On Sunday, September 16th, my wife and I took a quick day trip to a whole new world: from our suburban home in Woodland Hills to the island of Santa Cruz – the largest of the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. Santa Cruz lies in the Santa Barbara Channel a mere 67 miles from our home in the western end of the San Fernando Valley.
The 42-mile drive to the harbor in Ventura took us less than an hour. We arrived at the Island Packers dock where our boat was waiting to carry us to Santa Cruz.
Victoria took a seat on the upper deck of the Island Packers boat, gazing out at the collection of vessels in Ventura Harbor.
We headed out of the harbor shortly after 2:00 PM. I’ve sailed out of Ventura Harbor many times, but not often aboard a boat of this size.
The pilothouse on the upper deck of the boat with the captain at the controls.
As we raced across the Santa Barbara Channel, a thick marine layer cast a hazy shroud over the islands in the distance. Santa Cruz is 25 miles off the California coast, and we covered that distance across a flat, grey ocean in less than an hour. (See map above.)
As we neared Santa Cruz, the foggy marine layer was burning off…
…and the island was finally revealed in brilliant sunshine.
The closer we got to the island, the more the colors came out. The water became more blue and the island more golden and inviting as we approached the cliffs near the Scorpion anchorage on the eastern end of the island. (See map above.)
The Island Packers crew prepares to dock at the Scorpion anchorage.
The approached the dock at the Scorpion anchorage, where a pair of metal ladders stood ready for us to disembark.
A short dirt path leads from the anchorage to the former sheep ranch buildings that now serve as the visitor’s center and headquarters for this unit of the National Park Service. (Yep, the 5 westernmost Channel Islands are a National Park!)
A couple hundred yards from the anchorage, the building of the former sheep ranch came into view.
Old rusted farm equipment provides mute testimony to the brief agricultural history of the island. For about 150 years from the 1830’s through the 1980’s, sheep ranching was the dominant industry on the island.
Victoria stands next to the old farm building that is now the National Park visitor center.
Victoria and I pause along the trail that rises above the visitor center. We only had about 40 minutes to explore before the boat was scheduled to return to Ventura. (We could have taken a much earlier voyage out of Ventura, but inspiration hit us too late in the morning.)
The trail rose quickly and the view was stunning. You can see our boat waiting at anchor below the cliff.
Victoria marches up the trail. Behind Vic, the mountains give a sense of low large the island is: 22 miles long and from 2 to 6 miles wide.
Victoria pauses at a particularly picturesque overlook to – what else? – take a picture.
Here’s another view from Victoria’s perch looking east above the Scorpion anchorage.
Heading back to the boat, Victoria spotted an island fox: a species that is native to six of the eight Channel Islands. (Vic earned her merit badge for the day.) I managed to shoot some footage of this cute, red-hued predator as it made its way through the chaparral.
We lined up on the dock to board the boat for our return trip – along with dozens of campers and day-trippers. It would be a far more crowded ride back to Ventura.
As I waited on the dock for everyone to climb down the two ladders onto the boat, I had plenty of time to study the gorgeous coastline.
Take a moment to enjoy the gentle lapping of the waves on the pebbled beach.
Now, take another moment to enjoy the hypnotic swaying of the kelp and other ocean vegetation along the coast.
With the boat’s cabin crowded with returning campers, hikers, snorkelers and kayakers – Victoria takes windy refuge on the bow of the boat.
It was a great trip to Santa Cruz Island: a brief excursion to a whole ‘nother world that’s not too far away.