As you drive along the southern California coast, do you ever try and picture it with out the palaces and pollution? The Channel Islands just offshore Ventura County will open your eyes into an ancient world, surrounded by giants. Some say this is what the California mainland coast was like a century ago, but I say this is a separate, super California.
These islands are at the front line of the battle zone between the western Pacific Plate and the eastern North American plate. In this same zone, a northern cold water current from Alaska collides with a southern warm water ocean river from Mexico. Add a temperate climate and underwater volcanic action that constantly releases nutrients from the earths center by adjusting its faults, and Planet Earth has itself a mini continent. This special 346 square miles of rugged rocks mixed with swaying meadows, is a phenomenal place on earth for nature junkies to witness wild sea life, at its grandest. Before we even arrived, we were stopped by island security. Two colossal humpback whales splashed around on the surface, showing off their full bellies only yards away and putting us in our place. Remember, this is their world.
The Channel Islands have always been separated from the mainland. The eight islands used to be off the shores of 20th century San Diego, but gradually moved north on top of the Pacific plate, quake by quake. For now, a jagged ten nautical mile wide super trench known to us humans as the Santa Barbara Channel, provides a free current ride through a seafood buffet for the largest concentration of the largest animal to ever live on the planet, the endangered Blue Whale. The Blue Whale will only come visit in the summer months, but Humpbacks, Grey Whales, populous pods of Dolphin, a diversity of Seals, and even Orcas can erupt on the horizon at any moment, any time of year. The islands themselves are also home to over 145 endemic species ( species found no where else ) of plants and animals that were almost wiped out by sheep ranching and the awful slaughter days of the fur trade. With intense preservation efforts nature has reclaimed the islands, revealing pure natural beauty. Although the land is covered with little more than the brightest wildflowers I’ve ever seen, the actual meeting place of land and sea is a squiggly line of luscious underwater Sea forest. The opportunity for adventure, here on the edge, seems endless.
There is no “glamping” on the islands, so careful who you bring. Each island has a couple different camp sights available that seem to all be brilliantly chosen by nurturing park rangers. Some are nestled under lovely giant eucalyptus trees whose fallen leaves make a natural cushion, as others are more daring and exposed on the beach. The famous and bitter California marine layer is likely to join you at night, so a tent would be nice. If not, expect yourself in survival mode, layering and huddling.
There is no market or open fires on the islands, but if you run out of water there are faucets at the dock. I would bring along someone domestic if you want a real live picnic, but if you are more focused on getting underwater footage and photos like us, maybe you can score some snacks and even beer from outgoing happy campers with leftovers. Caution: If you turn your back on your snack, the tiny sly island fox or seagull are quick to rob you of your nutrients. It’s survival of the fattest here.
For us islanders at heart, we crave our separation form society and oneness with nature. Here on Santa Cruz Island, we spent our morning kayaking and snorkeling through the underwater jungles parallel to the towering cliffs, and even cutting corners through wavy caves, all with whales breaching on the horizon at our eye level and seals swooping in under us. By afternoon we wanted to retreat from the frigid water and explore the tops of the cliffs. From up here, we witness a panoramic nature show. As the sun sets to the west, the moon rises in the east above the distant island peaks, reflecting the bright yellow flowers that blanket the mountains in spring. Soon a marine layer creeps in from the north, the brunt of it following the path of the channel as the weaker outer links collide with the cliffs, signaling to the seals below and the seabirds above that it’s bed time and all are required to join together, survival mode! To top off the magic, there was a lunar eclipse this night that was so clear up here it seemed to be a gift for just us. Everyday is different on these majestic islands. Take your day, and let nature render you.
The Lesson Learned
I don’t believe in making wrong decisions during such adventures. Each decision we make leads us on our own personal journey that creates our special weekend escapes. But, as I reflect and research back in DTLA, I find fascinating facts about the islands (such as the oldest human bone in north America was found here) that encourage another go around. My first phone call again will be with Island Packers www.islandpackers.com. If they can’t answer your question then they can lead you in the right direction. My advice: research before you go. Not only will you find out how affordable this trip is, each island and each campsite is unique and accessible. All you need is love, for the natural world.