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California’s Galapagos

Before leaving southern California we took a day trip out to the Channel Islands. Called “California’s Galapagos” by some, the eight islands that comprise this archipelago are home to various endemic species — birds, plants, and even mammals that are found nowhere else in the world.

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The Channel Islands were not on our radar when we first sat down to plan our road trip itinerary. We had blocked off several days for Santa Barbara without making any specific plans, thinking we could figure out how to fill the time once we got to Cam’s house. The problem, we realized a bit late in the game, is that the ferry to the islands fills up.

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When we tried booking online a couple of days out it was too late. There were tickets available for the morning ferry to the islands but no space for the return leg until the following day. Fortunately, S thought to call. Apparently, once ninety percent of the tickets are sold, the online reservation system will not allow any more purchases. Luckily there were a few tickets still available. We were able to buy tickets over the phone, but they came with a warning: we’d be sharing the boat with 150 fourth-graders on a school field trip.

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The boats leave from Ventura, just a shade under an hour south of Santa Barbara. On a clear, calm day one can see dolphins, sea lions, and even whales during the channel crossing. We were not so lucky. Before leaving the dock, the captain made an announcement that the ocean was unusually rough and that we should expect massive swells. We did glimpse a couple of dolphins, but the seas were way too choppy for wildlife spotting or photography.

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D spent a good portion of the hour-long crossing at the front of the boat, channeling his inner child as the nose rose and sank with the swells. S and her friend Amira, who are both much more susceptible to sea-sickness, spent the ride huddling in the back of the boat, trying not to join those fourth-graders and their parents who did not manage to hold onto their breakfast. In fact, one fourth-grader mistook Amira for a trip chaperone and spent the hour leaning on her shoulder while periodically puking into a bag.

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There are camping facilities on Santa Cruz — the island we chose to visit — and had we had a few days to spend exploring the Channel Islands we would have definitely camped. In addition to a handful of interesting hikes, the islands also offer great kayaking. With only half a day at our disposal, however, we were constrained in what we could do. After disembarking at Scorpion Anchorage and listening to a safety briefing from a mustachioed old lady who led guided tours on the island, we set off for a hike along the island ridge to Cavern Point.

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From Cavern Point, we walked down to the island’s campsite. We had chosen Santa Cruz because it is home to the endemic red island fox. Unlike the real Galapagos, where the wildlife is completely oblivious to the humans who have come to see it, these denizens of the Channel Islands are very much aware of their visitors. The foxes quickly realized that humans mean easy food and have taken to staking out the island’s campsite.

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After a snack break we set off in the direction of the Scorpion Canyon but did not make it very far before turning around. In addition to being wary of the time — we did not want to be left behind by the boat — our energy level was also a bit low as we had stayed up late the night before and got up early to make the ferry.

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Fortunately, the return channel crossing was fairly tranquil. The morning ride had initially made us reconsider the advisability of another visit, but apparently such rough seas are the exception, not the norm. In the few hours we had, we barely got a glimpse of Santa Cruz, let alone the other islands. If we spend an extended period of time in southern California in the future, we’ll be sure to go back again.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Karen #

    I’m totally smitten with the islands now! Annnnnd, now I’ll be needing to plan a camping trip there. It looks like a great place to explore and visit, and I didn’t even know it was there before! Thanks for sharing your day trip!

    July 3, 2013
    • Thanks! You definitely won’t regret checking out the Channel Islands.

      July 3, 2013
  2. Oh, I wanted to go there on our last trip down that way, but we didn’t have time. Now, I really need to get there! Thank you for sharing! The fox is just beautiful!

    July 7, 2013
    • Thanks! The foxes were definitely one of the highlights. If you’re into birds, there is also the island scrub jay, which is supposed to be beautiful. It was on the other side of Santa Cruz, so we didn’t see any.

      July 7, 2013

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