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Please Feed the Animals at Vision Quest Ranch B&B

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  Site Where: 400 River Rd. [map], Salinas, California, United States, 93908
April 20, 2012 at 4:26 PM | by | ()

Lifting the flap of our military-grade safari tent for a peak outside, we looked across the tall grasses and waited for the elephants to come. The air was cool, but inside we were warm and incredibly comfortable. With a powerhouse heating unit, electric heating blankets, a mini fridge and coffeemaker, full bathroom (!), HDTV (!!), and a sitting area, you’d never guess this was the inside of a tent. You might also think you were on an African savannah, never imagining you were actually in California’s Salinas Valley, just a 30-minute drive from Monterey.

It’s one of many big surprises we got from our stay at Vision Quest Ranch B&B, a super cool hodgepodge of a place that’s hard to limit to one description. It’s a ranch with awesomely equipped tents, it’s a zoo called Wild Things for retired and rescued exotic animals, it’s a training compound for animals who participate in TV and films (and its famous for the retired Hollywood animals that have called it home), it’s an education center lead by a remarkable team of trainers, and, of course, there’s a dog kennel onsite, too.

Every stay includes a guided tour of the grounds, including the zoo-like compound area, and we experienced ours when we arrived the day before. No joke, we saw every kind of big cat -- lions, tigers, lynx, cougars, leopards – plus bears, elephants, zebra, monkeys, wallaby, kangaroo, hyenas, even tortoises (who happened to be getting quite busy). Many of the animals are actually walked daily so we promptly picked our jaws up off the floor on seeing a baboon and a red kangaroo out for a leashed gander.

Beyond the compound, we made our way to the savannah-like setting where bungalow tents – eight in all – sat perched up above a huge pachyderm playard. It was astounding to stand on the front porch of our bungalow and to look out at the surrounding landscape of rolling hills, tall grasses, elephants, zebras, water buffalo and one goofy ostrich.

The front porch is also the same place where an elephant would come to greet us and get fed. We could hardly sleep the night before for the excitement! But sleeping wasn't much in the cards for us at Vision Quest, despite the fact that the tents were so cozy and the bed so comfy. After chasing scary movies out of our mind and coaxing ourselves to sleep all alone in the tent in the middle of Africa California, we woke in the wee dark hours to tigers roaring, then water buffalo gruffing, hyenas whooping and zebras yelping. It was jarring, humbling, and fantastic in every way. No question, we’d give up sleep ten times over to feel so invigorated by the presence of wild, happy animals in such close proximity.

When our elephant finally arrived along with her trainers and food bearers, it was spectacular. There was nothing quite like watching that giant animal saunter up to our bungalow. Our breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, and breads was delivered to our table, while we were handed eats for the beast. Our elephant lifted her giant trunk and plucked bananas, apples and carrots right from our hands. Gentle as she was, man, did she leave crumbs – a snarfy wet mess of dirt, food and wood chips. Grossed out and giddy as kids, we still couldn’t believe we were feeding an elephant!

Everything we’d done up to this point was included in our stay, which costs anywhere from $175 to $265 per night depending on the bungalow and season. There’s loads more you can add on to your experience at Vision Quest Ranch; anywhere from $20-900 will let you help walk the animals, feed the big cats, wash the elephants, etc. But spending only what you spend to stay the night is a huge bargain by any measure -- a remarkable, unforgettable, steal-of-an-African-Safari-esque-deal.

Photos: Nina Kokotas Hahn

Disclosure: Nina was a guest of Vision Quest while on assignment for another publication. All views and opinions expressed are her own.

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