We had planned two days to visit a couple of the islands of Channel Islands National Park. Day one was the island of Santa Cruz. Island Packers is the only ferry operation to the island, and though I think their prices were high, we didn’t have much option if we wanted to go. We had an 8:00 departure to arrive on the island at 9:00 or slightly later if there was wildlife sighted — which it was.
Other than pelicans around the harbor, we didn’t see much early on. It wasn’t until we were about 2/3 of the way to the island that a large pod of common dolphins was sited. The captain stopped the boat a bit to let everyone onboard watch. Janet and I were standing up front in the bow, which was a bit chilly, but was fun and was a good vantage point for the wildlife viewing. I tried to take a few pictures, but in the end just decided to watch. Most of them were too close and there wasn’t really enough light.
Once we arrived on the island and received our orientation speech, we started with the longest section we planned to do, the hike out to Smuggler’s Cove. This took us up and over the center of the island (red dots) to a somewhat isolated cove with a few remnants of settlement. As an important part of the hike, we saw a number of island foxes which are one of the smallest fox species. They were endangered due to golden eagle predation in 2004. The recovery program put in place worked (breeding foxes, relocating the golden eagles, bringing back bald eagles and removing domesticated sheep and cows) and now the foxes seemed plentiful and relatively unconcerned with our presence.
From Smuggler’s Cove, we decided to make our way to the northern cliffs of the island, though the trails didn’t quite go there as directly as we expected (blue dots). We looped around to the west and came back through the campground before hiking up the north side on Potato Harbor Road. We shortly realized that we didn’t have time to do the full trail out to Potato Harbor and invented a cutover path to the coast linking up to the Cavern Point Loop.
The north side of the island is all cliffs, so there were some good views there with brown pelicans soaring around. Also, a few patches of some interesting bees that had entire sections of the trail speckled with their hive entrances. We were told the bees weren’t a concern, and sure enough we were OK just walking through the swarm. There weren’t too many people, but we did come across a group of campers who staked out Cavern Point as their drinking site for the day (they didn’t need to catch a ferry) and had made pretty good progress with their activity.
We finished the loop back to Scorpion Anchorage with about an hour to spare (maybe we could have made it out to Potato Harbor after all), so we hiked back up the very start of Smuggler’s Road to revisit an area where we had seen abundant succulents growing along the wall. We stopped into the visitor center and then went to sit on the beach for a bit an eat lunch / dinner / whatever the 4PM meal after hiking all day is before catching the boat back to the mainland.
We did have some dolphins tagging along for a bit of the trip back, but we didn’t (as far as I recall) stop. Late afternoon, however, there was more light and I did get a few pictures – none great, but maybe good enough. We got back to the mainland right around 5:30. We made our way down to Oxnard, the next city along the coast for the night. We stayed in the Oxnard Ramada, which was reasonably nice and had a good breakfast the following morning. The room did have a broken drain on the sink, but we were all unpacked by the time we noticed, so we just let it go and told the front desk in the morning.