The first thing you will need if you plan to visit Santa Cruz Island, one of several islands making up Channel Islands National Park, is a mode of transportation to get there. This article tells about the method I used, which was via Island Packers ( www.islandpackers.com ), which is the official boat concessionaire, of Channel Islands National Park.
I was making the trip with a favorite group travel organization that I use, called Road Scholar ( www.roadscholar.org ). Since I live thousands of miles from the Pacific Coast, it was to my advantage to make this "once in a lifetime" trip, with an organization that had the hotel, meals, bus transportation, boat transportation, and program leaders, all finely tuned, and running smoothly. This photo shows our group lined up, and waiting to present our Boarding Pass to step onto the boat, and the beginning of our adventure.
I have a tendency toward motion sickness, so I was wearing a scopolamine patch to reduce that risk. Even with that, I had been advised to sit on the lowest part of the boat, as far back as possible, to reduce the effect of the open water voyage out to the islands. When I got to the lowest down, farthest back corner of the boat, I saw that the space was already taken! I was surprised to see what appeared to be dog carriers on board, because I had read that no pets were allowed on Santa Cruz Island. When I asked the woman beside the carriers about her "dogs", she told me they were actually California Sea Lions--one male and one female---who had been in a rehabilitation facility for nine months, due to injuries and low body weight. The lady in the blue shirt was a worker for the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Rescue service, and she was there to oversea the release of the sea lions back into the "wild", that is, the waters within the Marine Reserve surrounding Santa Cruz Island. She showed me before and after photos of the Sea Lions, and it was a testament to the rehab facility's good care, that the animals now appeared much healthier. What made the event even more special, was that the release was occurring on the actual day that the National Park Service was celebrating their 100th Birthday!! The date was Thursday, August 25. So needless to say, I had a "ringside" seat to get to observe this very special occasion/release! (Note: On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the "Organic Act", creating the National Parks System.)(
After about one and one-half hours crossing the Santa Barbara Channel, our boat reached the Prisoner's Harbor landing pier on Santa Cruz Island. Our group had been briefed on how there would be a ladder for us to climb, from the boat to the top of the pier, so our folks were geared up and ready, as soon as we approached. Note to reader: For more details about other locations to land your boat, visit www.nps.gov/chis .
Decades ago, when the island was owned by private individuals, it was an isolated ranching enterprise, for raising sheep and cattle. Some of the structures from the ranching days have been kept, as a reminder of the history of the island
Santa Crus Island is the largest in the national park, with 61, 972 acres. It is 22 miles long and from two to six miles wide. There are numerous hiking trails across the terrain, which varies from pristine beaches, rugged mountains, lonely canyons, and grass-covered hills.
I went with a hiking group that was taking the more strenuous hike, which was led by a representative of the Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service both own land on the island, and seemed to have a good working relationship. I had previously signed a legal form that outlined the regulations for visiting the Nature Conservancy property, which included a stipulation that the Nature Conservancy leader had to be the first on the trail, and the last off the trail. There was also a rule that visitors could not bring a wooden hiking stick to the island, to reduce the risk of non-native "bugs" being introduced.
Because of a long series of events affecting the "food chain" of the native species of Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz Island Fox has been on the endangered species list for many years. Fortunately, due to aggressive efforts by the interested parties, it was taken off the list just this past month . By the way, all the cars you see in this photo, had to be brought over via boat. They are service vehicles, and not for use by visitors. Obviously, visitors are not allowed to bring cars to the island.
Our group had the good fortune of getting to see one of the Island Foxes, as it strolled across the parking lot, and then took cover, in the tall grass behind an old fence. It is about the size of a large housecat, and is known for being able to open up the snapped backpacks of hikers, who have left their gear unattended. Of course, eating "human" food is not good for them, so lockers are provided for hikers to store any belongings that might attract the foxes.
Our group started up the mountain side, with our young Nature Conservancy fellow in the blue shirt, leading the way. He set a good pace, and was there to answer questions, or provide climbing assistance, as needed.
About a mile from the pier, we came across this historic structure. In the days before electronic communication, it was the "lookout" for ranch operations, to let them know when a cattle boat was on the horizon, to take the herd to market on the mainland. It has exhibits inside it now, that tell about the ranch history.
There is a lot of beautiful hiking in the Ozarks where I live, but NONE of them have the stunning ocean views one gets when hiking on the Channel Islands . I had to keep reminding myself not to "Walk and Galk". A Road Scholar hike leader I had in Sedona a while back, used that term repeatedly to me, when he would notice that I was paying more attention to the scenery, than to where I was placing my next step!
Fortunately, we stopped long enough about midway up the mountain, to get a photo of me with the Arkansas Razorback logo. The alumni magazine from the University of Arkansas ( www.arkansasalumni.org ) had included the red hog on the back of its most recent issue, asking subscribers to take it with them for a photograph, to show where the U of A alums traveled to this summer. The whole thing was very weird to my new Road Scholar friend from the Bronx in New York, who was standing next to me. She had never heard of the Razorbacks, or "The Hogs", and was totally amused when I tried to teach her how to properly "Call the Hogs", with the WHOOOOoooooo Pig SOOOIEeeeeeeee yell!
She is pictured here trying to distance herself from the wacky lady of Arkansas! Maybe the New Yorker knew about the island's controversial history with feral pigs, and she did not want to be seen with someone carrying a picture of a pig in her backpack (even if it was just a college sports team mascot)!
Some of our group stopped to have lunch in the shade, under one of the very few big trees of the trail leading to Pelican Bay.
Once we returned from our Pelican Bay hike, we met up with the other Road Scholar participants who had hiked on different trails, and we swapped stories and photographs , of what we had seen. One thing we did NOT do, is share photos via our phones, as there is absolutely NO cell phone service on either Santa Cruz, or Anacapa Islands.
I had read the warning on the NPS website, about aYellow Jacket infestation on Santa Cruz Island, several weeks before I came. However, it never occurred to me that it would still be a problem for my visit. Yet in our pre-hike lecture the day before we left for the island , our leader told us to keep as much of our body covered as possible from the time we left the boat, until we had gotten off the pier, and a good distance away. I am thankful to say that I did not get any stings!
The yellow jacket surge was caused by a huge washup of Pelegic Red Crabs, shown in this photo. The line of red, decaying crabs extended the entire length of the beach and was several inches in width. I believe the cause of the phenomenon is still under investigation .
The boat coming to pick us up was a bit late, so our Nature Conservancy hike leader was getting ansy, wondering what had happened to them, when he could not get them to respond to his queries via Ship to Shore Walkie Talkies.
When they finally arrived, we found out the boat was delayed because of the numerous siteings of marine wildlife they encountered, just out of radio contact of our leader. The boat that was picking us up is also a "Whale Watching" cruise, for customers who are not getting off on the island. One of the "Channel Islands Naturalist Corps" told me it was the best day she had all summer of getting to point out the creatures to those on the boat.
As I was resting my weary bones at the back of the boat returning to the mainland, after hiking all day, I was thanking God for the wonderful experiences I had on my visit to the Channel Islands. I thought about how the very name of Santa Cruz island references the Christian missionaries that visited there hundreds of years ago. The legend says that the Christian missionary who went ashore, accidentally left his staff ( a.k.a., hiking stick!)back on the island, when he returned to the big boat that carried him there. The staff had a cross attached to the top of it, signifying the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on a cross. The natives knew enough about the cross symbol, to know it was important, and got in their little wooden canoe, paddling furiously, to try to return the staff with a cross on it, to the missionary who forgot it. The missionary and his explorer companions were so amazed by the actions of the natives, that they included the word "cross" in the name of the island! Hence, the name "Cruz", which is Spanish for Cross. All of the Channel Islands have the word "Santa" (Saint, in English) as the first part of their name. ( I found this history about the staff/hiking stick that was "left behind", particularly amusing, because I have had to tie several strands of bright yellow "Caution" tape to the handle of my hiking stick, as I have a habit of walking off and leaving it, when I put it down to take a photograph. Glad to know that I am not the only one that has the "hiking stick left behind" problem! )
Like the natives of Santa Cruz Island, the Apostle Paul knew about the importance of the cross symbol, when he wrote, "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14) Because of Paul's admonition, I do not want to boast about this expedition, except to say that God's glorious creation, and the fantastic weather I had for my visit, gave me "MILES OF CHANNEL ISLAND SMILES"! Tricia