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 the San Ysidro Waterfalls Trail in Montecito, California


Santa Cruz Island, 15 miles from Ventura Harbor

Waking early on this Saturday in mid-February, Hannah and I have planned an excursion out to the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara for some hiking.  Calling before dawn to confirm our departure, I hear that Island Packers, the local cruise line, has cancelled the morning whale watch due to strong winds and large swells.  Even so, our trip to Santa Cruz (one of the Channel Islands for which we paid $54 each as seniors) is on.  Island Packers warn that if you are susceptible to motion sickness, consider rescheduling.


Island Packers transportation from Ventura to the Channel Islands

The stormy seas came out of the blue.  When we went to bed Friday night, a sunny Saturday in the mid-60s was predicted.  We had no idea that rough seas might kibosh our fifteen-mile boat ride to Santa Cruz.  After hearing the news of the strong winds and large swells, Hannah and I look at each other and immediately decide that we are not that kind of mariners and reschedule for the following Tuesday.  Barfing and hiking are not a pretty mix.  That said, barfing and anything are not a pretty mix.


With sunshine aplenty here on the mainland, we plan a hike to the waterfalls on the San Ysidro Trail in Montecito, the next town north of our cottage.  We smile at each other and know in our hearts that we are, indeed, citrus wonderfolk  (i.e. we don’t just make lemonade from today’s lemons (the postponed trip to the Channel Islands), we make margaritas!  The stormy seas off Ventura did not happen to us, they happened for us.  Today we will have waterfalls!


The San Ysidro Trail begins

Jumping north on The 101 highway for the San Ysidro exit two miles away from our cottage, we turn right towards the mountains. Two miles from there, we eventually weave our way up to East Mountain Road, which dead ends at our trailhead.  While multi-million dollar homes hide behind arbored walls of green, we easily find side-of-the-street parking.  Click here for both John Dickson’s fabulous directions to get to the trailhead of the San Ysidro Falls Trail as well as his directions once you are on the trail itself.


The trail is not mobbed at all but joyful with couples, singles with dogs, and coeds from University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).  Tree-lined and bracketed by the tasteful but impenetrable walls of the estates of the foothills, the trail skirts the driveways of the Montecito rich and famous.  Soon we are above the last of the estates on a trail muddy from the last week of rain.  This bodes well for the falls to be amazing.


Muddy, then rocky muddy, the trail is easy for us to step along to find the drier dirt.  With the San Ysidro Creek to our left, we notice the foliage has not leafed out so we can see down the rocky ravine to the creek.  All good signs that the waterfall is going to blow us away.


At the half mile point, there is a turn to the McEnemy Trail and Saddlerock Mountain.  Click here to visit that blog from a year ago, when the land was parched, the large peace sign intriguing, and the terrain brown on brown.

As the trail narrows, it heads into the foothills forest.  Shaded most of the way, the San Ysidro Trail rises gently and steadily, as the rocky terrain begins to dominate.


Crossing side streams from time to time, we did not have any such mini-creeks in the previous three winters we have been here in the mountains of Santa Barbara. At the mile and a quarter in point, the trail steepens and we get the workout we love.  As a four-mile round-trip, we rate the hike as moderate, most worthy of the time, especially with the payoff at the end.


The last sidestream crossing the trail, 200 yards from the falls

Using the health app (the one with the red heart) on my iPhone6, I have an accurate measure that we are within 0.2 of a mile of the falls.  Rocky and narrow, we hike with a steady flow of weekenders to the falls.


First, we see the first of about twenty students from the UCSB Adventure Club with climbing ropes, who have come to  climb the falls.  And then around the last bend, we see the most dramatic falls we have ever seen in the Santa Barbara area.  Parallel flumes of thundering white descend over the head of the falls.


With our hometown of York, Maine blanketed with one 14” storm and awaiting another in two days (that turns out to be 24″), we stand in awe of nature’s water show in the parched desert of California.  Owen’s Woodstock and Max’s blue elephant add a touch of our grandsons to the mountain falls experience.

Again, no surprise, California delivers.