The Closest Thing to Jurassic Park

I've been to the world famous San Diego Wild Animal Park. It bored me to death. When you have to crane your neck staring down a ravine to catch a glimpse of a tiger's tail behind a bush, you immediately start thinking of more intoxicating ways you could have wasted a hundred bucks. So when d Wife suggested that we all go visit Safari West on our recent trip up north to visit relatives, I was a bit skeptical. Safari West is a wild animal park that was founded by some rich guy who fell in love with some wild animals that his movie producer dad used for a movie shoot some years back (I really should have done some better fact gathering before doing a post on it, but oh well). But what started out as a Neverland Ranch kind of deal evolved into one of the best ways to almost get gored by a wild animal. Safari West kicks ass. Here's our picture story (it's been a while since I've done one of these):

T-Rex shirt? Check. Headwear? oops. Parents aren't perfect. Luckily Uncle Dave has one. Pre-emptive pee (it's a 3-hour tour)? Check.  All systems go.

The walking tour is first. They have a bird area with birds from all over the world. Even ones that are extinct in the wild. Very cool. Sad in the grand scheme of things, but cool here. This is Fury with a couple of Mandarin Ducks.

If you know me at all, you know I'm thinking "Peking Duck" (chill. Mandarin Ducks are not endangered).

Next up, the Cheetah cage.

Since Cheetahs aren't climbers, the fence is relatively low. Which means recently one of the spotted hens flew over and into the pen during a 2nd grade field trip. Lucky kids got to see Darwinism in action. I'm beginning to dig this place and I haven't even gotten into the Jeep yet.

Check out the bench on the roof of the Jeep. Cool! This ain't no San Diego Wild Animal Park tram thing. This is a real Korean War era troop transport vehicle modified for the unforgiving terrain and killer climate associated with wine country!

Our guide gives us a quick briefing on the rules. Most important rule: the animals can touch you, but you cannot touch the animals. Oh - strip club rules? That's all you had to say. She gives us a live demonstration of the only weapon available if the animals get out of hand. See below.

Fury (with our cousin Nicole) is doing his version of "Don't tase me, bro!" Except the taser in this case is just a spray bottle filled with water. Our bichon isn't even phased by a spray bottle. I really hope we don't piss off any Rhinos today. Speak of the devil!

That crazy dude talking to the Rhino is the park's resident trainer. When we drove up, it was just him, 2 huge rhinos and a golf cart. I called him crazy dude for a reason. Sure, Rhinos are good natured lumbering giants who are a little slow. But so was Lennie Small (that will be the only reference to real literature you will ever get from me. BD don't read). Crazy. Moving on.

These are some African cattle (forgot the proper name). They have big horns. The park actually loans these guys out to Texas ranchers to breed with Texas Longhorns. The herd has one freak that was born with male (heavy thick horns) and female (long horns) traits. Poor thing can't even hold his/her head up. I didn't get a picture. It was too sad.

Wine country is indeed beautiful. Even a fool like me can snap a decent photo with subject matter like this.

As we make our away into the hills, our guide tenses up as she speaks into the walkie. I keep hearing "Mary Lou (or some name like that) is at the gate. She is at the gate." A few more times, that same conversation occurs. I'm thinking Mary Lou must be some badass lion or something. This is Mary Lou:

What? That's it? An Antelope looking thingy? But then she tells us the story. Mary Lou (or whatever her name is) is a Gembuck with an attitude. She doesn't like being fenced into this enclosure (even though it encloses acres and acres of hilly mountainside), so every time one of the guides opens the gate to drive in, she tries to escape. Not too long ago, Mary Lou rammed one of her horns through a guide's arm! They put her in solitary for a few months and then on the day they let her out, she rammed a horn through another guide's face!! And another time, she jumped into the empty driver's seat when the guide was unlocking the gate and got her horns entangled in the steering wheel, breaking off a piece of it (her horn) in the process. See, this is what makes Safari West so superior. If there's no threat of impalement, seeing animals up close and personal is really no fun. In fact, it's kind of a letdown.

That's not to say cute storybook animals can't be cool. Like this Zebra for example.

Yes, that is the ever-elusive d Wife. Still not wanting to be shown to the world. No problem, all the more attention for me. See how we compliment each other that way?

Halfway through the tour, it is time to rotate seats so that all the people who wanted to sit on the roof can get a turn. I have a bottle of water in one hand and a camera in the other as I make my way out of the vehicle. I fancy myself to be a ninja sometimes so I decide to take a flying leap out of the jeep. My sometime was not now. Since I had the camera, this "did not quite stick the landing" moment was not documented. However, the Busy Family Players produced a reasonable re-creation for your reading enjoyment after the tour was over. And here it is:

After I pick my ass and pride off the ground, I climb (very carefully) up to the roof seat. The view is spectacular!

Oh, by the way, in case you were wondering if d Wife and I ever resolved the shoe dispute from my last post, this is what we eventually settled upon a few days later. Not as cool as the Cole Haan Air Dereks I had to replace (they discontinued them!), but at least we both dig them a little bit.

On this tour, I discovered my new favorite animal: the Cape Buffalo. I'm sure you've seen pictures of them before. I also recall them from many a Far Side comic. They don't look like anything special. Basically a cow with funny looking horns that look almost Farah Fawcett-esque straight on. But don't let their looks fool you. Cape Buffalo are straight gangsta!! As we drove up to the shelter where the alpha bull was chillin with seven (yes, seven!) of his lady friends, our guide told us that Cape Buffalo have been known to roll up to the campsite of a hunter who has killed one of their own earlier in the day and stomp him to death. On this very same tour, one recently charged the jeep inflicting major damage and sudden onset buffalo phobia among its passengers. Putting unarmed tourists (unless you count a spray bottle) in a loud metal box and rolling them within 15 feet of Africa's second deadliest animal is ballsy. And I love it. Kudos to Safari West! By the way, have you seen the "Battle at Kruger" video on YouTube? Cape Buffalo are bad ass pimps.

Our three hours fly by. We're thoroughly entertained, educated and enlightened. What do you do after an experience like that? You smile a big smile and pose for the family shot (Sorry, d wife still doesn't want to be revealed. No, she is not a celebrity... or is she?).

Bonus Pic:

When we left Santa Rosa on Sunday, there happened to be an air show going on at the airport. Fury got to see vintage WWII aircraft doing maneuvers and F-15's pulling G's and breaking the sound barrier. You simply cannot find a better way to top a weekend trip!