Dan and Hannah Hike on Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands off Ventura, California (Part 2 of 2)

Part 1 concluded with the uncertainty whether my breakfast would return due to the rolling seas on our one hour high seas voyage from Ventura to Santa Cruz Island.

SC dock

At last, the metal framed, erector set dock at Scorpion Beach on Santa Cruz comes into view.  Victory is in sight as my oatmeal stays happily tranquil in my stomach.  None of the other 140 passengers is aware of my gastronomic triumph, but it’s those small victories we all embrace that get us through our own personal stormy seas.  (Chew on that.)

SC 3 H at start

Santa Cruz is the largest of the Channel Islands, 22 miles long and from 2 to 6 miles wide.   Click here to access excellent descriptions of these National Park hiking trails and maps of Santa Cruz Island.

SC 4 cliff

The cliff edges are indeed close to the trail

Debarking, we passengers are collected for some final instructions by our volunteer guide.  She tells us, We do not have fences, we have common sense.  Trails can be as close as ten feet to the cliffs.  And we later learn these bluffs aren’t just 70-80’ above the beach as we saw in Carpinteria, but hundreds of feet directly into the salty brine.

In conclusion, she reinforces that the boat leaves at 330P, not 335P.  The next excursion to Santa Cruz is not until Friday, three days away.  We get the message.

SC 3A cavern pt trail

Later I ask this volunteer what happens if someone does get left behind.  She tells me sometimes people do get lost on the island but not often.  The park service has some provisions and finds a place for the errant ones to spend the nights.  From what we can see, they are not deluxe accommodations.

SC 3B H at cavern point

From the Cavern Point Loop Trail

Ready to rock and roll on the trail, we choose to climb to the moderately rated Cavern Point Loop Trail along the bluffs of Santa Cruz.  Within feet of the edge of the rocky cliffs, we are taken by what we imagine Ireland would be like.   Green on green meadows, beautifully highlighted by yellow flowers; unfortunately, we learn they are invasive.   We were told that with the previous years of drought the landscape had turned a gray brown.  Today, we, with about fifteen others, have miles of trail to ourselves.

SC 3C trail with yellow flowers

The meadows of grass are nearly treeless so our view is for miles.  At times, the trail is wide enough for two, and soon turns into the just slightly larger Potato Harbor Road.  Hardly a road, hardly a fire road, it is a delightful walk in the fields of emerald green.

On the North Bluff Trail, we meet Kirk and Alison, who ask us to take their picture.  Soon learning that today, Valentine’s Day, is their second anniversary, we feel a good vibe with them; but I forget to give them my business card with info about my blog. Damn, I’ve got to be quicker.

SC 4C potato harbor coral

Potato Harbor

Two plus miles in, we are high above Potato Harbor.  Though we have no access to the harbor below, we do see coral blue water, something out of Hawai’i or the Caribbean.

With no comfortable place for lunch, we hike back through the meadows to the campground with picnic tables, bathrooms, and potable water.   We day hikers know the value of sitting at a picnic table for lunch rather than hunched over on a rock or log.  Of course, we are soft and these accommodations suit us to a T.

SC 4F trail

As we leave, the aforementioned Kirk and Alison arrive to take our picnic table for their lunch.  Playfully, I point out that we warmed it up for them; not missing a second chance, I hand them my business card, mentioning my Saturday blog.  I add that this hike will be reported on in the weeks ahead.  They smile broadly; say they’ll look it up.

Funny, I hear from maybe 1 in 20 we connect with on the trail.  I get it that the trail encounter is a moment that fades once we are all back home with our routines, jobs, and network of friends.  (Not bucking the odds, they haven’t checked in… yet.)  That said, I am still in touch with Rob from Georgia who we met on the Appalachian Trail in Vermont.

SC 5 Smugglers cove trail

The Smuggler’s Cove Trail beyond the windmill

With two hours before we must be at the dock at 3P for the 330P departure for the mainland, Hannah and I look for more.   Climbing the rocky Smugglers Cove Trail above Scorpion Beach for more exercise on this beautiful sunny California day, we find a trail that is badly eroded by the recent rains, and awkward to walk on.   We persevere but wonder why.

SC 5B looking down from Smugglers

Scorpion Beach from the Smugglers Cove Trail

Taking a side trail to the bluff edge, we know that we can’t make it all the way to Smuggler’s Cove, 3.5 miles from the trailhead.  Hyper-cognizant of the departure time, we are aware how much we prefer a shower, a glass of wine at our cottage rather than the unknown accommodations here on the island for three nights.

SC 5A looking down from Smugglers

The view to the visitor center at Scorpion Beach

Like so many others, we arrive a good hour before the Island Explorer leaves the dock.  Weary from nearly eight miles of hiking, I plop down on the bench in the stern of the Island Explorer for the mellow trip back to Ventura Harbor.

SC 6 H by boat at end

Made the 330P departure.  Last ones on.

On our return, Captain Luke slows the boat, having found a pod of Pacific gray whales heading north in the Channel.   Within a hundred yards of these glorious mammals, we see the blows of six to eight whales; they then arch their backs, bursting out of the water.  This is all followed by their tails flipping up as they re-submerge.  Later, after the final blows, as if choreographed, six whales wave good bye in unison with their tails.  It’s nature poetry in motion.

SC island packers

On the ride home, which is incredibly smooth as promised, Hannah gets the brilliant idea to have the captain acknowledge Alison and Kirk’s anniversary.  Having passed the information on to the captain, we finally hear the announcement as we head into the harbor.  Beaming as the proud parents of this fine idea, we wonder if they’ll guess it is us.  We do hear clapping above on the second deck.

Hannah and I are just not “going out in any kind of boat” people, be it in lakes, rivers, or oceans.  But we both would say don’t miss this boat trip.  You have the trifecta of bluff hikes on unsullied terrain, whales, and dolphins on the ride to and from Ventura.  No race track could beat that winning combination.


Dan and Hannah Hike to Paradise Falls in Thousand Oaks, California

PF Nolan

While we are away, our friend Nolan plows and shovels us out.

Winter in Maine is serious and lasts well into April, despite March’s claim to the first day of Spring.  (In fact, 11″ of snow fell on April 1, 2017.)  Coming to California to take a bite out of winter, Hannah and I leave behind our neighbors on Chases Pond Road this second week of February.  They are getting pummeled by 14” of gale-blown snow while we have a midday waterfalls hike in Thousand Oaks, roughly half way between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

PF map of TO

Over the last week, we’ve had very improbable southern California weather – light rain, heavy mist, and outright rain.  Even so, we know how fortunate we are compared to our snowbound New England brethren as we drive south in heavy, pea soup fog on The 101 highway through Carpinteria to Ventura and on to Oxnard.

PF 6A how green is my valley

Wildwood Park in all its glory green

And then with the wave of her hand, God whisks away the fog to reveal blue skies and sunshine.  Turning left on Lynn Avenue by the upscale houses of Thousand Oaks, we travel a mile down Avenida de los Arboles to the trailhead.

PF 1 H at start of trail

The trail to Paradise Falls begins

There, surprisingly the Wildwood Park trailhead parking lot is empty with a metal bar blocking any cars from entering; we do see 15 to 20 cars parked on the side streets in front of the million dollar homes.  Following two women to the park entrance, we see a sign indicating the park is closed.  We can only guess that it is due to the muddy trails.

PF 1B D at trail closed sign

They can’t mean me!

But as we look around, we see hikers 100 yards ahead on the trail.  Like many rulebreakers, we can’t believe the authorities really mean “us.”  So we and many others just ignore the sign.  Over the first hill, we have a scene out of Ireland at its greenest.  After six years of drought, the heavens have opened and how green is my valley.

PF 1A H at trail start

The trail to Paradise Falls all within minutes of the Los Angeles Metroplex

The trail is moist and muddy but not so messy that we can’t step around the puddles and mud slop.  A young mother pauses with her four-year-old who explores every puddle, rock, and spilled Cheez-it that he sees.  Seeing our grandsons, Owen and Max, in this preschooler, we think he’ll be in first grade before they see the falls.  Let me say, the mom is patient, sweet, encouraging, and, as are many great moms and dads, a master of distraction, which moves them a little further down the trail, step by step.

PF 2 river above falls

Arroyo Conejo Creek above the falls

After nearly a mile, switchbacks take us down to the pools beneath the Paradise Falls where fifteen others are enjoying this Thursday noontime break.  Though the falls have been but a trickle of late, today we are here for the Grand Re-Opening thanks to Mother Nature.

PF 3C falls after crossing

Paradise Falls

Strategically placed stones allow us to balance across the modestly flowing stream.  Check out this Paradise Falls video.

Waterfall-satisfied, we take the trail to Lizard Rock which follows the North Fork of Arroyo Conejo Creek to the Wildwood Canyon Picnic Area.  Crossing the creek three or four times, we find it all quite easy with planks nailed together to allow us splash-free crossings.

PF 4 H on creek trail

Our trail map is fine, but our best advice comes from our fellow hikers.  A young couple directs us with lefts and rights to the switchbacks approaching Lizard Rock.

Climbing high above the Thousand Oaks water treatment plant, we are transported to County Kearny of the Old Sod in Erin Go Bragh.  Having traveled to the Santa Barbara area for the last three winters when brown was the new green, we are flying high with the rich verdant carpet to our right, left, and center.

PF 5A H climbing to Lizard Rock

Trail to Lizard Rock

With 800’ of elevation gain, the trail to Lizard Rock gives us a workout.  Breaking off the main trail at 1p, we summit and ponder the advantages of delayed gratification.

On one hand, we can eat our chicken sandwiches and sip our Dos Equis brewskis uncomfortably next to an oversized rock OR…

PF 6B cactus on green valley

Or we can refuel with water and granola bars now; then hike the short 45 minutes to the car, drive the a mere 50 highway miles back to the cottage, where we can shower and sit in comfort on our deck that overlooks the Pacific.   We choose option B.

PF 5C H on Lizard Rock

Athena, aka Hannah Banana

As we come down from Lizard Rock, Hannah has an idea; she knows that she doesn’t want to miss what professional photographers call the golden photo op.  Zipping back up the mountain crag, she soon positions herself as the Goddess of Light, high above as I click picture after picture of my sweet Athena.

PF 6 green valley of Wildwood park

Two hours of hiking in, we head for the trailhead along Stage Coach Bluff.  High above Paradise Falls and its meandering creek, we have come to Ireland without going through customs, drinking warm beer, or sleeping in small beds.