A California journal, Part III: Channel Islands National Park

(NOTE:  I’ll write a longer, more detailed account of our night on Santa Cruz Island later). 

August 23, Tuesday:  Ventura.  Checked out of the Seacrest in Pismo Beach before 11 after two nights.  It was an average motel with a bad shower and a great view of the ocean.  I’d go back, though, if for nothing else but the view, looking past tall palms to the sea.  We steered south on the 101, and after about 50 miles saw a billboard that said “Buellton/Home of Pea Soup.”  How could you pass that up?  So we edged into town for lunch at, where else but Pea Soup Andersen’s, a Danish-themed restaurant in the heart of Buellton.  That’s “Buell” as in “mule” we were told.   You can’t miss it.  There’s a large Pea Soup Andersen Inn to the east.  The eatery is in its 87th year, having swung into pea soup in 1924 when Anton Andersen, a Dane, and wife Juliette, from France, opened for business.  I had the excellent split-pea soup and a green salad.  For $9.95 you can have all the pea soup you want with bread kicked in.  Later, I strolled upstairs to catch an exhibit depicting in photos, maps and text a history of the region.  South of town we drove up over a pass and down to the ocean where the temps were in the lower 70s.  In Buellton it had been 93.   The first thing we did at Ventura was visit the Channel Islands National Park Visitors Center in the harbor, beyond the marina.  I purchased a map of Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the Channels and our destination tomorrow, and we took in a wonderfully-shot film of the islands, narrated by the actor Kevin Costner.  Nebra is stewing some over the trip.  I asked her what were the three biggest worries.  All three were the same:  “I’m going to be cold.”  We did some final shopping at a mall along Ventura’s East Main Street, ate a late supper at Carrows, then returning to the motel, went over our inventory of things we want to stuff our backpacks with.  I won’t be writing much until Friday.  It’s pretty basic out on the island.  No Wi-Fi, no services except for a water tap and pit toilets.  We’re to land at a place on Santa Cruz called Scorpion Bay, then hike up a half mile to the Lower Campground, set up our tent and take in this primitive area.  I read somewhere the Channels are the least visited of the National Parks.   That, to me, is a big plus for going there.

August 24, Wednesday:  We arrived at the dock of Island Packers at 11, an hour before the launch at noon.  There is a check-in procedure and then you must unload your gear.  You can take three stored items across to Santa Cruz Island, no single item of which can weigh more than 45 pounds.  I’m backpack with tent and sleeping bag weighed close to that.  On the dock, four young Hispanic men waited eagerly.  The tallest was carrying a fishing rod.  He was hoping for haddock, and his buddies were counting on him for their supper.  The boat, the Islander, at 12:03 for the one-hour crossing.  The seas were bumpy, but we arrived at the Scorpion Bay pier at 1:07.  Nebra and I hauled our gear in two separate trips to the campground 1/2 mile away, then set up our tent at campsite 20 at the far end, not far from a water tap and the two pit toilets.  Of the 22 campsites only 11 were in use.  The campground lays in a large grove eucalyptus.  The trees were planted in the 1880s by ranchers for shade and fuel.  Santa Cruz Island is the largest of the Channel Islands and is barren, the way southern California looked before the aqueducts, canals and dams brought water in.   The wind blows almost constantly here.  In late afternoon, we hiked the Cavern Point trail that loops northwest of the campground.  The trail up was straight up with no switchbacks and fairly strenuous.  But it was worth it for the view from high cliffs across a turquoise sea to the mainland and east, where another of the five Channel Islands, Anacapa, rose to point heights.  The wind blew harder up here, so I stayed away from the cliff’s edge.  I feel asleep in the tent in late afternoon while Nebra did more hiking.   The westerly breeze had change from cool to warm as I slept.  I walked down to the bay.  Kayaks are stored there for an outfit giving instructions to about two dozen young men and women who are staying in tents at the Upper Campground (for groups) beyond our tent in the Lower Campground.  I saw Nebra coming down a trail to my right, high up on a hill, and we waved.  For supper, we boiled hot water on a stove and cooked up a frozen pack of chili, noodles and beans.  It was difficult lighting the stove in the wind.  It was still warm as we prepared for bed.  I had stripped down to a pair of bluejeans shorts and a heavy shirt.  Quiet time at the campground begins at 10, but we were in the tent and ready to sleep long before that. 

August 25, Thursday:  Santa Cruz Island and Ventura.  We awoke about 8 to a blue sky and a light breeze.  It was about 68 degrees.  I heated up some hot water and had a few packs of freeze-dried coffee before Nebra emerged from the tent.  We both slep good.   For breakfast we had oatmeal laced with fruit.  The main weather condition you deal with out here on Santa Cruz Island is the wind.  It can blow hard and soft with short lulls in between.  It can be cool or warm.  We lazed around before breaking camp around 11.  The kayak instructors have a large camp of tents not far from ours but there are only three men staying there right now.  A young man and woman in campsite #22 had been on the island three days and were also leaving today.  About 12:30 Nebra and I toted our big backpacks down to the pier for the return trip and then took off on a short hike into the island’s interior on the Scorpion Canyon Loop trail.  Although the Santa Cruz is said receive an average annual rainfall of 19 inches, much of the plant life looks sere and dead.  Scrub trees, small bushes dot the landscape.  The trail starts as a road and ends as a footpath beyond the Upper Campground where the young kayakers lolled about in groups, a few sunning themselves.  About a mile out we stopped at a small pool lin the dry creek bed where black tadpoles flitted about.  From there we hiked up a very steep footpath to what I called “first vista,” a point that looks down on the campground and past the rangers’ houses to the sea and beyond north toward the Santa Barbara area on the mainland.  The Islander left 10 minutes early, at 3:50, for the return trip.  We sat on the upper deck this time, at the rear.   It was an enjoyable but crowded trip back with probably close to 50 passengers.  The boat made a direct line from the island of 45 degrees east of north all the way into Ventura Harbor.  We unloaded and checked in at the same motel along Harbor Boulevard for our last night in the area.  We had a nice hot shower and suppered at Brophy Brothers by the marina.  I had jumbo shrimp, fries, slaw and clam chowder, and Nebra had mahi mahi with rice piaf and a big green salad.  Then it was back to the motel for welcome night’s sleep.  Tomorrow we drive northeast to Sequoia National Park in the Sierras for three or four nights and then it’s back home to the Arizona heat again.

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