Channel Islands National Park
I hope the fog clears. I hope there arenít too many people. I hope the island is pretty. I wonder if weíve packed enough fuel.
My objective is to look calm. I wonder if I am pulling it off. Cars are pulling up to the dock. Dozens of people, some with light daypacks; others with an outrageous amount of supplies are congregating in the parking lot awaiting instructions and permission to board the boat that will take us out to the Channel Islands. The Channel Islands: This place has been on our minds for months.
The Channel Islands National Park consists of five islands off the coast of Southern California. The islands vary in size, topography, wildlife inhabitants, climate and accessibility. After a scouting mission in May to the Parkís Visitor Center in Ventura, a long conversation with a crew member at Island Packers and much deliberation, we chose Santa Rosa, one of the outer islands, as our destination. Miles of hiking trails, sandy beaches, bird-filled canyons. Yes! Thatís the one. Now, how to get there?
The crewmember wholeheartedly approved of our choice. Then she told us it would be a month until the next excursion.
Ugh. Four weeks to wait until the next boat sailed to Santa Rosa. Out come the maps and highlighters. We rerouted our June travels to minimize the distance we would have to backtrack to catch the boat. We painted central California with bright yellow spirals and circles, all ending on June 26th at the Ventura Harbor.
The first few weeks of June flew by. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Yosemite: Spectacular sights and sounds filled our days. Each night I went to sleep, all I could think of was Santa Rosa. Except for at Sequoia. There, I had bear on the brain.
But now it is 7am Sunday morning. The wait is over. This boat in front of me will take us 3 Ĺ hours away from the shores of the Continental U.S., drop us off on an island and then pick us up 4 days later.
Our backpacks are being loaded on to the Island Adventure. I am trying very hard not let the flurry of last-minute questions and doubts escape through my lips.
Are three nights too long? What if it rains? Why do they have so much stuff? Do we have everything we need? Will the car be ok here? Should we have just have gone to Anacapa for the day? Will this be worth it?
This isnít the first time we have been dropped on an island to hike and camp, at the mercy of the elements until we see another boat on the horizon. Waiting in Grand Portage, Minnesota for a ride to Isle Royale was just as exciting and nerve-wrecking. But Isle Royale was in the middle of a lake. Fine, a Great Lake, but a lake all the same. This is the Pacific Ocean we are talking about here.
We board the Island Adventure and scramble to the top deck in search of a choice seat. It is still early in the season but I am holding on to the hope that we will see a whale en route to the island. Through the fog, we see dolphins, sea otters, sea lions, sooty shearwaters. So far, no whales.
The boat nearly empties at the island of Santa Cruz. Most people have chosen the closer island for a day excursion. Santa Cruz had been on our short list for an overnight trip, until we read more about its mouse and feral pig population. We wave goodbye to the couple from Vermont we had been chatting with, keeping the mouse info to ourselves, and look around to see whoís left.
Almost everyone seems to be connected to the Park Service or a member of a research team. Archeologists? Anthropologists? That explains the heavy gear and boxes of supplies. I notice one other couple braving the mist of the upper deck and squinting their eyes in search of whales. Iím not the only one.
I must have dozed. I open my eyes to see the sun shining and a series of slippery figures amid surf and waves. Seals? No. Surfers! Michael and I watch as one rides a crest that seemingly never breaks. A few small boats are anchored a short distance away. We are approaching the eastern end of Santa Rosa. I think we have just spied on a secret surfing spot.
As we approach the island, the winds die down, the sun gets brighter. We can see several people along the coast, more on the islandís hilly ridges. This place looks packed! The dock is crowded with NPS workers and volunteers there to meet the boat. The silhouettes that we saw from the boat are now moving towards us, filtering down from the hills, climbing up from the sand. It seems they have been eagerly waiting for our arrival, like castaways who donít want to miss their one chance to get back home. On second thought, thatís exactly how it is. We wonít see another boat for at least 4 days. Itís Sunday afternoon. Miss this ride and you are stuck.
A few tourists are here only for the day. Not many. A few campers have lingered at the canyon campground, packing slowly. Not many. Once the Island Adventure sounds its bell and heads east, we will be left alone. The researchers are here somewhere, as are the Rangers. But where? The only people in our periphery are the whale-watching couple from the boat who are retreating to their tent to sleep off the Dramamine they took this morning.
Although we have braced ourselves for gale force winds, typical on the outer islands of Santa Rosa and San Miguel, only a soft breeze is cooling the afternoon. We set up camp and walk down to the beach. Our beach.
Just a few footprints are left from the day. The rest have blown away. I trace the lines of wind cut cliffs with my eyes and almost walk over a nest of pigeon guillemots hidden in the rocks. We retreat back to the campground, which is so quiet that we can hear seals and sea lions barking even when we are a mile inland.
Back at the tent, Michael unfolds the Sunday edition of the LA Times; I pull out a crossword. We snack. I nap. Just as I get lulled into thinking this could be any Sunday afternoon anywhere, the sun begins to set. Reds and purples swirl together as the fog returns. This was a great idea.
Channel Islands Day 2
Channel Islands Day 3
Channel Islands Day 4