When we went on our eleven-day safari a couple of years ago. It was great to be able to spend so much time up-close and personal with all of the various animals. One thing that quickly became apparent was that animals of all kinds showed affection to one another. Knowing that their lives were in constant threat due to different predators, the environment, and other circumstances, it is clear that the various animals relied on each other, and families were extremely close, especially the lions.
It wasn’t just the mother’s affection for their offspring, but it was also the playful affection among the siblings and even that of their mates. It was a common theme amongst all of the different species of animals that saw throughout our time in the African grasslands. We have looked back at photographs from our safari many different times and the photographs showing the loving interactions amongst the animals are certainly some of our favorite memories. We were very fortunate to catch some truly adorable moments.
We’ve been hiking in the mountains for years and have been fortunate to see our share of wildlife. Even better, we haven’t seen any bears or mountain lions, but we’ve come across fresh tracks and have been pretty certain that they’ve seen us. They say that if you hike in the mountains of Colorado, on about one out of ten hikes, a mountain lion has seen you, even though you don’t see them. With that in mind, we thought we’d share some tips to help you see wildlife when you hike, but always put safety first. Seasoned hikers will likely notice that most of these tips are in complete contrast to the tips for avoiding bears when hiking. If you’re hiking in bear country, always talk to the rangers and find out where there have been recent sightings and where the bears are most likely to be active. Never intentionally put yourself in harm’s way.
1. Be extremely observant – This is probably the most obvious, but if you’re not constantly scanning the area around, you’re likely walking by animals without even knowing it. It is always best if you see the animals before they see you, especially if there is even a remote chance that the animal could harm you, which is almost always the case. Almost any animal when startled or threatened has the potential to attack, so seeing them first allows you to control the situation.
2. Don’t make a lot of noise, talking in quieter voices – You don’t have to be completely silent, in fact we’d recommend that you make some noise and talk, just a normal pitch. If you’re making some noise, you’re less likely to startle an animal that perhaps you didn’t see, but still be quiet enough not to spook an animal that is farther away. There was one time when we were hiking near Beaver Creek, Colorado, when we ended up startling a young doe, even though we were talking and not being overly quiet. The deer literally ran into us as she made here escape, scaring us as much as we scared her.
3. Hike in smaller groups, usually three or less – Pretty much for the same reason as number two, the larger the group, the more noise that you make. Also, the more people in the group, the more motion that you make, the more reflective surfaces to catch the sun, the more noticeable that you are. Remember, the animals are watching for you as much as you might be searching for them. Just as you are more likely to notice a herd of deer versus as single deer, so is it true of them seeing you.
4. Watch for anything that moves – Being observant and scanning the horizon isn’t always enough, you need to pay attention to any motion that see. Sure, more often than not, it will be caused by the wind, but the animals are camouflaged, making them hard to see. What at first seems like the rustling of a leaf, might just turn out to be the wiggling of an ear. And if you see one animal, be extra careful, there are probably several more just out of sight.
5. Hike more remote, less frequented, trails – It doesn’t do any good to do everything possible to see wildlife if there are a hundred hikers in front of you doing the exact opposite. Getting away from roads, towns, and most importantly other hikers, will definitely increase your chances of seeing wildlife. Be smart, though, carry bear spray, phone, flashlight, compass, and extra food if you’re heading into remote areas. We always stay on well-marked trails and don’t go venturing off into the woods. The national forest system in Colorado is huge and you could easily get yourself lost for days if decide to go trailblazing.
6. Hike near dawn or dusk – Animals are always most active around these times, so be extra alert when hiking at these times of day. Light can be an issue as the shadows are longer and it isn’t as easy to see off into the distance. Take your time when hiking during these times so that you don’t startle an animal that you didn’t see as well as to give yourself time to truly see what is all around you.
7. Carry binoculars or camera with a telephoto lens – Obviously it makes it easier to see animals in the distance if you can zoom in and focus closer on them. It is also the safest way to observe animals without putting yourself at risk. We’re not professional photographers, but we did invest in a telephoto lens a few years ago and it was one of the best investments that we’ve made.
8. Spend time in locations that are likely to draw animals – Sources of water and food are the most likely places to find animals, so spending time near those locations, especially at dusk or dawn, will increase your chances of seeing them. Animals also use the trails to get through the forest as much as hikers do, simply because it is easier for them to walk on the trails, so staying on the trails will increase your chances of seeing them. Sometimes the most likely place to see animals isn’t where you might expect it. One of our funniest stories about seeing animals in the wild was when we were in Estes Park, Colorado, many years ago. We had gone hiking at dusk and waited by an open field with a stream running through it and, after much waiting, a herd of elk finally appeared. It was autumn, so the temperatures quickly dropped and we were frozen by the time we got back to the car, but we were happy to have seen the elk. We drove back to our hotel and lo and behold there were hundreds of elk walking around the property nibbling on the fresh grass. It hadn’t crossed our minds that they would be drawn to the green grass of the hotel versus foraging for food in the wild.
Hopefully you will have as much luck as we’ve had seeing wildlife by using these tips. We can’t say it enough, though, be smart about it and don’t do anything too risky. Always respect wildlife, some animals may look cute, but they are wild animals and therefore can be unpredictable.
It is that time of year when we typically look back at the places that we visited, the people that we met, and the new food that we have tried. To be honest, this year was slightly better than 2020, but it certainly wasn’t what would be considered being back to normal. Obviously, the highlight of our year was the seventeen days that we spent exploring Kenya and Tanzania. Other than that, we went to Park City, Utah and went to Louisville, Kentucky as well as Washington DC and Baltimore. Definitely not nearly our normal travel schedule, but we enjoyed every opportunity that we did have. We are definitely hoping that next year is even more memorable, but we still have plenty to be thankful for as this year draws to an end. Here are a few of our top memories of the past year.
Seeing the Big Cats of East Africa – One of the things that most people look forward to when going on safari in Eastern Africa is seeing all of the big cats like lions, leopards, and cheetahs. We certainly weren’t disappointed with our encounters as we had several that were all amazing and different in many ways. Whether watching the lion cubs at play, seeing a leopard climbing up a tree, or having a cheetah jump on the hood of our Land Cruiser, seeing these animals up close was something truly special. We saw lions at almost every park that we visited, but the leopards and cheetahs were more rare to see. We know that we were very fortunate to see the amazing variety of cats, including the caracal cat, which not everyone gets to see.
Getting Locked in at a Historic Cemetery in Washington DC – It might seem odd to visit a cemetery, but they are often very beautiful, historic, and tranquil, which Oak Hill Cemetery certainly is. In fact, more than 200,000 people visit this particular historic cemetery on an annual basis and it is even possible to get a tour. We simply enjoyed walking the paths that led us amongst the tomb stones, mausoleums, and tree lined hills. It was a beautiful day and the autumn foliage made it even more wonderful to see. There was only one issue with our visit, we didn’t notice a sign at the entrance that stated that the cemetery closed at 4:30 pm and we ended up being there until 5:00 pm, so we got locked in the cemetery.
Two Magical Days in the Serengeti National Park – After spending the day in the Ngorongoro Crater, we continued north to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. We would spend two nights in the park where we spend two full days driving around and seeing so many amazing sights. We would see the one missing animal to complete the Big Five as we would have several incredible encounters with leopards, whic was the only animal missing as we’d seen lions, water buffaloes, rhinos, and elephants already. We would see much more than just the big cats and we would have many encounters that were up-close and personal. The Maasai word Serengeti means “land of never ending plains”, which is certainly apt as you can see the endless grasslands in every direction that you look.
Seeing the Autumn Leaves in Park City, Utah – During the summer and autumn months in Park City, there are a few lifts that will take you into the mountains where you can have amazing views. There are less lifts available in the autumn season, but with the leaves changing, it is absolutely stunning. The scenic crescent lift is located at the adventure park with the mountain coaster, alpine slide, and other family activities. The lift is used for transporting mountain bikers and their bikes as well as hikers or those just wanting to enjoy the views to mid-mountain.
Enjoying a Hot Air Balloon Ride in Maasai Mara – One of the things that we had wanted to do during our safari was to take a hot air balloon ride over the amazing scenery of Africa. Three of the parks that we visited had balloon companies that offered balloon rides, Amboseli, Serengeti, and Maasai Mara. We decided to wait until Maasai Mara to do the balloon ride and it certainly turned out to be a magical experience. Watching the sunrise, seeing the animals, and simply gliding above the grasslands made for memories that we will never forget. Following the balloon ride was a champagne breakfast at the base of an acacia tree and then our guide picked us up to view the animals within the park.
Watching a Horse Race at the Famous Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky – During our recent trip to Louisville, Kentucky we had the opportunity to go to Churchill Downs and enjoy a day of thoroughbred racing. Churchill Downs is famous for hosting the Kentucky Derby, which is part of the “triple crown” of thoroughbred racing. The race track opened in 1875 and every race is full of pageantry and tradition. Even though it was autumn, it was a warm and sunny day making the experience even more enjoyable.
All in all, we certainly can’t complain too much about the year that we enjoyed. We don’t have any specific plans for next year as of yet as travel is still uncertain, but we are hoping that we have the opportunity for it to be at least a little bit more like it used to be. What are your plans for the upcoming year? Did you make the most of this year?