We were pulling away from the mainland. It was a strange feeling. When I think of "national parks" I don't think of islands. But I was en route to Channel Islands National Park, one of our island-based parks.
The Channel Islands are a set of eight islands off the coast of southern California, of which five constitute Channel Islands National Park. The only way to get to the park is by ferries that leave from the coastal cities of Oxnard or Ventura, or plane. I'd decided to take the ferry to Santa Cruz, the largest island. As we were leaving the pier, we came across a buoy and saw several resting seals (sea lions?).
The sky was overcast, so I was a little wary of my day out on the island. But as we progressed away from the mainland, the sky cleared up, and the water turned bluer. It was turning out to be a nice day, albeit a hot one.
Finally, after just over an hour, we arrived at Scorpion Beach on Santa Cruz. The water was crystal clear. (I would later find out that it was crystal clean, too.)
I began in the visitor center, and looked at the scale model of the island. My plan was to ascend out of the beach and descend back over the other side of the ridge into Smugglers Cove. I heard the beach there was beautiful--a perfect place to touch the Pacific Ocean for the first time on this trip. The route was supposed to be 7 miles out and back. Given that it was 11 a.m., and the boat back to the mainland departed at 4 p.m., every day-tripper on my boat decided to go on a shorter hike, on the other side of the beach. Alone, I began heading up the dirt road towards Smugglers Cove.
Within 15 minutes, I was up on top of the small ridge. I could see the ocean, as well as Anacapa Island, also a part of the park.
From there, I turned inland, following a dirt road. I was a bit surprised; I'd not expected the island to look this barren.
Eventually, I made it over the ridge and found myself looking into Smugglers Canyon. I'd now descend to Smugglers Cove, which was at the bottom of the v-shaped notch on the right edge below.
I love fast descents. This one was fast. The decline was relatively modest, but still steep enough to fly. The trail was mostly dirt, with very few obstacles. I cruised down into the cove. A few seniors from the University of Santa Barbara were there, playing in the surf. I'd seen the Pacific almost a week ago, but hadn't yet touched the ocean, so I decided it would be a great opportunity to swim (and cool off--it had been an incredibly hot traverse). I was a bit worried about swimming in the ocean, because the salt and sand greatly increases the risk of chafing. Ironically, that aspect of the dip turned out to be fine. Stupidly, in hopping on some of the sharp rocks, I split open the skin on the bottom of my foot on one rock. Thankfully, it was pretty shallow. I cleaned the sand out from under my skin, and hoped that nothing worse would come of that misstep. The water was refreshing.
It was now past noon. After snacking on some food I'd brought (Channel Islands is unique in that you have to bring everything you'll need--aside from a couple pit toilets and a water spigot, there are no facilities on the island), I decided I was going to try and reach Montanon Ridge, one of the high points of the island, and the perfect place to see 360-degree views. It was a hot, sunny day, so I decided I'd run the rest of the day without my shirt. Shirtless, I began the ascent out of Smugglers Cove and continued up the ridge. The ascent was not insanely steep, but it got more taxing the closer I got to the ridgeline.
I finally reached the ridge. On the other side of the ridge was fog and clouds. I loved being high up and seeing the mist flow over the top of the mountain and dissipate on my side of the island. I looked back to where I'd come from.
It was now getting really hot, and I was also out of water. So I decided I'd head back towards the beach, rehydrate, and also spend the hour before the ferry left cooling off at Scorpion Beach. On the way back, I saw a couple island foxes foraging for food. They were super cute, and didn't really mind my presence.
I made it back to the beach and found that most everyone was gathered there. People were chilling on the shore, splashing around in the water, snorkeling, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding. My core body temperature had risen--I could really feel the blood pulsing through my veins--and I used this time as an opportunity for a cool bath in the ocean. It was the perfect end to a great day on the island.
We loaded up and left promptly at 4 p.m. The return voyage included a special surprise. The captain had mentioned he had seen a pod of dolphins on the way over here. We would try and catch them on the way back to the mainland.
Not 10 minutes into our trip, we spotted our first dolphins. I scrambled to catch a glimpse, thinking that it would be hard to see them. I slightly regretted not bringing any other lens but my 24mm prime lens, which is meant for landscapes and has no zoom.
What I didn't realize was that we eventually swam right over the pod--and that the pod included roughly 1,000 dolphins! They were like a swarm around our boat. Seeing all these dolphins frolicking in the ocean around us really brought a smile to my face.
Things only got better. The captain said he would create a wake, and that the dolphins would surf in that wake. Sure enough, as the captain sped up, we could see the more athletic dolphins surfing the wake created by the ferry. They jumped in and out, in and out. Again, I was smiling.
I love moments like these. The ones that are so memorable but were completely spontaneous and unplanned. I'd had absolutely no expectations that I'd see any marine animals on the boat ride. And I'd gone whale watching and whatnot before. But seeing the thousand-strong pod was one of the coolest things I'd seen while on a boat.
We eventually docked in Ventura just past 5 p.m. I got into my car and booked it into Los Angeles. I was heading in to the city to stay with my friend, Molly Mitchell (of @meandmyboifriend fame). The traffic was wretched. I realized that L.A. was not the city for me. It was so spread out, and so car-filled, that I felt lost the entire time I was driving into the city. I was thankful for Google Maps.
After showering at Molly's (and realizing that running shirtless was a bad idea!), we headed out on Sunset Boulevard for burgers and, most importantly, churro ice cream sandwiches from Churro Borough. They were incredible.
It was another fulfilling day, this time in L.A. (rhyme intended!).