Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

 Lion Jim Griggs photo - smLion in the wild, Tanzania – photo by Jim Griggs


“We got charged by an elephant, but it was a false charge. A couple guys asked me, ‘How do you know it’s not a real charge?’ And I said, ‘Because the vehicle is still upright.’”

Jim Griggs has a great sense of humor which comes through in his travel stories. On a Saturday in December, at the Griggs’ breakfast table in McPherson, Dave and I, and Tom and Lori Parker heard about some of Jim and Cindy’s adventures.

Jim and Cindy Griggs lead photography trips to mysterious places on other continents. They’ve made a number of trips to both Tanzania and Peru.

Evidence of their travels is mounted on the walls of their home. Large photographs of wildebeests, leopards, and other exotic creatures hang all over their house. Dave and I were honored to spend the night in their “Africa Room,” where photographs of zebras and an elephant and a lion guarded our sleep.

Tom Parker and I were in McPherson that Saturday to sign our books at The Bookshelf. Tom is the author of a collection of essays called “Dispatches from Kansas.” Because Dave and Tom and Jim are photographer-friends, the Griggs’ invited us all spend the night with them. After the book signing, Jim and Cindy took us on tours of the newly-renovated Opera House in downtown McPherson and the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge near Canton.

Ever since his college days, Jim, a semi-retired mechanical engineer who now works in sales, has been interested in wildlife photography. On one of those college backpacking adventures, he carefully packed all of the camera equipment that he’d need, but neglected to pack any food. Priorities.

They’ve gone to Tanzania four times now.  “I’ve never felt threatened,” Cindy said, even when they had lions go through their camp at four in the morning.

Their trips are two weeks long. Twelve 12-hour days are spent riding in the vehicle. In the evenings, they eat, sleep, and then start all over again.

“The animals have lived so long without hunting that the vehicles are neutral objects to them,” Cindy said. “And the driver-guides have the responsibility of making sure we don’t affect the animals. A lot of action goes on very close to us because the animals don’t care.”

“One of the advantages of going on a photographers’ trip is that we sit and wait and watch the action,” Cindy said. “Our driver-guides do what we want them to do, they don’t have an agenda. So if they get us into an interesting spot, we can spend two hours with a pride of lions – that’s 37 lions and over a dozen babies.”

“We had a lion come up and lie in the shade of our vehicle,” Jim said. “You could reach out and touch him if you wanted to, but you’re not allowed to.”

“You listen to your driver-guide and he keeps you safe. He keeps you from doing stupid things like sticking your hand out,” Cindy said.

Jim said, “On our first trip, one guy was a jogger and he asked the guide, ‘Is it OK to go for a run?’ The response he got was: ‘I don’t know, how fast can you run?’”

“You can stay in the vehicle or you can enter the food chain. And you enter the food chain really low,” Jim laughed.

The tours they lead are small groups and that allows photographers to move from one side to the other in the vehicles. “The biggest group we’ve had is eight,” Jim said. “Except the trip to Peru had 10.”

Jim and Cindy are planning a group tour in Scotland this year. In April, Bob Gress, another Kansas wildlife photographer, will co-lead their photo safari to Tanzania in April 2014.

Closer to home, Jim teaches a photography workshop with Boyd Norton each year in Wyoming.

Jim said they didn’t take their first trip to Tanzania until a friend from Colorado suggested it. “I took him to the tallgrass prairie and he kept asking, ‘Do you like this?’ and I said ‘I do.’ He said, ‘It looks just like Tanzania – the Serengeti.’”

“That was the deal-breaker for me,” Jim said. “I had to go then.”

For view Jim’s photographs or learn more about their trips, visit

Copyright 2014 ~ Cheryl Unruh


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