Don’t Change that Channel, Exploring the Channel Islands

Time for another girl trip!! G and I have been doing backpacking and camping trips since 2007. She is my friend from vet school and we started by hiking the grand canyon in ’07 and tend to have adventures together once a year or so. She is one of the coolest people I have ever met. She lives in Oregon, I live in Arizona.

We were talking on the phone and discussed doing another camping and hiking trip and she suggested hiking in the Channel Islands, off the coast of California. I jumped at the chance to see another national park. She arranged a ferry ride to Santa Cruz island from Ventura and arranged two nights of camping. As I was preparing for the trip my friend and neighbor stopped by, he was interested in the trip. He asked who I was going with because he was curious what other “rugged bitches” I knew. I took that as a compliment.

On Saturday I drove out to Los Angeles to pick G up at the airport. The airport area in L.A. is somewhere I spent a lot of time this summer during my work for G Adventures. I felt happy in the L.A. traffic in a Civic and not in a large commercial van with a trailer attached. I picked her up and from there we stopped at a Ralph’s grocery store directly across the street from the hotel that I had stayed in it so many nights over the summer.

We headed out around L.A. to do some sightseeing for ourselves. We went to the La Brea tar pits near Hollywood and to the Page museum which has displays of bones found in the pits and information regarding them. It was very fascinating. We went to the Hollywood walk of fame and posed with some stars and saw the Hollywood sign in the hills, then we headed toward Ventura to try to find a campsite for the night. We couldn’t find a site and ended up staying at a hotel for the night.

Our souvenir photo from the La Brea Tar Pits (Sabertooth tiger ate my middle)

Our souvenir photo from the La Brea Tar Pits (Sabertooth tiger ate my middle)

Display at the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

Display at the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

Hollywood walk of fame

Hollywood walk of fame

Hollywood stars!

Hollywood stars!

In the morning we got on the Island Packer’s ferry bound for Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. We had all of our camping gear and got onto the ferry. The ride was about an hour and a half from the California shore. We saw some California sea lions and a few dolphins along the way to the island.

 

Ferry to the Channel Islands

Ferry to the Channel Islands

California Sea Lions

California Sea Lions

When we arrived at the island all of the campers, a group of maybe 15 or so, were gathered together and greeted by a park ranger, Ranger Cole, who laid down some island rules. Ranger Cole seemed like a no-nonsense sort of guy, he was the only ranger I had seen who carried a gun and a set of handcuffs. He didn’t seem to be in a joking mood, and actually seemed quite sick of people’s shit. He was about 30 years old, tall, dark, muscular and handsome. G and I both noticed he didn’t wear a wedding ring. He laid down rules regarding obtaining fresh water, cleaning at the campsites, checkout times, fire restrictions, and talked about the importance of not littering, and about packing all trash back off the island. The island has no trash services and all trash must be taken back to the mainland by campers. He also discussed the importance of staying safe on the island and discussed how little emergencies can escalate into big problems due to our remote location. He told us to come to him immediately with any medical emergencies, even minor ones “like a sprain or a fracture.” G and I glanced at each other sideways trying not to snicker because we wondered how Ranger Cole could classify a fracture as a minor injury. He also talked about some of the unique wildlife on the island. The Channel Islands are sometimes called “the Galapagos of North America” because there are varied species on each island and many distinct species of animals are found on the Channel Islands that are found nowhere else on earth. Santa Cruz is home to the island fox, which is the largest predator on the island, there are about 1300 on the island. He also told us about the native people who once lived on the island and that there are sacred burial sites present. He told us to never disturb a site and told us that some sites are still being discovered, and if we think we discover one we should tell him. Ranger Cole didn’t smile once during his speech and dismissed us at the end of it. G and I shouldered our packs and started heading to our campsite, which was about a half mile away from the harbor.

On the way to camp we discussed some hiking options and we talked about packing out trash and we resolved to also pack out any other trash we found on the island as well. We decided we would leave the island cleaner than we found it. We also talked about how we wished we could see some more sea life, hopefully some whales and more dolphins and sea lions. We also wanted to see some island foxes. We joked that we had already seen one fox, Ranger Cole, and we debated about how often park rangers likely get laid. We had different theories on this subject. We joked about how Ranger Cole told us to find him for medical emergencies or if we discover a sacred burial site on the island, but he didn’t actually tell us where to find him. We wondered where he stayed. We wondered how often he used his handcuffs.

We set up camp and then went to the visitor center on the island. We learned about how the island used to be used as a ranch in the late 1800s, but then sheep and pigs got loose and became feral and took over the island and fucked up all the environment and threatened native island species. Eventually the sheep and pigs were trapped and relocated back to the mainland and all ranching activities were stopped. The island and its wildlife are still working on recovering from the insults of ranching.  After our learning experience at the visitors center, we hiked up to a viewpoint called Cavern’s Point, and out to another scenic point called Potato Harbor. The island scenery is stunning and the coastline of the island is very beautiful. We looked for whales but didn’t see any. After hiking we went back to camp and cooked a dinner of dehydrated food using water we boiled with a Jetboil and then made a dehydrated dessert. It was good. A scruffy looking fox with a limp and previously injured ears walked into our campsite. This fox obviously had been living off of food scraps and wasn’t scared of people. Ranger Cole had made it clear never to feed island wildlife. We sat and watched this fox as he wandered through our site, he even walked right up to G and waited by her feet for a moment before continuing on through the site. We called him Scar.

Huge eucalyptus trees near our campsite were fun to climb

Huge eucalyptus trees near our campsite were fun to climb

Near Cavern's Point on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

Near Cavern’s Point on Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park

View of Potato Harbor, Santa Cruz Islands, Channel Islands, California

View of Potato Harbor, Santa Cruz Islands, Channel Islands, California

View near Cavern's Point.  Channel Islands National Park.

View near Cavern’s Point. Channel Islands National Park.

This beat up limping old fox came into our campsite.  We called him "Scar"

This beat up, limping, old fox came into our campsite. We called him “Scar”

Island fox we nicknamed "Scar"  He is looking for a handout.  He came right up to G

Island fox we nicknamed “Scar” He is looking for a handout. He came right up to G

The next morning we got up and Jetboiled some water and made oatmeal and granola and coffee. We packed some more dehydrated food and a bunch of water and headed out for an all day hike to another shore of the island called Smuggler’s Cove. (I never found out how these different places on the island got their names.) We walked up and down hills in the sun and along the coast through stunning scenery to the other side of the island. We saw another island fox along the way. The fox wasn’t scared at all and I got very close to it taking photos and I made G pose with it. As we hiked we picked up garbage along the way and had a competition as to who could get the most trash or the most usual trash. We reached Smuggler’s Cove around lunchtime. There was a beach and a nice view of Anacapa Island, another of the islands of the park. We combed the beach for more trash and found some unusual items including a walkie talkie, some plastic letters, part of a camera and part of some glasses. We also found an almost full pack of Camel cigarettes in smokeable condition. We had also been finding numerous bones all over the island. The bones we suspected to be pig and sheep bones.

Island fox with mats on his back refused to look at me for his photo op

Island fox with mats on his back refused to look at me for his photo op

G with Island Fox

G with Island Fox

I was actually surprised by how little trash there was on the island overall, but we still managed to find enough to stress our small daypacks. (We didn’t take any bones but left those where they were.) Before we packed the trash all up we played with it and I decided it would be a waste if I didn’t smoke a cigarette. I lit one with the Jetboil flame and was immediately shocked by how disgusting it was. I think I forgot how gross cigarettes are. I took a drag but couldn’t bear to inhale any; it tasted like my chainsmoking grandma’s morning breath. I stubbed it out and packed it back with the other trash. G had no desire to try to smoke a cigarette, but we took some self timer photos posing with the cigarettes and other trash for fun.

Some of the trash we picked up off the beach on the Channel Islands.  We strove to leave the island and ocean cleaner than we found it.  Saving the world.

Some of the trash we picked up off the beach on the Channel Islands. We strove to leave the island and ocean cleaner than we found it. Saving the world.

Playing with trash we picked up on the beach

Playing with trash we picked up on the beach

We made backpacking dehydrated meals again with the Jetboil. G forgot her spoon and although I offered to share mine, she preferred to use a piece of a broken shell to eat soup and mashed potatoes with instead.

Gretchen eats soup for lunch with a seashell.

Gretchen eats soup for lunch with a seashell.

From the beach we headed past another building that used to be a part of the ranching operation on the island in the late 1800’s. We hiked up a trail called the yellow banks trail and enjoyed the views from there. We decided it would be nice to live there.

We hiked back to the campsite in the late afternoon and along the way discussed very important life topics, like having crushes on Bill Nye, the science guy. We also discussed having crushes on members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I have had a crush on Anthony Kiedis since I was in high school, and G made me feel inferior for this, telling me that I had blindly went along with the masses. She made it clear that Flea was clearly the better choice. He is a good humanitarian, a musical soul, free spirit and caring person. Anthony Kiedis was just plain hot. G recognized this from the beginning, when I took over 15 years to see it. We also discussed other important topics like viewpoints on sailing a sailboat, how we clean the bathtub, and how to protect pigs from getting sunburned. Oh and I found out that G actually proposed to Bill Nye via email when she was in high school…. more proof that she is cooler than me.

I made G take my photo at Smuggler's Cove Beach attempting to live out my dream as a "Globetrekker"

I made G take my photo at Smuggler’s Cove Beach attempting to live out my dream as a “Globetrekker”

Hiking in the Channel Islands

Hiking in the Channel Islands

Back at camp we Jetboiled more dehydrated food. Another island worker, Brett, came over to talk to us. I don’t think Brett was a ranger, but he drove a golf cart. He came to ask us if we were kayaking and told us that someone left their kayaks on the beach in a poor location where they would have been taken out to sea in high tide. He didn’t seem pleased about it, but he was very friendly and chatted and joked with us and was very personable and pleasant. Ah, forget Ranger Cole, we were now fans of Brett. Brett was cool.

Scar came to visit us again at the campsite, eating tidbits of unknown items in the grass as he strolled around the area. We greeted him warmly, but didn’t attempt to feed him or approach him.

The next day we swam and hung out at the beach. The water was cold. Our ferry came to pick us up at 3:30pm to take us back to the mainland. We rode back with a class of elementary school kids on a field trip for the day. We sat on the upper level of the ferry while the kids were on the lower level. Neither G or myself are big fans of noisy children. On the way back was were greeted by a very large school of dolphins who decided to ride in the waves from our ferry. It was hands down the coolest group of dolphins I have ever seen and I was so happy as I watched them. There must have been more than 50 of them. The kids on the lower level of the ferry were so happy and I thought to myself that it must be an incredible experience for these kids to go to the island. It was an incredible experience for me!

 

Scorpion Beach, Santa Cruz Island

Scorpion Beach, Santa Cruz Island

 

Dolphins swim next to our ferry

Dolphins swim next to our ferry

 

We camped on the beach at Point Mugu State park south of Ventura for the night. The campsite was on the sand of the beach and we made a fire on the beach and cooked grilled cheese sandwiches in a mountain pie iron.

Our campsite on the beach south of Ventura

Our campsite on the beach south of Ventura

The next day we met up with another friend, Joyce, from vet school. I haven’t seen Joyce since 2009 and G hasn’t seen her since 2005. It was amazing to see her. We met her at a beach where she was surfing and we spotted her riding a wave in. It felt like a celebrity sighting!!

Our first celebrity sighting!  Joyce!!  Our super smart board certified specialist friend from L.A.  :)

Our first celebrity sighting! Joyce!! Our super smart and beautiful board-certified specialist friend from L.A. 🙂

The three of us went to the Getty Villa near Malibu and had fun looking at all of the antique and historical things there but had the most fun “petting” herbs in the herb garden. We went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant afterwards. It was so nice. G and I went to Santa Monica beach, muscle beach and the pier, it was really fun.

Mini Vet school reunion in L.A.

Mini Vet school reunion in L.A.

Then it was over. I had to take G back to the airport. I had such a fun time. I can’t wait for our next adventure. Looking forward to continuing adventures of the rugged bitches.

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