It’s summer road trip season and while most families are focused on getting from point A to point B, Toyota and the National Audubon Society are challenging travelers to Exit the Highway and spend some time in nature instead of just rushing to their destination.


Simply log on to and register for the Exit the Highway challenge. Download one of several existing itineraries, including stops in the Cincinnati/Louisville area, New England, St. Louis and Tucson, or create your own itinerary and share it with friends.


Once you complete your Exit the Highway trip, upload photos of your destination to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram using #exitthehighway. Alternately, you can upload photos directly to the challenge website. Challenge participants will be entered to win a new Toyota Prius v.


Many of the locations on the preset itineraries are conservation projects funded in part by a TogetherGreen grant. TogetherGreen is a $20 million conservation initiative created by Toyota and the National Audubon Society. The projects funded through the grant program support conservation efforts in communities across the nation.


On Saturday, I decided to take the challenge myself and so I loaded up both of my children as well as my two nephews for a little road trip. I live in the Phoenix metropolitan area and since there wasn’t an existing itinerary for my city, I decided to create my own stop. My destination of choice was Zanjero Park (PDF), an urban park located off of the 202 San Tan Freeway in Gilbert, Arizona.


Zanjero Park is located on land owned by the Arizona Department of Transportation. Although the land’s main function is as a water retention basin, it is also a prime spot for artificial burrowing owl habitats because it is situated next to an active farm. Farms are a great place for burrowing owls to hunt for prey. Thanks in part to a TogetherGreen grant, the Desert Rivers Audubon chapter was able to build 100 burrowing owl habitats at Zanjero Park.



The four kids, who range in age from 8 to 14, and I visited the park on Saturday evening as the sun was beginning to set because it was a blistering hot day here in Phoenix. Much to my surprise, we arrived just as an OwlWalk and Talk was concluding.


I noticed several people standing on the sidewalk looking through binoculars at a set of burrows and so I quietly approached to ask what they were looking at. Stacy Burleigh, the OwlWatch coordinator for Desert Rivers Audubon, explained that a fledgling burrowing owl had peeked out of one of the habitats and they were watching to see if it made another appearance.


While the kids and I did not get to see the fledgling we did watch a beautiful female burrowing owl sitting on a perch above a habitat as the sun began to set. Despite the heat all four of the kids enjoyed watching the owl and waiting to see if others appeared.


Now that I know there is a fledgling making its home in the park, I plan to visit again in hopes of seeing the cute little critter. Had it not been for the Exit the Highway challenge, I’d have never known that this habitat existed.


If you’re planning on taking a road trip, or even a day trip this summer, I encourage you to take the Exit the Highway challenge, you never know what you’ll see.

Take the Exit the Highway challenge
Get off the interstate and visit a local nature site for a chance to win a Toyota Prius v.