The most underrated travel destination is where we live. Not me and Kristi – all of us.

When thinking of travel, we generally think of far-away places. Exotic places. Places we’ve never been before.

Sure, but we should also all give greater consideration to exploring our own backyards. Kristi and I have made a point of doing that. Fifteen miles from our house can be found a natural – and unnatural – wonderland we’d happily travel 500 miles to experience: White Oak Conservation Center.

Rhino baby and mother at White Oak Conservation Center

Rhino baby and mother at White Oak Conservation Center (Photo Credit Kristi Dosh / TRAVELING WITHOUT KIDS)

We’ve written about White Oak before. It’s not only one of the great hidden gems of Northeast Florida, but all of Florida and the Southeastern U.S. as well.

Male giraffe at White Oak Conservation Center.

Male giraffe at White Oak Conservation Center. (Photo Credit Chadd Scott / TRAVELING WITHOUT KIDS)

This March, White Oak, in conjunction with Arbus Magazine – the arts and business magazine of Northeast Florida-  hosted its first ever “The Art of Conservation” event. Combining my long-time passion for nature with my new-found passion for art – and coinciding with our fourth wedding anniversary – this was a “must” attend for us. Plus, there was a complimentary dinner.

The event featured a small-group guided tour of White Oak’s grounds focused on rhinos, giraffes and cheetahs. White Oak is a world leader in field of captive breeding for endangered species – rhinos included. It just so happened that the last northern white rhino in the wild died the week of our tour making the tour all the more sobering. The rhinos at White Oak are southern white rhinos and they have one of the largest captive herds in the world – with three babies born recently.

Joining the wildlife, local artists painting “en plein air” (open air) were positioned outside the rhino and giraffe enclosures, with their work available for sale, a portion of proceeds benefitting White Oak’s research efforts. The artists were made available while they worked to answer guest questions about their work and process.

Plein air painter at White Oak Conservation Center. (Photo Credit Kristi Dosh / TRAVELING WITHOUT KIDS)

What they produced was outstanding, most of it selling to the event’s attendees which numbered about 20. As with most public events at White Oak, this wasn’t cheap. A tour there is a splurge which keeps numbers down. As does the long-secretive nature of the facility, an approach which has begun changing under a new ownership group.

Rhinos and fine art in Yulee, FL – who would have thought?

While the travel of our dreams may call for passports, the travel of our tomorrow or this weekend could be right next door.