After multiple phone and email conversations with friends and family, all who said “GO! You will be sorry if you don’t!” I boarded the Island Packers boat the next morning bound for Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands, knowing if I couldn’t quit stressing over needing to address the Winnie repairs, I could always come back early.
The Channel Islands, named for the deep trough that separates them from the mainland, are a chain of eight islands, five of which are designated with National Park status. The closest of the islands is Anacapa, 14 miles off the coast of Ventura, with the most distant being Santa Barbara over 50 miles from Ventura. The largest in the chain where I am headed, Santa Cruz, is at about 20 miles long, and six miles wide, and 35 miles from Ventura.
On these islands are 150 endemic species found nowhere else on earth. Of these, 30 are endangered. This has earned Channel Islands the slogan, “The Galapagos Islands of North America.” These islands are thankfully protected as a part of our National Park Service, otherwise they would no doubt be covered by small boutique hotels and bistros like Catalina Island off the coast of LA.
Although all of the five National Park Islands have campgrounds, I have chosen to visit Santa Cruz because it offers the greatest access to hiking and kayaking. But also the campground there, Scorpion Cove, has water, meaning unlike other campgrounds I won’t have to pack in my own water at 8 lbs per gallon.
The pier at Scorpion Cove washed away by high surf last December, making it now necessary to come ashore via skiff. That includes camping gear, which must be unloaded in the “daisy chain” style.
By the time I get all my junk loaded on me like a pack mule and begin the half-mile hike to my designated campsite, I realize I am at the furthest end of the loop. My site is at the bottom of a V-notch in the surrounding hills, which serve as a funnel to channel the stiff wind right down on me. Whereas all the other campsites are surrounded by giant, fragrant eucalyptus trees and therefore protected from the wind, my site is exposed with no shelter. Yes, I brought layers, but I am wearing all of them and still freezing due to the wind.
My typical M.O. when I arrive at a place like this is usually to spend the first day figuring out how to get the hell out of there, and the remaining days figuring out how to never leave. Santa Cruz is no exception. I set my pack down on the ground, take a seat at the picnic table, and ponder the possibility of the 4:00pm boat back to the mainland.
I figure I will walk up to the Ranger’s residence (she told us to “Stop by anytime!) and ask if there is a possibility to change campsites to the more protected, therefore warmer area. If not, I will likely ask for a seat back on the 4pm boat. She tells me “No problem!” and gives me a list of available sites to choose from.
By midday, I have my tent pitched, and am just about to prepare lunch when I meet one of the island’s many inhabitants, the Island Fox, endemic to the Channel Islands. One of the smallest foxes in the world, it is the size of a house cat, 20% smaller than the mainland gray fox. They are sneaky little buggers, and if you turn your back for one second, you will be sharing your lunch with him. Don’t ask me how I know…
The Channel Islands Visitor Center stresses that “half the park is underwater.” Although I won’t have the chance to submerge, I did come to spend some time on the surface kayaking the sea caves. I booked a tour with Santa Barbara Adventures, a company that accommodates both visitors from the mainland, as well as campers. They supply all the gear, including wetsuits, spray jackets and dry bags (helmets not optional if you want to tour the caves.)
Kayaking through the caves is a blast. Often we enter into one opening and exit the other. We see napping Harbor Seals, roosting and nesting brown pelicans, cormorants, and the clumsy pigeon guillemots. The scenery is breathtaking.
Take my word for it, the photos don’t do it justice. On top of my automotive troubles, my beloved little Canon S110 camera gave up the ghost recently. It’s in the repair shop awaiting its fate…repair or replace? So I have been using a $99 Canon ELPHie for the last couple of weeks. It does okay on bright blue days with wide angle puffy clouds, but on dark overcast days, it loses a little sharpness. Add to that a gray foggy day. Then try to snap pictures while fumbling around with a paddle, holding still through the rocking of the waves, and a death grip for fear of dropping my last remaining camera with a loaded SD card into the brink, and that will explain the marginal quality of photos.