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An African Safari in Northern California???

An African Safari in Northern California???

Old Mar 19, 07, 11:08 am
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Sacramento, California, USA
Posts: 2,960
An African Safari in Northern California???

Springtime in Northern California is quite possibly my favorite time of the year. The hills are still green, the wildflowers are blooming, and the weather is great. A perfect time to go on safari!

For some time I’ve wanted to visit Safari West, a 400 acre African wildlife preserve located between Santa Rosa and Calistoga. Advance reservations are mandatory to go on the game drive; I called three days ahead of time and had no problem securing three seats for the 1 p.m. departure. My 11 year old son invited a friend to come along so it was a guys day out.

Drive time from Sacramento is about two hours. After leaving Interstate 80 at Cordelia, we drove north through the scenic Napa Valley. Traffic wasn’t bad on highway 28 which is usually choked with tourists visiting the wineries (especially in the summer months). A pit stop at Taylor’s Refresher (933 Main Street, St. Helena) for lunch caught the boys’ attention. Taylor’s is a classic 1940’s burger joint that has been upgraded over the years while retaining its charm. There is also one in the Ferry Building in downtown San Francisco. The food is excellent – we each had classic cheeseburgers and fries. The hamburgers were perfectly cooked and the fries were “awesome” according to my two accompanying food critics. We enjoyed our lunch at one of the their many picnic tables behind the restaurant. The menu offered other intriguing items, including fish tacos and salads, but go for the burgers!

Back on highway 28 (aka Main Street in St. Helena) we continued north. Just after passing Calistoga, we turned left onto Petrified Forest Road and started heading up into the mountains that surround the Napa Valley. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop at the Petrified Forest as we were running a little late after our lunch break. We easily found our way to Safari West, located at 3115 Porter Creek Road (Santa Rosa, CA 95404).

After checking in at the gift shop we were directed to the staging area for the game drive. Here we were assigned to a canvas topped open-air 4WD safari vehicle, complete with roof-top seating. While waiting to leave we had some time to walk around. So we took the opportunity to admire the macaws perched in a nearby tree and take a look at the giraffes enclosed in a huge paddock.

The time came to leave and our driver-guide, Ellen, explained some simple rules. Don’t touch the animals and don’t leave the truck. Just about everybody wanted a chance to ride on the roof, so she said we’d switch off during the game drive. We started off inside the truck, riding right behind Ellen which was perfect for the boys to ask her never-ending questions about the animals.

The first part of the journey was a drive around the giraffe paddock where we came about as close to a giraffe as you can possibly get. Several giraffe came over to the truck and started poking around looking for leaves on the roof to eat. We saw one of the giraffe actually resting on the ground which is unusual behavior in the wild but because the giraffe know they have no predators around they take the opportunity to occasionally rest on the ground.

We then moved on, passing by oryx with their curiously shaped horns, a pair of inquisitive ostrich and several more species of African antelope whose name escapes me. A radio call to Ellen came in; one of the other guides had found where the Wasabi cattle herd was grazing so off we went. The dirt tracks we were on definitely call for 4 wheel drive. The kids riding on the roof were especially having a great time of it!

Soon we came over a rise and encountered a herd of cattle with the biggest horns I’ve ever seen. Ellen explained that the Wasabi cattle are herded by the Masai tribe in Africa who use the cattle as a unique food source. They mix the cows’ milk with blood that they periodically draw from the animal’s neck. To preserve this so-called Masai Milkshake, they’ll add urine from the cow which has preserving qualities. The Masai also use the dried dung from the cattle as a fuel source and building material; Ellen passed around a dried out specimen for everybody to examine. All of this, needless to say, was quite fascinating for my two young explorers. Well me too I must add!

Moving on we entered another huge enclosure where we came face to face with a herd of zebra. We learned that zebra are one of the few animals that have both horizontal and vertical striping and that their stripes are unique to the animal, just like a human’s fingerprints. A baby zebra quickly learns to identify its mother by her stripes and scent. So which is it, white stripes on black, or black strips on white? Ellen said that the consensus these days is that the zebra has white stripes on black because if you shaved off a zebra’s coat, you’d discover that they have black skin.

Driving further up into the hills we found some wildebeest near a watering hole and then came across one of the most dangerous animals in Africa – the Cape buffalo. A small herd of cows grazed peacefully while a huge bull laying down under a tree watched over his harem and glared at us in the truck. Ellen said that the buffalo were unlikely to charge the truck because it was bigger than them. But if anyone were to get out of the truck and try to approach the herd, there was a fairly good chance they’d be attacked.

After a couple of hours on the drive we headed back. Following a short water break, we met up again with Ellen for the walking portion of the tour. She took us around their inner compound to see their cheetah, tortoises, civet cat, among other animals. We were then led inside their open-air aviary where we came face to face with an abundance of exotic birds. After a visit to see Lemur Island our safari adventure was over.

Safari West offers overnight accommodations in safari tents (think canvas walled cabin with all the modern amenities inside). They also have barbecue lunches and dinners (advance reservations required). We did not eat or stay here; have to save that for another trip as I’ll definitely come back again in the future!
El Cochinito is offline  
Old Mar 21, 07, 11:30 am
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: SFO/MSY
Programs: AA Plat/4MM, AS Gold, Hyatt Globalist
Posts: 3,362
Great report! I grew up in Sacramento and never even knew this place existed. For someone who has a spent a lot of time in Africa, I'm interested to take a visit and see how it compares to the real thing (especially the tent-cabins)
olimaspecto is offline  
Old Mar 24, 07, 8:39 am
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: East Ester, Alaska
Programs: Alaska Airlines Million Miler, United Airlines Million Miler, Wyndham Rewards Diamond Level
Posts: 9,618
I've driven down highway 28 on a number of occasions. I must've missed Safari West. Thanks to your fine report, I'm likely to pay a visit next time through.
Seat 2A is offline  
Old Mar 25, 07, 3:38 pm
Join Date: Nov 2001
Location: DC area
Programs: UA 1K; HH Gold; *Wood Gold
Posts: 204
This looks terrific. Anyone here ever stayed overnight?^
Fly16 is offline  

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