Catalina Island is one of the glaring incompletes in my list of visited California destinations, largely because it was on the list even before I moved here three years ago, but I took an adventure of a similar nautical nature recently to the Channel Islands.
A camping trip north of LA afford an opportunity to visit the closest islands to the California coast and was absolutely worth the three hours round trip on the ocean, bumpy day and all as it was in the Santa Barbara Channel.
Beyond that they existed, I knew little about the islands before hoping a boat on a whim, but our hosts, Island Packers out of Ventura and Oxnard, were only too happy to educate once we arrived at our destination across the open ocean.
Comprised of five main islands, the Channel Islands exist within a national park and provide sanctuary to a host of marine life and sea birds as well as a giant kelp bed that underpins the island’s ecosystem. (You can read all about the park’s history, geology, etc. at www.nps.gov/chis/index.htm.)
If you’re new to California, a trip to the Channel Islands will be an exciting discovery and glimpse of the uniqueness and beauty of the state. If you live here, it’ll be a reminder of the sheer awesome we’re surrounded by in literally every direction on a daily basis.
Rather than a definitive tell-all, let this post rather be an introduction, as it was for me, through photos and video.
This is what awaited us when we boarded in Oxnard.
A this was our boat, which hosted about 30 of us and was manned by a crew of three, who took turns providing instruction and narration throughout the voyage.
And these were the “greeters” who loudly and enthusiastically called out to us as we were headed out to sea.
The beautiful, tranquil backdrop we left behind …
… before subjecting ourselves to the bumps and swells of the open ocean, especially in the transition zone, or shallow water as it was explained to us.
Aside from passing oil platforms that dot the seascape, capturing the natural gas and oil seeps that deposit tar on the beach, our ride out was largely uneventful and devoid of marine life, which was a bit of a bummer. If you’ve ever had a pod of dolphins make a beeline for your boat, you know why.
The islands linger shrouded in fog and haze in the distance until you get close and start to glimpse views like the one above.
This was our intro. to islands. You might be able to hear the narration.
Our cruise largely sailed around Anacapa, an island divided into thirds and home to some sheer cliffs and incredible geologic formations as well as scores of sea birds circling and landing overhead.
You quickly notice the giant patches of kelp in the water and realize where much of what’s on the beach comes from and why it’s sometimes attached to chunks of volcanic rock.
The only structures on the island are a lighthouse and lodging for the Coast Guard. The rest is raw, unspoiled open sanctuary for animals and birds, many of whom you see gathered in flocks in seemingly precarious perches up above.
Before you come to the lighthouse and the arch on one end of the island, you pass “The Gap,” a separation in two of the islands that you’re told can be traversed on foot when the tide is right. It’s quite an awesome sight.
The narration tells you some 170 shipwrecks have happened near the islands, some, naturally, spawning rumors of lost treasure.
And then you get to the arch.
The much-anticipated seals resided on just the other side …
Including my diver ..
Those were largely the highlights, but the trip left me with a deeper appreciation of the uniqueness and diversity of California and a desire to return and hike the island, as about a dozen people did that day.
For more information about the types of trips to The Channel Islands, and related ocean excursions, you can contact Island Packers at www.islandpackers.com or 805.642.1393.
I’ve not had an experience like it in California and anticipate this won’t be my last.