Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Channel Islands

A teaser photo to keep you reading.

President's Day weekend Jenny and I needed a break, so we decided to go backpacking in the Channel Islands, a national park consisting of five islands that are 26-40 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara. Friday morning we boarded the Amtrak Coast Starlight in San Jose for the 8 hour train ride to Santa Barbara. While certainly not the fastest way to get to Santa Barbara, the scenery was pretty spectacular, especially the four hours from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara, where the train is glued to the coast- below is a shot of the lounge car:

All in all the train was an interesting experience, though Jenny and I were certainly eager to get off the train in Santa Barbara at 6 PM. We stayed Friday night in Santa Barbara with our gracious host (and my former roommate)Teddy, who also gave Jenny and I an early, early morning lift back to the train station Saturday morning, where we caught a 5:50 AM train for a short 25 minute ride to Ventura where the ferry departs from. The ferry ride was exciting with sea birds, dolphins, and my favorite sea sloths (sea lions), not too mention huge swell (thankfully neither Jenny or I are prone to sea sickness...)

An hour and a half later, after dropping off 135 of our 150 passengers at the first stop (Scorpion Cove), we disembarked at Prisoners' Harbor on the central northern side of the largest of the Channel Islands, Santa Cruz island.

A litte info on the island. It was initially settled by the Chumash Indians something like 9000 years ago, and at its peak was home to several thousand indians. The Spanish discovered the island in the 1602, after which the island was pretty much left alone until the late 1800's when it became an extensive ranch. In the 1980's the Nature Conservancy purchased the vast majority of the island (the western 75%) from the owner who wanted it preserved but but by anyone but the federal government.

After getting off the ferry we hiked four miles (and up 800 feet) to Del Norte camp, the only back country campsite on the island, consisting of four small campsites nestled on the top of a hill. We became well acquainted with our neighbors. A view of camp:

After setting up camp (and a brief nap), Jenny and I decided to hike down to one of the few beaches on the island (since its mostly cliffs) before sunset. We did a quick hike down to Chinese Harbor, a rocky beach on the north side of the islands that it also apparently one of the best surfing spots on the West Coast. Note the photographer in the foreground...

While we hiked we kept our eyes peeled for the island's most famous resident, the island fox, much smaller than his land-based cousin. In 2002 there were only 18 foxes left, but through a captive-breeding program and removal of the fox's invasive predators (Golden Eagles) they now number in the hundreds. And since their predators are removed, we didn't have to look long to find a fox (nor were they afraid of us in the slightest). Without further ado:

He was the first of about ten foxes we saw, including one from about five feet away while we cooked dinner (who we heard sneezing because we were cooking with cumin...aww). The next day we woke up for a full day of hiking, starting by visiting the south side, including a walk by the naval station:

We also soon spotted the island's other endemic resident, the island scrub jay, a larger version of the scrub jay found on the mainland:

Jenny also spotted some fossils of ocean creatures way up at 1200 feet. Good eyes!

We ended the (very windy) day with a jaunt up to the ridge separating our part of the island from the eastern part where Scorpion Cove is. A shot from the top looking back toward our camp:


Monday, we woke up early and hiked back to Prisoners' Harbor where we had the opportunity to join the Nature Conservancy's short guided hike to the Pelican Bay about four miles west of Prisoners' Harbor. It was great to chat a litte ecology, biology, history, and geology with our tour guide (Steve).

And we spotted our last little island friend- can you find him?

We left the island at around 3, did some unexpected dolphin- and whale-watching on the way back to the mainland and were back in Ventura by 6, where we piked up a rental car, stopped at Teddy's for a shower (thank God!), stopped for an In-n-Out burger (mmm...), and were back on campus by 2 AM. Whew.

An exhausting, but awesome trip. A long weekend well spent.


  1. thanks for the glamour shots ;) and a fun weekend!!