Lemurs & Lenses

By Kate Riley April 7, 2014

What a great weekend we had! My mother-in-law and her husband came to visit so we took them to a place we’ve always wanted to see and only 30 minutes from our home called Safari West. If you’ve ever wanted to visit the Wine Country, this place is yet another reason to do so. Safari West is not a zoo, it’s a 400 acre preserve in the heart of Sonoma County that is home to several hundred animals and bird species native to Africa and South America, many of them endangered. Together with the kids and grandparents, we set out on a perfect spring day with sunny skies on a safari adventure! 

In anticipation of the visit, I rented a 18-200mm lens like I’ve done before to capture the animals in their habitats. It came with a hood and allowed me to zoom out to capture wide panoramas and zoom in to capture faces! 

lens rental

I love the idea of “try before you buy” so this was a great opportunity to take this versatile lens out for spin – I rent from Borrow Lenses and pick up at a local photography shop. This one is so great for vacationing outdoors when you take along your DSLR – the range of 18-200mm allows you to capture so much while on the go and without ever switching lenses.

The adventure begins on an all terrain vehicle (it felt a little like Jurassic Park) with an experienced guide and you ride all the way through the preserve up and down and into valleys where different animals live on a two hour tour. 

all terrain vehicles


guide in preserve

Some of the animals come up right next to the vehicle which is so cool but many of the animals are 20 to 100 feet away. Some habitats are enclosed (rhinos, cheetahs, monkeys) but many are not.

Antelopes and giraffes and zebras cross your path as you travel around, here’s a glimpse at a few of creatures captured on this beautiful preserve. There are hundreds of animals here, these are just a few favorite shots straight out of the camera using the borrowed lens.

lemur on branch


zebra in preserve


watusi cattle safari west


american flamingo




safari west giraffe addax


giraffe reticulated




antelope 3


scarlet ibis


cheetah body


cheetah 6


You can stay at Safari West over night in open air tented African style cabins that have all the modern amenities and listen to the sounds of the animals at night… something we’d love to do in the future.

safari west cabin


After the adventure, we spent the afternoon driving around the Napa Valley where the mustard flowers are in full bloom and I snapped a few photos with the inlaws – it’s so lovely here in spring! 

family in mustard flowers

Next week I’ll share a few of our favorite stops and wineries between Calistoga and St. Helena in the Napa Valley. . . .   . .


  1. I am fairly certain this is the same lens I often use at home and I love it! It is heavy, but you can get more in a picture without the skew of a wide angle

  2. The photos are gorgeous. Glad to hear you rented. I just started taking up photography and have fixed 50mm lens that the class instructor recommended. while I like it I need to look into a zoom lens also. Now I’ll be looking into renting first. Thanks.

    • Teresa, I LOVE a 50mm fixed lens, they are wonderful for shooting vignettes and up close beauty shots, yep try the rental, it’s fun and you always learn something new!

  3. This is so cool! I’ve rented a similar lens before for vacation and it was so hard to return that bad boy.

  4. What a wonderful trip. Those critters, ‘Great & Small” remind us that we are part of a bigger planet. Happy you all had a good time.

  5. Thanks for sharing the “Borrow Lenses” tip! Such a great idea for those of us trying to improve our photography skills without committing to expensive new gear before testing it out.

    Beautiful snaps, btw! Especially the in-law shot in the field :-)


  6. I’m so envious of you for living in a warm climate where you can enjoy these things. I also love the pictures. I also need to purchase that lens. In time.

  7. I own that lens! I bought it as part of a kit with my D5100. It’s a *great* travel lens. When I went to Japan for 3 months, it was the only one I brought and it performed great. It’s a bit of a clunker, but not as heavy as some of the others.

  8. wow! this place looks amazing! and i live pretty close to it. i went on the website and only found information for class field trips. Would you be able to give more info? How much does it cost to go?
    Amazing pics also!

  9. Great tip Patricia, this one came with a hood which really helps with glare!

  10. What a beautiful family! Gorgeous shots! & Stunning lens. Adoring your style! & Looking forward to your future posts! ;D

    <3 Carsla
    Founder & CEO of Connect-the-Cloths
    A stylist, foodie, & writer's blog in development.

  11. Kate, I felt like I was right there with you! Your pictures are just wonderful.

  12. I have heard great things about Safari West.. Since we would be coming from the East Bay I am wondering if it would be worth staying overnight. I bet the ‘camp out Safari’ experience would be awesome.

    You got some beautiful pictures too. I love the zebra

  13. Safari West will definitely be added to a future adventure for us. Your pics are amazing and I enjoyed them so much. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Would you be willing to shadre a jpeg of the watusi cattle? I’m looking for pictures for his office, he rode bulls in college. thanks, julie

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