In 1999, my three kids and I went on one of our last road trips together. That summer we drove from Los Angeles to Vancouver, British Columbia. This trip was a little easier for me because my son had just begun driving and was able to help me with that, as well as with distracting and occupying his younger sisters.
On our way north, we drove first to San Jose and stayed with my sister for a couple of days before heading to Canada. When we got started, we drove along U.S. 101 from San Francisco across the Oregon border just north of Crescent City then headed east to Interstate 5 which we would take the rest of the way into Canada. When we got near Medford, Oregon on Interstate 5, we began to see signs for an attraction called Wildlife Safari. According to the billboards, it wasn’t too far away. We hadn’t heard of it previously but the signs promised a drive-thru experience with wildlife and a zoo, as well as a gift shop and cafeteria. We decided we would keep driving until we got to the turn off for Wildlife Safari instead of stopping for a rest in Medford.
When we arrived we learned that we would drive through the gated and fenced in grounds in our own car. We would be able to drive through at our leisure and were allowed to open windows in the car, except in the bear and lion dens where our windows had to be rolled up. We didn’t know what to expect but my kids, all three of them, have always loved wildlife and were excited to go through. So we did.
We were not disappointed in the least. The park was everything it had promised and so much more. The animals came up to the car windows in many cases and in some cases, we actually had to stop the car and wait for the wildlife to get out of our way. We saw girafffes, zebras, camels, yaks, bison, emus, and a variety of different deer, sheep, and goats. We saw monkeys, black bears, brown bears, tigers, lions, leopards, and just about any kind of animal you might expect to see on safari. The animals are grouped in “continent” manor so that you would see the same animals grouped together that you would actually see in proximity to one another in the wild. The kids were mesmerized. Because we were able to move at our own pace (under ten miles per hour) we were able to take a lot of pictures. The kids were able to take off their seat belts and change places to get a better view any time they wanted to.
When we finished the drive and got out of the car to head to the mini zoo and gift shop, the kids were so enthusiastic that they wanted to go again. However, we didn’t have time because the park was about to close and we had already lost three hours of driving time. We were determined to make it to Portland that evening. The whole rest of the trip, over a week’s time, the kids kept talking about Wildlife Safari and asked if we could go through again on the way home. We agreed that if everyone cooperated in getting up and leaving Vancouver on time, we should be able to arrive at Wildlife Safari just before the last drive through of the day. So now we had a goal to shoot for.
We did it! Everyone cooperated. We were able to leave Vancouver by 8 am and we arrived in Winston, Oregon at the gates of Wildlife Safari in time to drive through. This time they each had a brand new disposable camera to take pictures with as we drove into the park. Once again, they were just as mesmerized the second time as they had been the first time. This time we saw different animals; a lot of the same animals were out but we did see some that we had missed the first time through.
Since 1999, Wildlife Safari has become a favorite stop between San Jose and Portland. In fact, there have been several times when we drove from the San Francisco bay area to Wildlife Safari and back to California – a special trip to a special place. If I count back, I believe I have been to Wildlife Safari at least fourteen times! It has changed a lot since the first time we were there but it is still the same place with a lot of the same operating procedures. Some things have gotten better and some things have gotten commercial (for example, they now have “encounters” where you can get up close and personal with some of the animals for an extra fee) but it is still a wonderful experience! And now my grandchildren are enjoying it, too.