Wednesday, July 16, 2008

African Safari in the Bay Area?

Tucked away in the North Bay is a gem of a place called Safari West. Safari West is a wildlife preserve nestled in Santa Rosa, CA on a 400 acre ranch. The mammals at Safari West are native to Africa. There are cheetahs, giraffes, lemurs, antelope, ..., you get the picture. There are also a wide variety of exotic birds from all over the world.

Tours at Safari West require reservations and ours was scheduled for 1:00pm. I didn't know what to expect and I was pleasantly surprised by what we experienced. We started the 2 1/2 hour tour with a walk through their aviary where we saw a number of spectacular exotic birds close up. My favorite was the Scarlet Ibis (pictured left). I had never seen a bird that color in my life. There must have been 20 different species of birds in there, all with their own unique flair.

Leaving the aviary behind, we ventured towards the cheetahs. On our way there, we stopped to look at some antelope in a nearby field. This was very close to a zoo setting and I was a bit surprised to not see these creatures running around the expansive 400 acres of the rest of the park. They did have a newborn with them and little guy sure was cute. Of course, the cheetah area was right next to them and for some reason, one of the cheetahs decided to make its presence known and the antelope instinctively started running. They were safe, if not a bit shook up. It must be tough on the cheetahs though. We moved on to the cheetah area. There are four cheetahs in the park, but they are kept separate.
It was amazing being up close to the sleek beast. We moved on to a few more exhibits, all of which were very similar to a zoo experience. Not what I was expecting, but I knew there was more to come. We saw lemurs, howler monkeys, foxes and several more exotic birds (Sarus Crane pictured on the left).

We finished up the walking portion of the tour and then our guide, Robert, pointed to one of the safari vehicles and motioned for us to get in. There were four seats at the very top and everyone wanted up there. The four young boys went first, one of which was my son Ronald. I can tell you he won't forget that seat for a long time! The first animals we encountered were the giraffes. I had heard they had a new born calf that was just three weeks old. We circled around the giraffes area and came up to a gate. Robert got out, opened the gate and took us through. Now we were really starting our adventure! We didn't go too far before the jeep stopped right next to a small herd of giraffes. There was still a fence separating us from them, but that didn't prevent us from having a very close encounter. One of the giraffes, a male, made straight for the boys sitting on the top of the jeep. Another, a female with spittle dripping from its mouth made straight for my wife! There were howls of shock and glee as these magnificent beasts came towards us. Fortunately, my wife was protected by the roof of the vehicle and managed to stay mostly dry. That was not the case for my son. The big guy decided to make his presence known and chew a little on my son's seatbelt. Robert offered to photograph this event for me since we were not allowed out of the jeep. Robert got some great shots and it was the perfect start to the safari portion of the trip.

The jeep continued on and we passed through four other areas. Each with a variety of animal, too many to list but I will try. We saw magnificent Impalas and stunning East African Crowned Cranes, Springbok Antelopes, White Rhinos, Gazelles, Impalas, zebras, Bongos, Cape Buffalo (very dangerous, just search YouTube), Wildebeest and a rare sighting of a Gemsbok (pictured to the left). Our guide commented to me that our group was able to see a good percentage of the animals out there.

One of my personal favorites was my own close encounter with an Ostrich. They are not the brightest, nor prettiest, but I was fascinated as one approached me. It kept coming closer and closer right towards me. It finally stopped within just a few inches of my camera lens. I think this was making our guide a bit nervous and he decided it was time to move on.

I truly enjoyed our time at Safari West and know I will be back there in the future. I was surprised at how "up close and personal" we were able to get to these awesome creatures. For more information about Safari West, checkout their web site: www.safariwest.com (I am in no way affiliated with Safari West, just a very satisfied customer!)

See more photos from this trip here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Snowshoeing in Yosemite - Dewey Point

With the heat of the summer, I thought it would be nice to remember that it is not always this hot in California. Here is a hike from this Spring in Yosemite. I hope you enjoy it. I know I did!

The goal of the weekend was to venture a trail in a way I've never done before, by way of snowshoes. I’ve been a GPS Map Correspondent for Backpacker Magazine for almost three years now and wanted to try something new. My favorite photograph of Ansel Adams is "Oak Tree, Snow Storm, Yosemite Valley, 1948". Many a time I have dreamed of journeying to Yosemite to sneak a glimpse of this grand place under a fresh snowfall. Alas, I must still dream…

Although the weather during our visit Easter weekend of 2008, did not produce the snowfall I had hoped, it did provide the next best thing: a series of perfect spring days! Small patches of snow still could still be found in shaded locations on the valley floor and there was plenty higher up. Since I had never been on snowshoes before, I decided to do a little test drive on Friday. Two-mile Ranger guided snowshoe hikes are offered daily at the Badger Pass Ranger station. The tour was free ($5 donation requested) and included the snowshoes!
I talked my kids to giving it a try and We hiked on 4 ft of hard packed snow up Old Glacier Point Road to the original Badger Pass ski runs where we were treated to great views of the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the back side of Half Dome (looks like a full dome from the back)! With a couple miles on my new RedFeather snowshoes, I knew that I'd be able to handle Sunday’s hike to Dewey Point.

On Saturday, I left the snowshoes in my car and with camera in hand headed into Yosemite Valley. I have been to Yosemite many times in the late spring and summer and expect the crowds, sometimes oppressive; however, I didn't expect the crush of people in the early spring. Maybe it was the beautiful weather, but most likely it was the Majesty of the park that beckoned everyone there. It didn't matter though; I got what I came for and more. Stunning vistas of the valley from Tunnel View; a prismatic Bridal Veil Falls glistening in the afternoon sun; an ice dome at the bottom of Upper Yosemite Falls and the grandeur of El Capitan dissipated the crowds from my mind.


Early Easter morning, with the valley images fresh in my mind, my hiking buddy Tim, son Ronald and I headed back to Badger Pass to put on the snowshoes and take in the sites of Dewey Point. On the road ahead I saw something; it was just a glimpse, a coyote, in his full winter camouflage. He stopped and glanced at me; the type of glance wildlife gives intruders and darted off and was gone. It was just a second of my life, but enough for me to realize the day ahead was going to be special.

It was cold at the trailhead, but what you would expect being surrounded by snow, pines, and firs. We geared up and with GPS in hand and the trailhead waypoint marked, began our trek on Glacier Point Road. You couldn't tell it was a road, there were machine groomed Nordic trails embedded in the snow. As we hiked, the only sound you could hear was the crunching of the snowshoes on the crusty trail. After about a mile, we left Glacier Point Road for Trail 18. The sign warned us: easier first mile, most difficult last 1.5 mile. No problem, we were ready for it. The trail marked by reflectors in the trees, guided us to a vast meadow. At the end of the meadow we picked up the narrow trail and now had the most difficult part left. The trail wound around the Red Firs and Lodge Pole Pines and gained and lost small amounts of elevation. I would not have called it difficult in the hard packed snow. It would have been more challenging had I been using cross country skis or in heavy powder.

In no time at all we reached the point and were rewarded! I was in awe with the view. I had already experienced similar views of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome and Taft Point, but this was different. Maybe because we were closer to the valley entrance; maybe it was the solitude. I did my best to drain my camera’s battery.

It was just the three of us at the point; such a stark contrast to the day before when I could feel the crush of the crowds on the valley floor. It was as if we had the whole of Yosemite to ourselves. We pulled out the JetBoil for some SanteFe Chicken and gazed at El Capitan just across the way, Cathedral Rocks below us and the rest of the valley beyond. After about a half hour of bliss, I heard sounds of others approaching, I glanced at them like the coyote did to me, not too happy with the intrusion. Within ten minutes, we packed up our stuff and we were gone.

Checkout this hike and the GPS route at BACKPACKER magazine.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Welcome to Bay Area Outdoors (and Beyond)

I've been threatening to start up a blog for sometime so I can share some of my outdoor experiences. As my profile states, I am a GPS map correspondent for BACKPACKER magazine and have put a few miles on my feet in the past few years. Basically what that means is I use a GPS (global positioning system) receiver to record the hikes I go on and then get to share them with the public. What I hope to accomplish with this blog is to provide more detail on some of these hikes and also an avenue to share the photos and experiences of these travels. I encourage feedback and questions and hope to start posting soon.

Just for a start, here is a photo from last weekend's trip to Chewing Gum Lake in Emigrant Wilderness. Enjoy!