Last weekend I traveled down Route 101, past the yawning golden fields and kitchy nut shacks to Ventura. From there,
a group of friends and I hoped aboard a boat and zoomed across the scalloped swells of the Pacific to reach Santa Cruz
Island, the largest island in Channel Islands National Park.
The island is a dry, barren place made of a mixture of volcanic rock and powdery limestone, and is one of the least
visited among California’s National Parks. It is an idyllically quiet jewel of a place, where the restrictions on
development make it seem a million miles away from California (rather than the 20 miles it sits from Ventura). The
islands are well-known among sea kayakers for offering some of the best paddling in the world.
We arrived on a Friday afternoon, after catching the 12 pm boat, and hiked from the small pier at the Scorpion Ranch
inlet to a primitive campsite about a mile away. We immediately set up camp and set about exploring the island, roaming
over its grassy slopes and catching glorious views of the sea and the towering cliffs. I wont go into detail about some
of our daily activities because we were there for a bachelor party and as we all agreed, “what happens in the
Channel Islands stays in the Channel Islands” (do you have any idea how much it cost to airlift in strippers? Just
kidding). No, our behavior was tame. The experience was more Robert Bly than frat guy hijinx. The high-point of the
trip was the sea kayaking tour we took on Sunday morning around the island. A group of a dozen of us paddled around and
through some of the gaping sea caves that are carved into the island’s cliffs, some of which are actually tunnels that
roil with churning swells and require helmets lest a swell lifts your boat and smashes your head against the rocky
ceiling (yes, that happened to a few of us).
I cannot recommend the islands more as a place to escape the city and to experience the kind of outdoor thrills and
exertions that make life worth living. Five stars.
(photo by Erik Riegler)