Any closer, and you would be lunch

Ever had one of these days? You’re out for a nice drive, cruising along in your comfy vehicle, enjoying the natural scenery, at peace with the world then, suddenly, your mojo flow comes to a complete standstill while you sit and wait for a 2,000-pound rhinoceros to cross the road in front of you.

He’s taking his sweet, loving time and all you can do is sit there and watch.

What, never had one of those days you say?

Then it’s about time you did, because there aren’t that many people who get held up in traffic (or at least have the opportunity to be) by a rhino, or any wild animal for that matter.

But that is always a possibility on a trip to Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon’s only drive-through animal park. That and a lot more.

This is where you can take a casual stroll inside the habitat of cheetahs. Just you, the cheetahs and the park’s cheetah expert, who explains to you how to behave in the company of cheetahs.

At Wildlife Safari, you can also enjoy a meet-and-greet with an elephant, feed a giraffe, get a close-up educational experience with a hippo and be on the receiving end of a real, live bear hug.

O.K., forget the bear hug; that’s just marketing hyperbole. But the other experiences can all be had at Wildlife Safari.

Of course, if you prefer, you can also tour the 600-acre park without ever leaving the comfort of your car.

On your 4.5-mile trek, you’ll have the chance to view over 600 animals representing 76 species from around the world. Lions, bison, wildebeests, tamarins, zebras, tigers, wallaroos, yaks, alligators, tree boas, bald eagles, ostriches, emus and, of course, laughing kookaburras (listen for these guys if you get stopped by the rhino).

About 150,000 people visit Wildlife Safari every year, making it one of Oregon’s top destinations.

But this is much more than just a tourist attraction. The Safari’s mission is “To enhance entertainment, education and cultural experiences with a commitment to conservation, preservation and research of native and exotic wildlife.”

Wildlife Safari is renowned for its cheetah-breeding program and hosts an array of programs designed to educate the public about the status of animals around the world.

So a visit to the park is both an opportunity to learn and enjoy a wide array of wild animals you don’t often see roaming freely in their native habitat and, at times, getting very up close and personal with park residents.

In most areas of the park, you’re free to stop and take photos of the animals. Just don’t be surprised if one or more of the animals is as curious about you as you are about them. It is not an infrequent sight to see one of the animals poking its head through a window checking out the driver’s taste in music or the vehicle’s options.

You may wind up having to adjust your visor but, hey, good photo opp.

There’s plenty to do at Safari outside of your vehicle as well. Safari Village includes a narrow gauge railroad, café, gift shop, petting zoo and 90 of the park’s animals.

It’s truly a one-of-a-kind place and it’s an experience that won’t soon be forgotten, especially if kids are involved.

So take a walk, or drive, on the wild side. Head down to Wildlife Safari, just south of Roseburg, a couple miles off Interstate 5.

To learn more, visit http://www.wildlifesafari.net/

Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area, Highway 38

As one juvenile bull elk ate alone from his herd, a small gathering of motorists stood next to their cars. They watched the young bull elk look up and walk toward the rest of the young bulls grazing close to the fence along Highway 38. The onlookers speculated he wanted some of the attention his herd mates were enjoying. We’ll never know, but one thing is for sure.

There are few better places in Oregon to see elk up close and personal, if they cooperate. On this day, young bulls decided to graze just over the fence separating the parking lot from the meadow. Other days they may be far enough toward the tree line to require binoculars.

Elk are in residence throughout the year, but that’s no guarantee to see anything You may be disappointed if you are viewing in the middle of a hot day. Timing is everything. Like everywhere, wildlife watching at Dean Creek is best in the morning and evening.

If luck is on your side, it’s quite a thrill to see them up close in their natural habitat with so little effort.

Until moose arrived in Wallowa County from Idaho recently, elk were the largest land animal in Oregon and they don’t disappoint.

Between 60 and 100 Roosevelt elk live a few miles upriver from Reedsport, where they move freely through the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area.

In the photo above, antlers are covered in velvet. The bulls undergo the rut from mid-September through October.

Pregnant cows head to the woods in the spring and return a few weeks later with a calf in late May or June. A lucky traveler at this time will see a youngster frolicking in the pasture.

While Dean Creek is also home to ducks, Canada geese, nutria, bluebirds, black-tailed deer, great blue herons and many more species of wildlife in its 1,040 acres of wetlands, pastures and woods, elk are the stars of the show.

The viewing site is cooperatively managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The two viewing areas and several pullouts can draw a crowd. It’s wise to show caution pulling off the road, especially at night.

The elk do not receive supplemental feed at the site. They live nearby because the cover and feed are good and they feel safe.

The wildlife viewing area is three miles east of Reedsport on the south shoulder of Oregon Highway 38. There is no fee to visit.

For information, check with the Coos Bay District of the Bureau of Land Management at 541-756-0100.

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