Staying true to our promise to our club members of providing fun and unique events, West Coast Challengers took to the highway once again but this time in an “Auto Safari.”

On this driving adventure that traversed some 400 miles, we planned for the club members to visit several locations, all having to do with seeing animals up close as well as some spectacular scenery along the way.

Club members started their Auto Safari adventure by meeting up in both Burbank and Bakersfield, CA, and then coming together in Buttonwillow, CA, just west of Bakersfield. Our club president would be serving as our safari guide on this amazing club adventure.

The first stop on our Auto Safari took us to the Tule Elk State Natural Reserve in Buttonwillow, CA. Our Auto Safari was planned around the prime season for the Tule Elk so that their antlers would be fully developed and free of velvet.

As our safari guide explained to us, the Tule Elk once roamed all over California but during the gold rush they were wiped out as a means of food for the miners. By 1870, the Tule Elk were thought to be extinct — until a secret heard of about 30 elk were discovered being protected and given sanctuary by a local cattle rancher on his property. From these 30, over 3,900 Tule Elk in 22 herds now exist. These elk are all descended from that secret herd of 30 and this reserve is part of the land on which they were first discovered.

With the reserve coming up ahead, our safari guide slowed the caravan of Dodge Challengers down to a slow crawl and as we turned a corner, he stopped and pointed his arm out of the window towards a couple of fallen trees lying in a grassy field. Upon a closer look as to what was so important about some fallen trees, we all soon saw what our safari guide was pointing out. Five elk had bedded down among the fallen trees. The elk’s large antlers were fully visible but blended in perfectly with the dead branches and shade of the fallen trees. We wouldn’t have even noticed the elk lying there had it not been for the keen eye of our safari guide pointing them out to us.

As we slowly began to move the caravan forward, the napping elk all got up, gave our cars a cautious look over and began walking — walking right to where our safari guide was taking us to next.

The reserve itself has a raised viewing platform. Once we parked our cars, we all gathered up on the viewing platform. Club members spotted a few elk laying in the sunshine off in the distance to the North. The five elk we had awaken by the fallen trees were now just coming into view to the South. One large elk with at least 8 points on it antlers, was trying carefully not to walk out into the open and remained obscured by the brush. When he did finally make his move into the open, it was short and quick. Coming to watering hole and getting a drink, those five elk must have decided that we meant them no harm as they bedded down again right in front of us among the base of some trees. The antlers on these elk are almost majestic and size of these animals are breathtaking, even more so when our safari guide informed us that the Tule Elk are a smaller breed of elk.

After viewing the elk and surrounding wildlife for a while, we headed off towards and into the southern most part of the Sequoia National Forest. The giant Sequoias don’t reach this far South but the drive through the canyon amazed more than a few club members who commented how beautiful this drive it was. Just one of those hidden surprises in store for the club members. The drive has a very unique landscape that can best be described as driving along the bottom of a wide twisting V-shaped canyon that is peppered with large boulders up and down each side that are nestled in green grass. Deer were spotted all along this area.

The second stop on our Auto Safari was along a beautiful section of the Kern River. Here, our safari guide previously found us a spot that has a natural tree canopy that would provide a nice cool shady area just feet from the river where it pooled into a small lake of sorts with relaxing, almost hypnotic, sounds of constant flowing water. This would be our picnic location to stop a relax a bit before continuing on. Between the elk reserve and here, we had stopped for gas and discovering a Subway sandwich shop inside, many club members abandoned their sack lunches in favor of foot long deli sandwiches for the picnic, our guide included.

After relaxing alongside the Kern River for a bit, we continued on our trek and caravanned out of the Sequoia National Forest area and past Lake Isabella (not so pretty right now with the severe drought and very low water level of the lake) and out towards the high desert.

Our third destination was Red Rock Canyon. This area has very spectacular bright red and orange canyon walls full of rock columns that were formed by years of weathering and erosion. During the 1950’s and 60’s, the location was a favorite filming spot for many western movies and TV shows, and more recently Jurassic Park.

From the canyon, we traveled through the Mojave desert towards our fourth and final destination on our Auto Safari, The Cat House Feline Conservation Center in Rosamond, CA. The Cat House is home to Tigers, Jaguars, Fishing Cats, Serval, Black Footed Cats, Ocelots, Bobcats, Canadian Lynx, Cougars, Sand Cats, Clouded Leopards, and Snow Leopards to name but a few of the 19 species of feline found here. All of the caged areas are just an arms length away, so you are up close and personal to the cats. Peacocks roam the grounds freely and are certainly not camera shy.

After leaving The Cat House, we carvanned back towards Los Angeles. Our members from Bakersfield and Northern areas, left us along the way to take a separate route home while we continued on with members splintering off as their homes came up along the way with them saying thank you and their goodbyes over our radios.

Our Auto Safari was not our longest cruise event in terms of miles traveled but was the most spectacular in terms of animals and landscapes that we saw along the way.

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