The boat dock was pretty close to the hotel, and we already had our lunches packed so it was a short drive. We got our boarding pass and idled briefly waiting for the boat to begin loading. We struck up a conversation with another passenger, Polly, who ran a 50km trail race yesterday. She’s in town just for the weekend and wanted to see what this Channel Island place was about. She’s getting the abbreviated version, visiting only one island and for only a few hours today, same as us.
The boats in Ventura are bigger, and I think they go to all the islands, whereas out of Oxnard they go to only Anacapa. The ride was pretty smooth although with quite a bit of rolling -- the vessel still is small compared to the ocean, after all. I was happy for the boat to dock, in part because it’s an hour of just waiting.
Santa Cruz island differs from Anacapa in several respects. For one, the island itself is much hillier than East Anacapa. There are more trees and bushes here, and the island itself is much bigger (in fact, it’s the biggest ocean island off the lower 48 west coast; Whidbey Island is bigger but on Puget Sound, and north to Alaska has a lot of bigger islands). Until just a couple decades ago, private citizens ranched on the island, and one family even today still has a private residence on the island. Anacapa is home to 100,000s of seabirds, but Santa Cruz is much less of a nesting site. In part that’s because there are two types of rodents and an endemic Island Fox that would harass the birds and chicks.
We disembark on the pier (although still no tying up to the pier), hear the NPS rules orientation, and head to the ranch buildings which are now the visitor center. In front of the buildings are two rows of rusting ranch equipment: tractors, cement mixers, a saw, an old truck. Derelicts from decades ago but kept around to narrate what life was like for the ranchers.
About 15 minutes after docking, a volunteer with the NPS, Eb, organized a short hike. Melinda and I, Polly, and four other people joined in (in contrast, the ship had probably 60 people on board, but many of them were kayaking or camping). Eb seemed to know his material. He pointed out a white chalky patch as diatomaceous earth. More interestingly, that material can crystalize and turn into chert, a translucent, hard stone that the natives used for drilling holes into sea shells. Eb pointed out a few plants along the way, and he explained how the Island Fox was recently helped out by (a) reintroducing bald eagles, which drove away the foxes’ predator the golden eagle; and (b) the NPS and the Nature Conservancy have run a captive breeding program for the foxes, and even now still bring them to vets if they look lame. The island hosts about 1200 individuals and we saw one at the end of our hike.
The hike was short -- only three miles and only maybe 90 minutes -- but that was the right length of time considering our constraints (had to be back at the dock by 11:45). The views along the top of the island are grand, and I expect the night sky looks amazing when there’s no marine layer obscuring them.
Back at the boat I found myself volunteering to help load the boat with all the campers’ gear (the crew asked for a volunteer, no one else said yes, and I wanted to get the boat loaded and to go home!). The crew couldn’t believe that someone who wasn’t a camper would help -- dunno. It took maybe 15 minutes to bucket-brigade all the bags onto the ship, and then Melinda and I slept much of the return ride home.
Back on dry land we evaluated our options: Hearst Castle would be interesting but within 60 minutes of closing if we tried to go there. Nothing else seemed especially a draw, so we just headed home. Turns out to have been a good idea (I think?) because traffic was surprisingly bad for much of the way. The worst part was around Salinas which held us in 1-2 mph traffic for about an hour. It all cleared up just after we passed an “exit”. The problem is that, in this area, “exits” might be left turns across oncoming traffic. I suspect the occasional oncoming car tries to do the left-turner a favor, by stopping, but that blocks traffic behind that stopped car very quickly. After we’d cleared past one such intersection, the traffic cleared up. All told, though, it was about 90 minutes more time than I’d expected. Oh, and I should remember that the Chevron is in King City, and not just the first exit with services (Mesa Road, I think?).
We stopped for dinner in Morgan Hill. The diner I found was closed on Sunday. The BBQ place was closed already for the evening because they ran out of food. The Italian place, where we did eat, was all right, and Melinda and I shared at least one full stick of butter between our entrees.
Back home now, everything looks good, including the rats (excluding the lawn, which racoons turned up again). Time to prepare to return to the usual world.