Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hiking on Anacapa Island

Channel Islands National Park

"I can't believe it's taken us this long to get out here," my travel buddy commented (more than once) while we were hiking on this beautiful island.

For years, we looked longingly at these islands from the Santa Barbara shores.  They can be seen only on clear sunny days.  For much of the year, a veil of fog hangs over them.  I forget they are even there.

Anacapa is one of eight islands off the coast of Southern California.  Five of them make up the Channel Islands National Park:  San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Barbara.  We chose Anacapa because it's only 12 miles from the mainland--an easy one hour boat ride away.

We left the Oxnard Harbor on the Vanguard at 9:30 a.m. on a bright, calm Saturday morning.  We were forewarned by Island Packers that if the wind picked up, there was a chance we couldn't dock.  We had no worries about this happening, until we approached the island.  I got it!
The boat had to back up against these stairs.  Even though it was relatively calm, there is a surge inside this tiny cove.  Just getting off the boat and onto the ladder is a challenge.  And then, you have to climb 153 steps! 
But oh so worth it!  Once we were at the top, a whole different world was ours for the taking.  Five glorious hours of isolation and raw wild beauty.  This island belongs to the seabirds and the sea lions.  We humans are unwanted guests.  Tolerated, but eyed with warranted suspicion.  A ranger gave us a short talk before we were allowed to wander off on our own.  All water and food had to be carried in.  All trash carried out.

We picked up an island map and set out on the figure-eight trail.  From the visitor's center, you walk along the cliffs and then through a field of ice plants and coreopsis.  This time of year these sunflower trees are bare and brittle.  We vowed, after seeing a whole forest of them, to come back in the spring when this island is covered in a blanket of yellow blossoms.

It was Inspiration Point we headed towards first.  This is the farthest end of East Anacapa Island.  I had always thought this was one island, but it is really three small ones separated by a narrow, rocky strait.  You cannot go on the Middle and Western islands unless you have your own boat.

The views here are absolutely breathtaking!

Cathedral Cove was another beautiful destination.  From the high cliffs you can look down at secluded beaches and coves that are populated with hundreds of sea lions and harbor seals.  Gulls and pelicans were flying above us.  Anacapa boasts the largest brown pelican colony on the West Coast.  There are no predators on this island so nests are left undisturbed.

We continued along the trail back to the lighthouse.  All in all, it took us only three hours to make the loop.  With time to spare, we were able to read the exhibits at the visitor's center and then go back to Pinniped Point for another look at the sea lions.

We watched as our boat neared Landing Cove.  The ranger told us it would be late due to high winds.  "Will it be able to land?" we asked, a bit worried.

"Yes," he said, "But it's going to be a rough ride home."

He was right.  Not so smooth this time.  Even so, the captain took us around the famous Arch and we got some great photos.  Not only that, but on the way back, a playful school of dolphins escorted us for much of the way.  

"Let's not wait another twenty-five years to get back here," my travel buddy said.

This morning I made a note in my 2015 calendar.  Book tours to Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands.  That such a magical world exists so close to home makes me appreciate and love Southern California once again.  I shouldn't be so eager to get away all the time.  Unbelievable beauty lies just beyond the channel.

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