Channel Islands

April 16-18, 2010
I have been wanting to visit Channel Islands National Park for quite some time and
this spring seemed like a great time ago, with reports coming in that this winter's
plentiful rains had led to good blooms of wildflowers on the islands.  So I arranged for
a boat ride and camping spot out on Santa Cruz Island.  Todd and I left Thursday
evening after work and drove west towards the coast.  We ate dinner on the way and
stayed in a hotel in the quaint town of Camarillo.  Thanks to Travelocity we got a great
deal and it even had a nice hot tub to enjoy that evening.  In the morning we awoke
early but only had about 15 minutes more to drive to Ventura Harbor where we caught
the first boat to Santa Cruz Island, the largest island in Channel Islands National
Park.   

Island Packers is the company that provides the transportation for the 30,000 some
odd visitors that travel to the National Park every year.  This is one of the least
visited parks in the Lower 48 states, the main reason being that you have to take a
boat to get to most of the islands.  (Santa Rosa Island does have a small airstrip and
you can take a "Channel Islands Aviation" plane)

This was to be Todd's first time on the ocean and his first backpack trip once we got
to the island.  Yep, we had a long hike of about 1/2 mile to get to our campsite!  But to
make up for the short trail to our campsite we dayhiked plenty while we were out
there.

Back to the boat ride, Todd was a bit nervous and afraid of becoming sea sick.  But he
fared well.  We sat in the back of the boat and watch the mainland disappear as we
motored west.  The boat had scarcely started speeding up that it slowed down, reason
being so we could all see the cute California sea lions crowding a buoy.
Then the boat got up to speed again, then slowed again.  Reason being this time that
we had encountered a pod of dolphins!  We loved watching the dolphins play in the
wake of the boat.  The captain circled around giving them ample waves to surf.  They
moved so quickly it was hard to get a good photograph, but I took a couple of short
videos

http://www.youtube.com/user/rangertarol#p/a/u/2/kqJ7I2PC8Fo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J94jXRUcUAs&feature=related

After the dolphins the boat got up to speed again and within about 45 minutes we
caught a glimpse of the first island, Anacapa.

Soon after we saw the island where we'd spend 3 days, Santa Cruz.

The boat slowed down as it neared Scorpion Anchorage and there it bumped up to the
short pier.  The day visitors got off the boat first, followed by us campers, and then
we unloaded all of our gear.
When we reached our campsite we set up the tent and ate brunch then planned
out our day.  With that Todd and I set off to explore.  Walking back towards the
ocean we stopped at the newly opened visitor center at Scorpion Ranch.  It is
located in what was once the dining hall, kitchen, and bunkhouse for this outlying
sheep ranch.  The sheep are long gone but what remains tell the story of how the
ranch once supported the large grazing operation on the island.  Inside the kitchen
the huge bread oven remains - now endangered Townsend Big-eared bats roost
inside it.  Old farm equipment, cellars and wells, and a blacksmith shop are also
nearby.

From the ranch we then headed up the steep Cavern Point Trail.  The views
unfolded immediately, though, making the climb worth our while.  As the trail rose
above Scorpion Cove through fields of wildflowers we were soon able to see far
out over the ocean to Anacapa Island.  Then we made our way west towards the
point, admiring the blue hyacinth, wild mustard, and endemic island morning glories
on the way.
At least there were other options, other trails to hike.  So Todd and I headed
towards Potato Harbor.  This we found to be an absolutely gem of an ocean cove,
turquoise blue and brimming with wildlife.  We heard the wildlife even before we
could see the cove, barking sea lions echoed from a mile or more away on the cliff
walls.  We had fun watching them swim and play along the shores of the cove.
We also saw kayakers from up there and I got quite mad again at my guide for
standing me up!  Oh well, as Todd said there wasn't anything I could do about it,
at least at that point in time.

On the way back to camp we saw a bird, a Loggerheaded Shrike, and I walked up
to him (or her) very slowly and took photos.  He was very patient and allowed me
to get quite close!
After hiking back to camp and I read aloud some of the book "The Island of the
Blue Dolphins".  This is a children's book by Scott O'Dell that won the Newberry
award after it was published in 1960.  It tells the true story of a Chumash Indian
girl left behind on one of the Channel Islands back in the late 1800's.  Todd had
never read the book and I hadn't read it since I was young.  It's a good book and
it was fun to read it in its setting.

That night we had Mountain House lasagna for dinner and again went to bed not
long after the sun did.  The temperatures at night didn't get below 50 degrees so
it was perfect camping weather.
Along with the morning glories and the foxes there are 143 other plant and animal
species that grow on the Channel Islands and nowhere else on Earth.  The Park Service
is taking all sorts of steps to try and protect these rare individuals and I was excited
to see many on our visit.

The trail to Cavern Point hugs the cliff and even though I'm usually not afraid of
heights I got a little nervous in some spots that drop straight down 300 feet to the
turquoise blue ocean water below.

After admiring the view from Cavern Point we hiked back to our campsite.  We had a
leisurely afternoon and I made us stuffing and chicken for dinner.  After dinner we
hiked up the Scorpion Canyon Trail admiring the beautiful green grasslands and
flowers.  We retired to our tent soon after the sun set.
In the morning we awoke with the sun, made breakfast, then headed down to the
beach.  I had arranged to meet a kayaking guide for a paddling trip.  The morning Island
Packers boat arrived and I watched excitedly as a guy loaded the kayaks off the boat
and towed them to shore.  I helped him pull the kayaks ashore, for I assumed this was
my guide.  Turns out it wasn't, it was a guide for another company.  And, he said, no
other guides were on the boat.  What the heck?  I re-checked my reservation
paperwork and everything seemed fine.  So where was my guide and my kayak?  I
talked to the island park ranger and she said that my guide usually was very reliable
and so she wasn't sure what had happened either.  She said that he could've contacted
me through her and he hadn't.  I tried to check my cell phone messages and make a call
to the guide but wasn't able to get good reception out there.  The other guide was nice
and said he'd take me if he had room on his trip, but it was full.  So I was plum out of
luck :p
On Sunday morning we got up, ate breakfast burritos, and packed up and headed
to the beach.  I had arranged to take the earlier of two boats back so we
wouldn't be getting home too late.  So after hanging out at the beach for about an
hour the boat came, and a bunch of us campers formed a chain to hand the gear
down to each other and onto the boat.  Then we embarked for the mainland.  Not
far from island we encountered
dolphins again :)
We got back to Ventura Harbor, helped offload everyone's gear, then headed to
the Harbor Cove Cafe to eat lunch.  A local singer entertained us as we sat in the
beautiful setting on the harbor and ate cheeseburgers.  After that we headed to
the Channel Islands NP visitor center and toured its exhibits.  Then we headed
home.

And, oh yeah, I called the guide as soon as I got back to the mainland.  I, well,
demanded an explanation and my money back.  He said the weather forecast was
calling for high winds that day so he had canceled the trip.  I told him, frankly, he
needed to find a different forecaster because that morning the ocean was
perfectly calm and it didn't even get that windy in the afternoon and there were
lots of kayakers out and about including another guide.  And I asked why he hadn't
tried to contact me through the ranger and he said he did.  I told him I spoke to
the ranger myself and she, who by the way was one of my coworkers back when I
worked for Sequoia National Park, said she hadn't heard anything from him.  He
apologized and said that they'd refund my money and give me a free trip in the
future.  Not sure I'd want to book with them again, anyway, it was such a huge
disappointment for me, and I'd be afraid of it happening again.  But I guess that's
the best I can do :p

Now that I've seen the area, though, I feel more confident I'd be able to paddle
out there myself, or with my Dad anyway, who's kayaked a lot as well.  So I'm
already planning another trip, where I'll bring my own kayak, perhaps to one of the
other islands.  Anacapa and its sea caves and arches looks awesome...

Lots more photos here!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tarol/sets/72157623899775688/

Slideshow:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tarol/sets/72157623899775688/show/

2011 Trip to Santa Cruz Island
More about this area
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Once our gear was off loaded a park ranger gave us an orientation to the island.  Then
we were off on our long grueling hike to camp.  We arrived there in about, oh, 20
minutes, getting a bit way layed by our first wildlife sighting, a cute endemic Island
fox.  These foxes are smaller than their mainland cousins and are endangered, but
are doing well this year with many pups born.