Best Western Inn of Ventura is a nice enough hotel. The bed was suitable (Melinda and I don’t have high needs), the walls a bit thin (all you other guests, I know when you fetched ice from the machine last night), and the dressing room outside the bathroom is oddly short (eg, the closet is only 6’ tall, not clear to the ceiling). But the shower rains hot water, and the free breakfast included eggs, bacon, and danishes so I’m down with that. Between everything we managed to get out the door, including with breakfast, by about 8a. Great.
We’re staying in Ventura, but today’s excursion leaves from the harbor in Oxnard, the next town south on the 101. It’s a short drive, and we make a quick stop at a Vons for lunch vittles. We arrive at Island Packers’ office just as they open their doors, around 8:55a. Checking in takes about two minutes, and we’re left with about an hour to pass waiting for departure. I guess we could have slept in a bit.
There are perhaps 40 people on the boat heading to Anacapa. Melinda and I fit in the “day-only, dry land” set, which I’ll call us. We’ll be there only for the afternoon and we’ll tromp around the island. Some people are camping overnight (“the campers”), some are kayaking, which means our boat has many much smaller boats on it, and some people aren’t even leaving our boat and are just enjoying a pelagic tour of a few islands. The crossing to the islands takes about an hour, despite being just about visible from the mainland -- boats can only go so fast.
When we woke up this morning we had a surprise: rain. Or, more like mist, I guess, but definitely water coming from the sky. I hadn’t planned on that -- I knew it may be overcast or cool, but not raining. The mist subsides by the time the boat leaves, but it’s cold air we cut through as we cross the Santa Barbara Channel. We have our windbreakers from our Antarctic adventures as outerwear, and they work great, but I regret not grabbing a middle layer yesterday when packing. By afternoon things warm up so it’s all good.
There’s a landing site on Anacapa, but vessels aren’t permitted to tie up there. Maybe the national park just don’t want anything to tear out the pier? Dunno. In any event we disembarked while the captain was holding the ship in reverse to keep it against the landing point. A little exciting, but nothing one big step couldn’t fix.
After ashore we were briefed on etiquette: don’t harass the wildlife, don’t walk near cliff edges, and don’t leave trash behind. Standard enough. We walk up a million steps to reach the main level of the island. And there we begin to see them: western gulls and their chicks!
First, a lesson on gulls. Common sea gulls one sees eating bread bowls outside Ivars or flying near garbage dumps might be western gulls or California gulls. They look about the same but close inspection should make it clear (eg, western gulls have pink feet while California gulls have yellow feet). Western gulls have two primary breeding sites, and nearly all westerns gulls you see come from either of these. One site is the Channel Islands, and the other is the Farallone islands. This all seems to jive with what Melinda and I are seeing, too. The island is covered with them. I’m not sure one could say they’re colonial, because while they live together on the island they all seem to want a lot of their own space. Perhaps each gull has an about 10’ radius of territory. Each adult gull seemed to be tending to between zero and three chicks, with two or three chicks being the most common counts. We saw chicks ranging in size from smaller than your fist to the size of adult gulls. The chicks all had chick plumage, which is greyish brown and spotted. The chicks blend in very well with the surroundings - even after two hours walking on the island I was still being caught unawares that the bush I was looking at also hid three gull chicks. Gull eggs are bigger than chicken eggs by about 50% in length and they have the same coloring as the chicks.
From the top of the landing site we walked along a trail to the Park Service visitors center. That’s really overstating the building, too. Anacapa saw several uses in the 20th century, but today there are a few sad buildings still standing. NPS owns them all and put a fresnel lens in one (there’s a lighthouse on the island) along with some other information and pictures. There’s no fresh water for visitors on the island, and every bench is covered with bird droppings (I mean, what do you expect?). So, these buildings are a landmark on the island but they’re really not much to speak of.
Our walk from the landing site to the building cluster takes us probably 20 minutes. It’s only about 0.25 miles, but we stop every few feet to photograph some adorable fuzzy bird. Knowing that there’s more to the island than just those birds we do press on. Along with the campers and day-visitors the boat dropped off two volunteers with a conservancy group, and they lead hikes and explain a few things. I learn that the NPS eradicated rats from the island in 1992 and is trying to eliminate ice plant. Both were or are non-native and were or are spoiling the chances for natives to take hold. The gulls are doing very well without the rats to harass them, and NPS hopes native vegetation will fill the void left when the ice plants are eliminated. Unfortunately this all means the island looks like it’s been touched by Death. The coreopsis plants stopped blooming a month or more ago, and the ice plants are all dead from herbicide.
The trails on the island are roughly a figure eight with the NPS building and campground in the middle. We walk the entire system and photo nearly every bird on the island (so it would seem). The view from Inspiration Point is rather nice: you’re on a cliff a few hundred feet above the sea and you’re looking at middle and west Anacapa islands that are not more than several hundred feet away. The afternoon weather was still overcast but in the right light (perhaps a nice sunset?) this scene would be amazing.
Our guided hike ends at Inspiration Point, so Melinda and I eat lunch there then head out on our own. I’m “blessed” by a passing gull just as we restart but most of the blessing ends up on my jacket. I brought a towel so I’m not any worse off. We follow paths back to the start and then head to the lighthouse on the island. It’s not much to see, and it’s mostly notable now because there’s a foghorn that blasts every 15 seconds. The trail prohibits passage beyond a certain point because of the fog horn noise, so Melinda and I sit at the end there for about 40 minutes taking in the view (at exactly this spot the lighthouse blocks a lot of the volume from the fog horn). Near the lighthouse we see a good number of brown pelicans. None seem to be with chicks, so near as we could tell with binoculars. We can tell, though, that they’re big birds! Unlike the gulls the pelicans are pretty skittish around humans, so we’re not allowed to go anywhere near them.
Melinda and I hit saturation about 2:20p and just sit and watch a family of gulls for about an hour while we wait for the boat. When the boat returns it has many more people than on the outbound trip. Apparently the boat had returned to harbor since we last saw it, and we’re now joining a group who’ve been out just for a non-landing trip. The boat’s kind of tight on the return, but we find seats.
Seeing the gulls on Anacapa gives me a better appreciation for gulls in general. One sees they’re not just scavenging scraps of bread or smelly trash, but they’re in a life cycle, producing and caring for chicks, and are a bit less common than one might think (eg, they nest primarily in only two island chains). They behave not entirely differently than penguins, especially the gentoo penguins at Port Lockroy: they’re a bit agitated when one is too close but not enough so to be violent. After one passes, the birds go back to their business. I ended up taking I’m sure a few hundred photos today, and I’ll find the couple that are good next week. I’m glad I was fully prepared, though.
Back on land Melinda and I returned to the Best Western, clean up, then head out to dinner. Melinda looked up some ideas while I was buying tomorrow’s lunch (another visit to Vons), and we settled on Mary’s Secret Garden: vegan food and one block from the hotel. I’m kind of starving so I kid to Melinda, “vegan? but I’m really hungry.” Heh. Turns out I had no reason to worry. The food at Mary’s was not in short supply, and I left very satisfied. The place reminded us of Cafe Gratitude, but unlike Cafe Gratitude Mary’s is not adverse to using heat to cook food. As a result we ordered a long list of items: a mulberry and orange smoothie (using almond milk); ginger orange raspberry iced tea; a “cheeze” plate made of almond, macadamia, and … a third nut butter; a burrito; tofu pad thai; a strawberry shortcake cupcake; coconut milk ice cream. Every item (except perhaps the smoothie) exceeded my expectations, and I left feeling very refueled for calories. I would recommend Mary’s Secret Garden to anyone who’s in town and of the vegan persuasion. One might want to make reservations. We didn’t have any; they found room for us but when we entered we could see that all the open tables had “reserved” signs on them.
Melinda and I enjoyed an after-dinner stroll along Main Street in Ventura. Downtown feels like it’s been revitalized. Many old buildings are newly renovated, there’s newer restaurants or small shops in place, and there’s not a lot of decay that we could see (although, oddly, we saw five or six thrift shops within the four blocks we walked). It all felt welcoming and safe, and we couldn’t help but think it’d be a good locale for a BANG or day-long puzzle event. Not that we’re going to do that here anytime soon, just observing it.
We’re in for the night now and we’re making our plans for tomorrow. We visit Santa Cruz tomorrow, departing from Island Packers’ other marina, and we’ll be there only until noon. It’s a short time to be on the island, but it’s better than no time at all. We’ll then take our time driving home.