Monday, July 16, 2012

Southern California Must-See Number Three (Channel Islands National Park)

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Seven, Saturday June 9

Today’s travel involves not a motorcycle so much as a boat.  Because that’s the only way to get to Channel Islands National Park.  The gray misty morning sea departure brings back childhood memories of ocean fishing, and, although I’m not sure why I didn’t see it coming, standing at the bow of the boat, feeling the wind and the spray, smelling the clean brisk salty air, and hearing all the sounds of the sea is turning out to be an unexpectedly powerful experience.  How happy I am!  And now – look! - here’s something new to add to my experience, even before we land.  A pod of dolphins, perhaps 50 or more,  has decided to accompany us on our way, leaping about, playing in the wake, and doing all those things I’ve only read about. I look down and there is one, practically at my feet.  It’s barely a foot under water, and at most, a foot away from the starboard side at the bow. I watch him rolling and flying along at high speed, keeping in perfect formation with the boat, not for a fleeting second, but for minutes upon minutes.  I can imagine the turbulence he must feel as I see him roll this way and that, pointed snout piercing through the transparent forces of streaming water, and it recalls my feeling of riding in a strong headwind.  But somehow this seems a joyous and playful battle, and I can do nothing other than hold my breath and watch in wonder at the strength, grace and spirit of the spectacular animals surrounding me.

So, no.  No dolphin photographs for you.  But here’s one of the ocean spray.

Island Packers boat trip to Santa Cruz Island (1)

Channel Islands National Park is comprised of five of the eight California Channel Islands, and I’m headed to Santa Cruz Island for a few reasons.  Boat trips to each island do not happen every day, and this one fits my schedule.  And as intriguing as kayaking around Anacapa Island sounds (already added it to the never ending “to do” list), I’m not equipped or skilled in this department.  I really want to hike, and all research tells me the hike to do is on Santa Cruz Island.  This particular island is interesting since part of it is owned by the National Park Service and the other, larger part by The Nature Conservancy.   The islands were decimated by sheep – by that I mean grazed completely bald right down to the dirt - and The Nature Conservancy portion of the island is considered the most beautiful, since it has had 10 more years to recover from the ovine assault than any other part of the park.

The fog graciously lifts as we approach the island.

Island Packers boat trip to Santa Cruz Island

Access to The Nature Conservancy portion of the island is highly restricted, and those of us hiking to Pelican Bay must be accompanied by a guide.  I much prefer to hike on my own, but Joel is friendly and informative and doesn’t keep our leash too short.  Right off the bat, he points out that the bird that has landed in a small tree just out of our reach is an Island Scrub Jay, found nowhere in the world but on this very island. In fact, some in our guided group have made the trip solely to see this bird. He points out “roadside produce,” as I call it:  wild fennel (not native to the island) and Lemonade Berries (yes, the sticky coating around them tastes just like it) and has a stash of hidden artifacts of the Chumash people who inhabited the islands long ago.  And the hike is definitely, definitely worth it.

We hike down and up several small canyons, and under twisty gnarled trees that only partially conceal the marine paradise below…

Channel Island NP Santa Cruz Island Pelican Bay Hike (2)

…and over grassy hills where where we catch our first glimpse of our destination…

Channel Island NP Santa Cruz Island Pelican Bay Hike (29) 

…along with a sparkling view of where we began.
Channel Island NP Santa Cruz Island Pelican Bay Hike (3)

We have some time to explore Pelican Bay on our own.  The water really is this tropical aquamarine color!

Channel Island NP Santa Cruz Island Pelican Bay Hike (1)

And the childhood memories resurface as I poke about the tide pools.

Channel Island NP Santa Cruz Island Pelican Bay Hike (6)

As I return to the mainland, and later, my campground, I think that the bar has been set very, very high indeed.  And despite there being very few miles added to the Ducati's odometer, nor anything decent at all to eat, I wonder, can the rest of my trip possibly live up to this day?


PhilB said...

The dolphins are actually being towed along by the boat when they do that. The Bernoulli effect creates a suction between the two curved surfaces (boat and dolphin) and drags them along for a free ride, which they seem to quite enjoy.

The Channel Islands are lovely. I went to college in Santa Barbara so they were often visible. The first time I visited them was in college (early 1980's) on a field trip to study their geology (which was my major).

The second time was as a volunteer at the San Pedro Maritime Museum (in the early '90's); my then girlfriend and I took a class in maritime archaeology, which then qualified us to go with the museum weekend expeditions and help hunt for shipwreck debris. We did find a few things, but our most exciting find was unrelated; we happened upon a freshly eroded cliff, which had some quite odd looking bones sticking out of it. I could have sworn they looked like a baby elephant. The director of our group phoned in to the Natural History Museum and they sent out a guy -- turned out I was oddly and remarkably close. It was a fossil dwarf mammoth (odd pair of words), a species now extinct but was unique to the islands, that stood about 4 feet at the shoulder fully grown.

The last time was about 3 years ago, when my wife and daughter and I and a friend were invited by another friend to sail out there on their sailboat. We anchored there near Santa Cruz Island, and then spent the next day hiking around there, in some of the exact same spots you have pictures of above.

Lovely place.

PhilB said...

I don't know your path, but if by some crazy coincidence you happen to be in the San Diego area next weekend (28th and 29th) my wife and I are having an open house to celebrate our moving from there to New Hampshire. Let me know if there's any chance you could make it. :)

And last Saturday, I turned over 200,000 miles on my Monster.

Paula said...

Well! I did not know that, but it makes sense, now that I think of it. The same principal as when one gets sucked in towards a semi-truck on the freeway?
It was a joy sorting through these photos after the fact. It really was beautiful as remembered.

Paula said...

Well, dang, don't know why this comment didn't show up in my email. Sorry I missed the party, but no, I'm actually (gasp!) working right now. Next fun stop: Durango (next week.) Congrats on the milestone on your Monster - impressive!
Hope to catch up on a bit of blogging before I leave for CO. A dying hard drive along with other complications have brought the project to a grinding halt. Today I'm throwing caution to the wind and pressing ahead anyway, despite the fact I may lose all my work. (Main computer symptom is not being able to reliably back up! Yikes!)