Photo Friday: Safari West, California

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In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the zebra sleeps toniiiiiight…

santa rosa, california, safari west, sonoma county

What, that’s not how the song goes? Oh well. Unfortunately, I encountered no lions while on safari two weeks ago to belt out such accurate lyrics with authority. But hey there were rhinos about to jump each other’s bones (no, really…we intervened just in the nick of time).

santa rosa, california, safari west, sonoma county

Oh wait, you didn’t know I went on safari earlier this month? I neglected to tell you? Well, no, truth be told, I didn’t jet off to Africa yet (not until mid-March at least). Rather, did you know California has an authentic safari park? No? It was news to me, too, until recently.

santa rosa, california, safari west, sonoma county

I was working on a magazine story for Alaska Airlines about wineless getaways in Napa and Sonoma Counties, and it was only then that I heard about Safari West up in Santa Rosa, which is about as close you’ll get to visiting a game park in the United States. The owner himself is a riveting man and jack of many trades, having collected animals long before opening the park 20 years ago and even crafting much of the furniture you’ll find in the lodge and cabins himself. Many of the guides have worked in Africa at some point, meaning they know their stuff and you might just walk away from the whole experience a little more knowledgeable than when you arrived.

santa rosa, california, safari west, sonoma county

Truth be told, SVV and I feared it might be a bit cheesy, but that was far from the truth. I really did feel like I was in South Africa, as the park boasted more than 500 animals of 80 different species. Many were welcome to roam the 400-acre park freely, and others were penned in (large) fields. We were only bummed we didn’t allow more time for the trip, as there are also cabins and tents where you can sleep and awake to animals just outside your door.

santa rosa, california, safari west, sonoma county

(If ever I had a fear of ostriches, it was confirmed upon meeting her. Just look at that withering glare!)

santa rosa, california, safari west, sonoma county

I learned a lot that afternoon like the fact that this guy? Is a CAPE not water buffalo. Call him anything other than his true breed, and…well…I don’t want to be around to see how he reacts. (It’s pretty similar to how I react every time someone—particularly PR people—spell my name KristEN when they were competent enough to spell it properly, with an “i,” in the e-mail address just a line above.)

santa rosa, california, safari west, sonoma county

Perhaps the saddest part of the day was when we arrived at the wildebeest field. Far over mingling with the kudu was a lone adolescent wildebeest who had cockily challenged the dominant member of the breed and lost. I envision the remaining wildebeest, the clique, the followers if you will, glaring over at him singing “na-na-na-boo-boo.” Tell me that’s not what this picture says to you.

santa rosa, california, safari west, sonoma county

My absolute favorite animal at the park, though, was this little gal without a doubt. She’s an African watusi who wobbles to one side because her horns are so heavy they cause her to tilt. And her name is—wait for it—Ilene. Appropriate, no?

santa rosa, california, safari west, sonoma county

After the vehicle part of the tour, you’re led by foot to the pens where the cheetahs and warthogs reside, as well as to the aviary. Shockingly enough, the most stunning bird I saw was this flamboyant blue crowned pigeon (can you even believe it??) who was a fan of ruffling his feathers, cooing loudly and attempting to flirt with his neighbor the blue duiker (the world’s smallest breed of antelope).

santa rosa, california, safari west, sonoma county

They said no touching the animals. Well, what do you do, when a 20-foot-tall giraffe approached your vehicle in search of a nuzzle? How can you possibly deny that face?

santa rosa, california, safari west, sonoma county

Is anyone else familiar with that, er, popular 80’s tune, “Joshua Giraffe?” Because I’d be lying if I said that song wasn’t stuck in my head for days afterward. Hey, don’t judge; I grew up with a sister six years my junior. While all my peers were going to New Kids on the Block concert, we were stuck at home listening to Raffi and singing along to “Wee Sing Campfire Songs.”

santa rosa, california, safari west, sonoma county

*All photos taken with a Canon T1i and Canon XSi, 17-85mm lens or 10-20mm lens (wide-angle shots), housed in a LowePro SlingShot and Brenthaven slingback. (Yes, we’re finally a two-DSLR, two-camera bag family! We have arrived!)

**For more Photo Friday fun, visit Delicious Baby.

COMMENTS
  • January 29, 2010

    Oh, giraffes! I love them. I would nuzzle right back. But I bet they have bad breath.

  • January 29, 2010

    Beautiful pictures! We use to live in Sonoma County and I never knew this was there. Will have to visit next time we go there.

  • January 29, 2010

    I love getting to see wildlife when I travel. I can’t believe how close up you got to everything.

  • January 29, 2010

    the giraffe shot with you is priceless!

  • January 29, 2010

    What a friendly giraffe! that’s so neat-o 🙂

  • January 29, 2010

    This is great! I will definitely visit sometime this year, when I’m not busy training for something or other 🙂

  • January 29, 2010

    Wow! Love the Giraffe shot. How cool to get so up close to them like that.

  • January 29, 2010
    Camels_and_Chocolate

    Thanks, guys! FYI, the giraffe shot (my favorite of them all) was taken by SVV. All others I snapped. Gotta give him credit where credit is due! He’s goood.

  • January 29, 2010

    First off, Congrats on your nomination once again for the Bloggies! I’ll be voting and spreading the news! You and my other fave blog, My Marrakech (Best Africa blog) will be getting my votes!

    Hey, I need to bookmark this. I just know my daughter will absolutely LOVE this adventure. Next time we are in the West Coast, we will be sure to drop by Santa Rosa for some safari!! Especially if our South Africa plans for this year falls through 🙁 . Let me know how your Africa trip goes (I’m sure you will) !!

  • January 29, 2010
    KT

    That is so cool! My mom heads to Napa every spring with her girlfriends from college & I’ll have to let them in on this. They’ll love it!

  • January 29, 2010

    I love that Giraffe picture! So sweet. Bet it feels like having a horse wanting to nuzzle. Cute and all but kinda scary.

  • January 29, 2010

    Oh my gosh that giraffe is HUGE!!!!! wowzers 🙂

  • January 29, 2010

    Ilene..haha..that is great. Who knew that such an authentic African safari experience could be found in California? We have those types of “Safari” parks here in Canada too, but they are definitely cheesy. Spectacular photos too, I really like the one of the Cape (not Water Buffalo!)

  • January 29, 2010

    I went there long ago and I don’t remember this many animals. I do remember the ostriches though. They looked HUGE up close!

  • January 29, 2010

    I can’t believe I lived in California all these years and never knew that this place existed. Thanks for sharing such great photos – I especially loved the zebras and lemurs.

  • January 29, 2010

    Great giraffe pic!
    And that’s not the only safari park in Cali. There’s one down here in San Diego. The Wild Animal Park is, I believe, affiliated with the San Diego Zoo. I haven’t been there yet, but I want to go. They even have over night camping safaris and a zipline. (Although what a zipline has to do with a safari, I don’t know.)

  • January 29, 2010
    TraciJ

    I surprised my hubby with this same trip a fews year back – We used to live in the East Bay and headed up there for an overnight. So fun! I think we have traded places kinda…..We moved to TN last year from the Bay Area (after living there for 13 years)! We really like it here, it is SO different ~ We were ready for a change of pace…….Love your blog! =)

  • January 29, 2010

    1) I also adore the giraffe shot.
    2) That ostrich was totally about ready to kick your ass.
    3) I can’t tell which end of that pigeon is the front end.

  • January 29, 2010

    West Palm Beach, FL has an awesome one…Lion Country Safari. You drive your own car through…and then they have a petting zoo where you can feed a giraffe (love those cuties 🙂 ) and it’s not really cheesy at all

  • January 29, 2010

    These are really great photos. I am such an animal lover, and I want to just pet that giraffe!

    This is my first time visiting. It’s nice to be here:)

    Cheers,

    Debbie Ferm

  • January 29, 2010

    Good Lord, was that giraffe’s head really as big as it appears in that photo?!

  • January 29, 2010

    As I said on another post, I just got back from South Africa — and I’m not going to deny it — looks pretty similar to the safaris/game drives that I went on! Fencing and nice giraffes weren’t included on mine 🙂

  • January 29, 2010

    Ha, my sister and I grew up listening to “Wee Sing Campfire Songs” instead of more contemporary music, too. Ah, memories.

  • January 29, 2010

    There’s a pretty decent game safari in Gentry, Arkansas.
    http://www.wildwildernessdrivethroughsafari.com/
    When I was there, I got to feed a lot of the animals such as the giraffes, kangaroos and llamas by hand. I got to pet a kangaroo (the softest animal on the planet, who knew?), and hold a baby tiger. The monkeys are hilarious because they crawl on your vehicle (kind of scary, too, come to think of it). I also got to hold several kinds of enormous snakes. It was an unforgettable experience! I highly recommend it. I live in Indiana now so don’t get to go back too often.

  • January 31, 2010

    After doing quite a bit of reading in your archives, I have realized something. Girl, you work your ass off!!

  • February 2, 2010
    SVV

    http://twitpic.com/yga14

    That giraffe could easily carry a family of four

  • February 2, 2010

    The song always confused me. I thought lions hung out in the savannah rather than the jungle. Zebras too.

  • February 2, 2010

    Awesome place! And I actually lol’d at “Ilene.”

  • February 3, 2010
    Clownfish

    Ok, now that blue crowned pigeon is one of the coolest looking birds I’ve ever seen! Thanks for the pics, wonderful.

  • March 25, 2010

    Great posting and pictures. I grew up about 15 minutes away from Safari West and I never even heard about this place until I was an adult, and just like you, I thought it was cheesy… I do have to make it there sometime!

    Just like you, my name gets misspelled and mistaken for many different variations, so I know your pain! Hope you are having a great time in Rwanda!

    +Shana. (not Shawna or Shanna or Shannon, it rhymes with banana)

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