Take A Photo Safari To Texas

Photos © 2003, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved

For many wildlife photographers, nothing beats an African photo safari. It's the adventure of being "one with nature" on wide-open plains; the excitement of framing a lion, cheetah, zebra, giraffe, or other magnificent animal in the camera's viewfinder; and the feeling of being far away from home in an exotic location. Ah, all of that, not to mention the time needed to make such a trip, plus the fairly high cost of the adventure!

Well, if you fall into the "those who have the time but don't have the money or those who have the money but don't have the time" category, there is a place much closer to home that simulates an African photo safari--both from an animal viewing experience and from an environmental experience.

The place is Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas (about 90 minutes south of Fort Worth). However, when you enter the 1400 acre Center, you feel as though you have stepped into South or East Africa. Zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, and other exotic animals roam freely on the rolling hills and open plains. One difference at Fossil Rim is that you can drive along a paved path--in your own car or tour in a safari truck driven by an expert guide. During the drives, which usually last about two hours, you can actually hand feed (with "feed" you buy before your adventure) some of the animals, including the giraffes.

With a guide, you can also visit the Intensive Management Area (IMA) of Fossil Rim. In that fenced-in area, you'll see cheetahs and wolves; some of the animals in the Center's well-established breeding program.
In another large area, this one enclosed by a sturdy metal fence, you can see several white rhinos roaming the area and resting under the shade of trees--just like they do in Africa.

After the sun sets at Fossil Rim, you can stay in the Center's Safari Lodge or stay in a tent in the Center's camp. The tents are air-conditioned and have hot and cold running water. Still, the tent does add to the way-cool, "safari" experience.

Fossil Rim's animals, combined with an Africa-like setting, make the Center a wonderful place to take wildlife photographs.

In this column, I'd like to share with you some of my favorite Fossil Rim photographs. I snapped them during a family vacation with my son, Marco, and my wife, Susan. I've included this information to let you know that Fossil Rim is a great fun family destination, too!

Okay, let's see some pictures:
Two cheetahs. This is my favorite photo from Fossil Rim. The animals are behind a wire fence. To "erase" wires in situations like this, use a telephoto lens, select a wide aperture, and shoot through an opening in the fence. To brighten the animals' eyes, use a flash. (Canon EOS-1Ds, Canon EF 100-400mm IS zoom lens at 300mm, ISO 100, Canon Speedlite 550EX.)

This behind the scenes shot shows the cheetahs and the fence that surrounds their enclosure. It's not a great shot. I include this picture, and my favorite pictures of the cheetahs, to show you that it's possible to get great shots of animals behind fences. (Canon EOS 1Ds, Canon 16-35mm lens at 15mm.)

White rhino. This big guy was standing just a couple of feet inside a metal fence. If you compose your picture carefully, you get a shot in which the animal looks as though it is in the wild. If you get part of the fence in your picture (as I did), you can remove it with the Clone Stamp tool in a digital imaging program. (Canon EOS-1Ds, Canon EF 16-35mm zoom lens at 20mm, ISO 100, Canon Speedlite 550EX.)

Zebras. When the background is distracting, shoot tight headshots for pictures that look as though they could have been taken in Africa. (Canon EOS-1Ds, Canon EF 100-400mm IS zoom at 400mm, ISO 400, Canon
Speedlite 550EX.)

Fallow deer. My son called the fallow deer "toll collectors," because these animals stand in the road and then come up to your car's window looking for a treat. Hand feeding the animals is part of the fun at Fossil Rim--but feeding the zebras is not recommended. (Canon EOS-1Ds, Canon 16-35mm zoom lens at 35mm, ISO 100, Canon Speedlite550EX.)

I'd like to leave you with a closing thought: Even if an African photo safari is on your "to do" list, take a trip to Fossil Rim. It's a great place to "tune up" your photo skills for the real thing.

Travel Info
Here is some useful information if you plan a trip to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center:
· Website:
· Phone: (254) 897-2960
· Location: 2155 Country Road 2008, Glen Rose, Texas 76043. From Dallas, follow Highway 67 south and then follow the signs to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. Directions are also on the Fossil Rim website.
· Costs For Self-Guided Tours: $16.95 for adults, $12.95 for senior citizens, $10.95 for children ages 3-11, and free for children under 3. Cost for the behind-the-scenes tour of the IMA area (reservations only): $35 for adults and $25 for children.
· Lodging Rates: From $175-$200 per night at the Safari Camp; from $135-$300 at The Lodge.
· Hours Of Operation: 9am to 5pm seven days a week.
· Photographers: Bring your camera and telephoto lenses for distant shots, and wide angle lenses for close-to-the-car shots.
· Nearby Dining: Rio Grand Grill (barbecue), on Highway 67 10 minutes north of Fossil Rim; call (254) 898-9042. (There is a Subway nearby for those who like a standard sandwich.)