who seemed to make good roommates) and a quest to see the alligators (who refused to submerge).

As we headed out, Jennifer noticed the bald eagle frolicking away from his/her nest in plain view of all interested onlookers. Standing boldly, the bird beckoned for observers to take photos (as we did) and even seemed to attract a viewing party of his own.

We did seem to leave at a good time as more and more people seemed to have the same idea and the lines looked even longer than when we got there. Leaving became an adventure of its own as parking was bumper to bumper and it actually took awhile to get out to the freeway. The zoo offers a variety of shuttle services that I highly recommend using, especially if you plan to go to the zoo on a busy weekend.

Overall, it was a pretty positive experience, and we managed to get in early enough to avoid the large crowds and muggy weather. Everyone got to see what they wanted. Well, except for penguins and hippos because they didn’t have any of those on exhibit. But being the uncle I am, I made sure to remind at least one of my nieces that there are other zoos that do have penguins and elephants.

The Houston Zoo is open 9 a.m.-7 p.m., seven days a week. For more information, go to www.houstonzoo.org.