Elephant Paradise: Visiting Vision Quest Ranch

family at zoo

Have you ever been to a zoo or animal sanctuary and thought, “ I wish I could get closer to the animals?” Maybe you’ve even wanted to touch one. We found a place where you can do just that! Vision Quest Ranch in Salinas, California is a rare gem amongst animal facilities, and a place you’ll want to visit if you’re ever in the northern California area.

We came upon this amazing experience because Dino, my husband, used to be make-up artist for film and television in LA. 15 years ago he worked on a show set in Africa that used many exotic animals. That’s how we met Charlie-the owner of Vision Quest Ranch. He’s an accomplished animal trainer, and his animals have been used in dozens of films. When we realized we’d be in the area, we called him up to see if we could come by and visit him. We had no idea what an incredible experience we were about to have!

He enrolled us in the Pachyderm package, which meant we were going to get to wash an elephant. We were excited for the chance to mingle with an elephant, but weren’t sure how much interaction we really would have.

When we showed up we watched a short video explaining the history of Charlie and Joseph the lion, the first animal he began training almost 30 years ago, to the present, where the ranch is in the process of becoming the Monterey Zoo. We were then given an informative, up close tour of dozens of animals near their enclosures. The real fun began when we were introduced to the 5 elephants in the EARS sanctuary. These are retired circus animals that need a safe, stimulating place to live out the rest of their lives.

Our group had the privilege of giving Butch, the male elephant a bath.  Our family, and another couple who were staying at the bed & breakfast bungalow on the property were able to walk with Butch from his enclosure, over to the bathing area. Christy, our guide, gave us instructions while giving Butch a drink. Being so close really made me realize how massive these creatures are.

Once he was wet, we were ready to start scrubbing. We got our buckets and brooms, and we started scrubbing. It’s harder than it looks! Elephant skin is tough and dry, and it took a lot of strength to scrub high in the air, but we loved every minute of it. Butch was a gentle giant, ever patient with our awkward grooming techniques.

During the whole experience I just kept thinking, “I can’t believe we get to be this close to an elephant- this is awesome!”



Once we all had our chance to wash and rinse Butch off, Christy walked him over to a dry patch of land, and we were each given 6 or 7 pieces of bread to feed him. Now Butch really perked up and was very interested in us.

The kids went first, and they got to hand feed him bread. They laughed at how quickly his trunk could snatch the treat out of their hand. We marveled at the texture and feel of his snout as it gripped the bread out of our fingers, leaving a watery residue behind.

Too quickly the bread was gone, and our experience was winding down. Not one of us in the group wanted it to end. We were simply having too much fun with Butch!

Before we had to take Butch back to his herd, we were able to take some pictures with him.


I took dozens of pictures of this moment, and none of them can adequately describe what it’s like to be underneath an elephant, hugging his leg while he nibbles on a snack. As I looked up and watched Butch’s mouth grinding on his food, and felt his body gently sway as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other, I was overcome with awe and wonder at this awesome creature. This was a special moment for my family and I. Even though we are in our first month of travel, I believe this will rank in the top 10 when we come to the end of our travels.

After we walked Butch back to his enclosure and said thank you to our trainer Christy, I couldn’t help but think about how grateful I was that there’s a place like Vision Quest Ranch. I don’t know of another place in America that gives you this much access and time with wildlife, and at a price comparable to many vacations that are no where near being as memorable as a day on Vision Quest ranch. I plan on going back again soon.

My hope is that as many people as possible can experience what Charlie and his dedicated team has created. If you are anywhere near Northern California, I urge you to come meet Butch and the gang. You can get reservations and more information HERE.

After you go, or if you’ve already been, share your experience in the comment area below.

What do you think?

Elephant Paradise: Visiting Vision Quest Ranch

Shannon is a mother of 3 teens, who hit 40 and decided that instead of a "mid-life crisis", she wanted an adventure of a lifetime. She convinced her wonderfully open-minded husband to pack up their house, sell most of their possessions, and travel the USA in an RV for a year or two. Besides homeschooling her kids, running their online program, Watts in the World, Shannon loves to explore new places. Nothing is more exciting than waking up in a new city everyday, and discovering what's great abou ... More

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