April 30, 2014
I picked the most inauspicious day possible for my trip to Palm Desert and The Living Desert Wildlife Adventure. Temperatures were in the 90s, unseasonably warm as they say, and the Santa Ana winds were blowing fiercely. I should also confess that I’m not a desert person and definitely do not envision my senior years spent in a retirement community in the Palm Springs area. So why was I making this trip? Curiosity, plain and simple.
The nature reserve is desert land, Sonoran Desert according to the brochure. The entire area is over 1000 acres but only a small fraction of this is developed as the Wildlife Park. This section is easily accessible with a shuttle service that runs every fifteen minutes. Be sure to buy a wristband when purchasing your admission ticket. The shuttle driver will provide some commentary on the park but there really isn’t a view of the animals from the shuttle. At some point one must get off and walk a little.
The park has two main sections: an exotic African exhibit and the larger North American desert area. Both are sunny and warm, but there are plenty of shade trees and benches to be found.
My first stop was Africa. The map said there were giraffe and ostrich at the shuttle stop but I didn’t see any ostrich. The giraffe were impressive. There were several placidly stripping a branch before devouring the stems as well. There were a couple places to view the animals and it wasn’t difficult to get some fairly good pictures. The feeding area was near the fence so the animals were close.
One of the animals I particularly wanted to see was the leopard which was located in the the Village WaTuTu. I was expecting to see several but should have known better since leopards are solitary hunters and not herd animals like antelope or giraffe. I was also disappointed to discover that the one leopard on display was behind a glass panel. This made it very difficult to take pictures. It was a very sunny day and the glass was full of reflections. I used a polarizing filter and still had some issues. I probably should have used a faster shutter speed as well because the leopard never stopped moving. It continuously circled a tree which made for blurry pictures and dappled light. It was a tricky photographic situation.
The morning was warming up and I wasn’t making much progress. I had hoped to get a lot of shots but as it got later in the morning, the animals were seeking shade, something that I should have been doing. The cheetahs were resting under a tree. I’m glad I saw them but disappointed that they were so far away and hard to see.
That was the case with many of the animals. It was getting close to noon and most animals were dozing. I moved on to the North American area which has a lot of desert gardens: the Mojave Garden, the Sonoran Garden, the Yucca Garden, the Yuman Garden, and so on. There is also an area called Eagle Canyon but I didn’t see any eagles. I did see Red Tail Hawks in an aviary. It seemed a shame to cage such large birds but I later discovered that these birds, and all other aviary birds, have been rescued. They were injured and can no longer fly so they cannot be released into the wild.
The North American section didn’t catch my imagination as much as Africa did. I see coyote frequently as I go about my daily routine. I don’t live far from the mountains and they come down into the neighborhoods every night. However, I did want to see the bighorn sheep. There were three or four of them, one of which was surely a ram because it had the big horns. The mountain was a barren rock pile and seemed most inhospitable. Perhaps that’s why they all headed for the ridge and went over to the other side. Let’s hope there was a bit of grass there.
I took my cue from the sheep and called it a day. I’m glad I ventured forth and had the courage to face my fears about the desert. I enjoyed seeing animals I haven’t seen in years, but the park was a little too small and definitely too barren to really appeal to me. I think I may try a bigger venue next time I want to photograph wildlife, perhaps the Los Angeles zoo or a trip to San Diego.