Channel Islands, CA

I parked at the Ventura pier at around seven in the morning, checked in with Island Packers, and waited for a boat literally called “Adventure” to take me out to Santa Cruz Island.

The ride there was almost better than the overall day at the island itself. There was no shortage of dolphins, whales, schools of fish, and sea lions laying on buoys. I realized I had somehow never been out on the Pacific Ocean before, only the lakes up in the California mountains.  And surprisingly, yet again, I did not get sea sick. The wildlife was incredible. Leaping, glimmering dolphins rode in our wake and white-bellied whales spun on their backs, waving tails and fins at us. I think I was very lucky to get to see this, especially because I heard a couple people saying the last time they went, they didn’t see any wildlife at all. Another little detail that made me feel as if I was being welcomed home to California.

Santa Cruz emerged from the mist, and we pulled into the craggy cliff face. All of the grass on the island was tawny, light brown and gold, coating the huge rolling hills that ended abruptly at the shore.

Small, endangered foxes could be seen roaming the Scorpion Cove campsites, spoiled on human food, but so terribly cute with their catlike forms and faces.

Fox friend on the left. He blends in!

I immediately set out from Scorpion Cove to Smuggler’s Cove on the southeast side of the island. The 4 mile trail there initially rises sharply up a couple switchbacks from the main campground, but quickly levels off into the rolling grass.

Not too much to see overland except the sheer expanse of the island, a quiet and secluded hike due to the lack of many tourists to ruin the hike. A boat ride makes this park too inconvenient of a hurdle for this park to be terribly popular, and the company only takes so many people out at a time anyway.

Perfect, rolling nothingness.

The dusty, white-wildflowered trail began to drop again, and I could finally see the flash of blue from Smuggler’s Cove.

I had hiked quickly enough so that upon my arrival on that rocky beach, only two other hikers had yet made it there that morning. The blue sea crashed on the perfectly smooth stones, making up the shore of the cove, and sailboats anchored themselves just off the almost private shore. I ate the lunch that I’d packed as I observed the horde of seagulls resting on the beach. They intermittently ate red tendrils from the water that I couldn’t identify.

A little side trail from the cove led me to an old historical ranch building (and a restroom), and an offshoot on the way back from the cove let me see an old oil well.

Semi-creepy building next to Smuggler’s Cove.
The oil well, looking very lonely out here.

Not too stable of a thing. I was surprised they hadn’t roped it off. A leaning, rust-coated crane above a corroded shack and machinery that I could not identify. It looked as if it was straight out of some apocalypse, complete with empty, rusted tin cans on the leaning shelves inside.

Back the way I came, with the crows to watch me as I passed, some of the mist clearing enough for me to see the other islands that make up the national park (San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Anacapa).

Coming back down the side of the island, with a nice breeze to cool me off.

I killed the rest of my time in the small historical museum at Scorpion Cove until the 4pm boat arrived. With my pace, I had returned with 2 hours to spare (even with the hour I spent at Smuggler’s Cove).

The museum is in the building on the right. Has lots of interesting historical artifacts and documents pertaining to the first settlers on the island. A nice place to cool off after a good hike too.

And predictably, I passed out on the boat ride back to Ventura. A successful, if not a little slow, day at the Channel Islands. Remember to pack food!

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