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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.