Friday, November 9, 2012

Day 2 - Santa Rosa Island

On Sunday, we boarded the Island Packer vessel out of Ventura Harbor for our trip to Santa Rosa Island. This was a clear morning but very windy. There was a lot of roll to the sea as we slowly worked our way over to Santa Cruz Island. Once in its lee, the sea conditions improved immensely. We traveled along the entire south shore until we rounded a large rock and entered the Santa Cruz Channel for the final approach to Santa Rosa Island where the seas became rough again.

On our traverse of the south shore, we stopped twice to admire large pods of common dolphins. These are smaller than the bottlenose ones we saw on Saturday but just as lively and enjoyable to watch as they surfed our wake and sped alongside the boat, swimming under the bow. There were literally hundreds of dolphins.

It took us almost three hours to reach the dock which is brand new and a much easier climb than the stairs at Anacapa. From the pier, it's a ten minute walk to a meeting area near the old ranch house where there's some restrooms.

Here's a picture from the web of the ranch house:

Upon arrival at the pier, we were greeted by a National Park volunteer named Carolyn who offered to guide those interested on a 3.5 mile hike through Cherry Canyon. This hike was very enjoyable and we were surprised to find quite a few wildflowers still blooming along the riparian part of the trail. This was quite a contrast with the very dry vegetation we encountered on Anacapa the day before.

The hike took a couple of hours and then we had an hour and a half to have our lunch and visit Water Canyon Beach. This beach is near a very nice campground that has running water and even a solar shower. The island can be very windy so each campsite has a wind break. Although it was somewhat windy the day we were there, Carolyn said that it was nothing compared to what it usually was like.

The beach is stunning with large sand dunes and backed by rocky cliffs. A number of folks who came over on the boat spent their entire time here. Here's a photo that I found on the web:

There are many beaches and sand dunes on Santa Rosa Island and it's possible to camp near them if you have a few days to spend on the island. There's also a rare grove of Torrey Pines just a few miles from the ranch. The island is just now being opened for use by the public. Until recently, much of it was a private hunting reserve but the park service has removed all the game and is restoring the native foxes that used to be quite numerous before the ranch was established.

When we returned to the pier, there were a lot more people waiting to board the vessel than had come out on it. This was the last boat of the year and all the campers and most of the park service employees were returning to Ventura. It took a while to get everyone on board since they had to load a lot of camping gear and personal belongings from the park personnel.

Finally, we were underway and the captain aimed the boat for the north shore of Santa Cruz Island. We cruised along just 50 yards or so from the high cliffs and rocks along the coast. We were soon out of the wind and in calmer waters. Most everyone found a place near the railings to enjoy the view. The view really got special when our boat entered the Painted Cave which is one of the largest sea caves in the world. This was an awesome experience which totally capped off a wonderful excursion.

Santa Cruz is the largest island in California and it is extremely rugged having two mountain ranges with peaks rising over 2,000 feet. Most of the island is owned by the Nature Conservancy and permission is needed to venture onto their lands. In 2011, we went out to Prisoner's Harbor and took Island Packer's guided hike out to Pelican Bay. We had to pick up some passengers at Prisoner's and as we headed towards the dock, we went by Pelican Bay where there was a beautiful yacht anchored.

From Prisoner's, our trip back to Ventura was pretty uneventful. Although windy, the seas were following so the ride was not very rough. Just before reaching harbor, the sun set in the west and we were all treated with a glimpse of the green flash.

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