10 great places get your hands dirty


By Sarah Sekula, Published in USA Today

Reindeer-farming. Mud-bogging. Camel-grooming. It’s all in a day’s work for Mike Rowe, who is the host of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs With Mike Rowe. He shares the dirty details of some of his favorite filthy spots with Sarah Sekula for USA TODAY.

Oasis Camel Dairy
Ramona, Calif.
“Birds do it,” Rowe says. “Bees do it. But until you’ve seen camels do it, your world will remain smaller than it should be. I have lent a hand in the propagation of all creatures, great and small. But the business of making little camels out of big camels should not be missed. Hump day, indeed. Rated PG-13.” The next public tours are May 8. 760-787-0983; cameldairy.com

Wildlife Wonders
Cleveland, Ga.
Take a trip here and you’ll come face to furry face with Royal Tibetan yaks, turkeys and camels. Plus, it’s “a rare opportunity for the whole family to experience feces from every species,” Rowe quips. “Sure, the wonder of exotic animals is impossible to deny, and their allure at Wildlife Wonders is on full display. But spend a day picking up their poop, and you’ll see that the Animal Kingdom is a palace with plumbing issues.” 706-348-7279; northgeorgiazoo.com

Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
“All I really wanted that day was a hot cup of genuine Kona coffee,” Rowe says. “It only took me 12 hours to make it. When I finally got through the process, it was happy hour. So I had a beer instead.” The plantation is open for free tours, so guests can observe (although not as up close as Rowe did) the lengthy process of coffee processing. 888-414-5662; mountainthunder.com


Kennedy Space Center
Cape Canaveral
Imagine what it’s like to lubricate NASA’s crawler-transporters (the vehicles that move spacecraft to the launch area). “I have nothing bad to say about lubricants,” Rowe says. “However, with a top speed of nearly 1 mph, I’m not sure why it was necessary to turn the (crawler-transporter) into a giant glazed doughnut. But I did. And I’ve been slippery ever since.” Though you can’t traipse around quite like Rowe did, you can scope out the center’s IMAX films and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. 866-737-5235; kennedyspacecenter.com

Fair Oaks Farms
Fair Oaks, Ind.
About 80 calves are born each day at this sprawling farm, where Rowe shot an episode as a dairy-cow midwife. “Wanna feel more connected to your food?” Rowe asks. “Find a pregnant cow having a rough delivery. Reach into the uterus. Find the hooves of the calf, and start pulling. It will take a while, but the results are unforgettable.” Or, sign up for the farm’s dairy adventure to see every step of the dairy-production process and sample award-winning cheeses and ice cream. 877-536-1194; fofarms.com

Bracken Cave
Garden Ridge, Texas
“Ah, Bracken Cave,” Rowe says. “Pitch black. Humid. Flesh-eating beetles everywhere. Millions of angry bats; everything the brochure promised.” Members of Bat Conservation International (a $35 membership fee gets admission for up to four people) can join sunset tours (May-October) to watch the bats — up to 20 million of them — take flight for the night. 512-327-9721; batcon.org\bracken

Searles Lake
Trona, Calif.
Get grubby on Oct. 8-9 when the Searles Lake Gem & Mineral Society encourages guests to dig for saline minerals here. “Back in 1873, John Searles was looking for gold,” Rowe says. “He found borax instead. Sadly, nobody cared. Today, though, borax is a big deal.” 760-372-5356; www1.iwvisp.com/tronagemclub/

Soo Locks
Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
“Spent a day on my belly, crawling through underground ‘laterals’ (tunnels under the lock system) clearing lake debris by hand. Don’t recall ever being that claustrophobic. Melted a frozen waterfall with a magical heater. Got frostbite. Don’t go in February. Seriously.” Visitors seeking a more comfortable experience can join Soo Locks Boat Tours from mid-May to mid-October for narrated tours. 800-432-6301; soolocks.com

The Reindeer Farm
Palmer, Alaska
“I got to shoot a moose with a tranquilizer,” Rowe says. “You won’t. I got to take blood samples from Rudolph and Blitzen. You won’t. I nearly got trampled by a grumpy buffalo. You might. So watch yourself out there. Reindeer can’t fly, but they can sure as hell kick.” Casual visitors can feed and pet the reindeer, and see elk and bison. 907-745-4000; reindeerfarm.com

Shark Alley

Gansbaai, South Africa
During shark season, tourists can test their nerves with a cage dive in Shark Alley. “I know, I know … shark cages, what’s the big deal, right?” Rowe says. “But get in one for real. Go under water with a scuba tank and a flimsy wetsuit. Just like that, you’re staring down the throat of a 15-foot great white as he tries real hard to bite through the cage. Trust me, you’ll remember the experience. And you will change your wetsuit.” southafrica.net