California’s Galápagos

I’m not sure why I’m inspired to start writing when most people have already gone to bed. Maybe it’s that it takes a while for my ideas to percolate.  Perhaps I need to feel like I’m rushing to meet a deadline so that I can write more concisely. Maybe I think clearer late at night. It could be any or none of these things. But here I am again at 11:57 pm starting a blog post after a day of doing practically nothing. I did a cycling class early this morning and then relaxed for the rest of the day. This brought to a close a weekend that was less eventful than last, but exciting nonetheless: 🚴🏾‍♂️ bike party on Friday evening, hiking Santa Cruz Island in California’s Galápagos yesterday, now trying to write a blog post in an hour or less so I can get to bed by 1 am (that didn’t work).

When the photo-bomber gets blocked by your hair LOL

References to the Galápagos Islands call to mind giant tortoises (fitting since Galápago means tortoise), marine and land iguanas, finches and other rare fauna that captivated Darwin and contributed to his theory of evolution by natural selection. I’ve had one opportunity to visit these islands in the past, but couldn’t take advantage. Hopefully there will be another in my future, but in the meantime I’m enjoying other ‘Galápagos’ elsewhere in the world.

California’s (some say North America’s) Galápagos are the Channel Islands – an archipelago of 8 islands off the coast of Southern California. Five of these islands (Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, San Miguel) combine to make the Channel Islands National Park which was declared in 1980. The waters around these islands form the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (est. 1980 by NOAA). The other three islands are San Clemente, Santa Catalina and San Nicolas. The work that’s been done in this national park is a good example of preservation and restoration.

The Channel Islands mimic the Galápagos (or the other way around) in terms of endemic species because the isolation of these islands resulted in evolution at a different pace and scale from the mainland. There are 145 endemic species of plants and animals in the Channel Islands (e.g. skunks, salamanders, foxes, island scrub jay). Sixty of these species are found on Santa Cruz Island; some are endemic to Santa Cruz specifically; others are found on more than one of the eight islands.

The native Chumash were the earliest known inhabitants of the northern Channel Islands. Eleven historic Chumash villages have been identified on Santa Cruz and 137 in the other islands. The southern islands were occupied by the Tongva. Settlement on these islands dates back over 13, 000 years (NPS, 2016). The NPS provides much more information about the Chumash and Tongva people in the Channel Islands here.

I visited Santa Cruz Island this past weekend for the second time. I also visited in September last year. For this trip we didn’t stay overnight, so in tourism terms we were ‘day trippers’ or ‘excursionists’, not tourists. My two friends and I did this day trip with the Santa Clarita Community Hiking Club and it was the first time that I had hiked in such a large group (at least 50 hikers). Fortunately the group hiked at different speeds so I didn’t often feel like a herd of us had descended and were trampling everything. While Santa Cruz is a part of the Channel Islands National Park, about two thirds of the island is owned by the Nature Conservancy (more on that here) while the remainder belongs to the NPS.

Santa Cruz Island (from NPS Maps)

We took the ferry from Ventura to Santa Cruz, landing on the eastern side at Scorpion Anchorage. There is also ferry service to Prisoners Harbor on the northern side of the island. The views on the way to and from Scorpion Anchorage were gorgeous.

California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) were the first wildlife we saw as we were leaving the dock in Ventura and the last we saw as we returned. On the trip to and from Santa Cruz we also saw common dolphin (Delphinus delphis). On the trip back we saw a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) and though there was a sighting of a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) I wasn’t lucky enough to see it. Other wildlife we saw were island foxes (no photo from this trip), common raven (Corvus corax) western gull (Larus occidentalis), California brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), and another sea bird I did not recognize.

We hiked from the ferry dock along the Cavern Point Trail to Potato Harbor and returned by North Bluff Trail and part of the Cavern Point Loop Trail (approx. 6-miles). Most of the trail was easy, with a about two uphill sections that required moderate exertion to climb. The views as usual were brilliant, totally worth the effort. It was a warm, but beautiful day and my friends and I had a great time (as you can see from their poses).

My outdoor models deserve a slideshow of their own 😃

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