East Anacapa Island, Channel Islands NP – 3/16/13 – 3 Miles
As I have mentioned in these pages before, my hiking buddy Jeff plans epic extended hiking trips and I sometimes am invited along for the fun. When possible he combines several destinations to get the most out of travel time and expense. California is rich with national parks, preserves and wilderness areas and the hardest part is deciding what to see and what to save for another time. Thus I found myself on an ocean/desert expedition with Jeff and our friend David.
Channel Islands National Park consists of a group of five islands about 15 miles off the coast of Ventura, California. Occupied by native Chumash for thousands of years and subsequently by sheep and cattle ranchers, the islands are now protected. They have been called the “North American Galapagos” because they are home to more than 150 endemic or unique species. To whet our appetites for “it ain’t like this back home” hiking, we spent our first day exploring East Anacapa Island.
Anacapa Island is really three islets, East, Middle and West (clever), each accessible from the others only by boat. Eroded by waves, the volcanic island has no gentle beaches but towering sea cliffs and sea caves. We took an hour-long ferry ride to East Anacapa. Our visit was optimally timed for the wildflowers and prior to nesting activity for sea birds (who aren’t very tolerant of humans when they are protecting nests). The NPS website says: “Thousands of birds use Anacapa as a nesting area because of the relative lack of predators on the island. While the steep cliffs of West Anacapa are home to the largest breeding colony of endangered California brown pelicans, all the islets of Anacapa host the largest breeding colony of western gulls in the world. Western gulls begin their nesting efforts at the end of April, sometimes making their shallow nests just inches from island trails. Fluffy chicks hatch in May and June and fly away from the nest in July.”
The Anacapa Island web pages tell you everything you want to know about this fascinating place that not many people visit. We explored the two-mile trail that meanders in a figure-eight pattern towards the western end, then walked over to the eastern edge near the lighthouse that was established in 1932. Our day was foggy and overcast and the lighthouse foghorn sounded every couple of minutes…pretty darn loud.
Pictures? Why, yes, I have some pictures.
Ready to board our ferry. We were a little surprised by the foggy, chilly morning. I guess we were expecting sunny California?
Sea lions are protected and can hang out anywhere they want. While they are fun for us tourists, they are noisy and heavy, sometimes too heavy for the docks they like to plop onto, and they can be a nuisance to the boat owners.
But they are cute, huh?
The ferry ride across the Santa Barbara Channel was downright cold as we tried to hang out at the front of the boat. Something I had not thought about at all was the probability of seeing dolphins and whales in the Channel. Imagine our delight when we encountered a pod of dolphins, around 200 of them. They were everywhere around the boat and a dozen or more swam at the bow, seeming to pull the boat along. Their movements appeared effortless as they escorted us to East Anacapa Island.
Our first glimpse of East Anacapa’s iconic arch and the lighthouse
The landing cove where we disembarked and the stairway to topside
A park ranger rode the ferry crossing with us to conduct a guided tour. He was very knowledgeable and everybody wanted his ear to ask questions. Later in the day while we were waiting to board the ferry for the return trip, I asked him about any effects of the current sequestration on the Channel Islands. He shared that while the casual visitor will see little effect on this small park unit (unlike the Great Smoky Mountains NP where visitor services have been greatly impacted), their maintenance and improvements list is greatly delayed. His biggest concern overall was how the hiring freeze already in effect will be extended and its impact on college students graduating with degrees in park service management and recreation. Those who have worked unpaid internships with NPS have a short window of time to use priority status to take a job with NPS. But…NPS has a hiring freeze…
Buildings originally put in place to serve the Coast Guard are now operated by the NPS. (The Coast Guard continues to operate the lighthouse from the mainland.) There is a tiny museum (unstaffed) and some brochures about the island and the walking trails, lots of cautions about cliffs and birds and fragile plant life. Stay on the path, people.
A lovely spot for an outhouse
During my obligatory stop at the outhouse I had a major wardrobe malfunction: my pants zipper broke off. No way to fix it. I only had two pairs of pants for the entire 10-day trip. BUT…I did have safety pins. A less than ideal fix (they popped open every time I sat down) but it got me through the day.
The yellow flowers are called tree sunflower or coreopsis. I’ve planted them in my yard as annuals, but they didn’t have trunks like these. We were so fortunate to visit during the prime bloom time. Sometimes on very clear days (not many of those) the brilliant yellow can be seen from the mainland.
Seagulls are the main residents on Anacapa and somehow they seemed much cuter than the ones at Myrtle Beach or in the Wal-Mart parking lots all across North Carolina. Most of the time they were on the ground, but several times on some signal they all took to the air. If you are creeped out by Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, do not go to Anacapa Island.
Seagulls and the Anacapa Lighthouse
The mist hung on all day
At the westernmost edge of East Anacapa, looking at Middle and West Anacapa
Steep cliffs on all sides of the island reminded me of the Cliffs of Moher in western Ireland
David waiting his turn at a seagull crossing
I spy seagulls hiding under the flowers
Iceplant, an invasive flower that the NPS is trying hard to eradicate
A boat carrying scuba divers, a very popular excursion from the mainland. Diving, snorkeling and kayaking are all allowed at Anacapa Island, but the only access to the water is at the landing cove via the dock. You can put in a kayak there and paddle to access some (small) beaches.
Protecting plants? Not sure what’s up with these
The lighthouse sits on the high point of the island and we walked as close as we could. The foghorn was pretty unbearable. We didn’t hang around.
Because we walk pretty fast, we had plenty of spare time after our exploring, almost too much time. We may or may not have taken a little siesta at a picnic table near the dock. Eventually we boarded our ferry which took us for a sneak peak at the back side of East Anacapa.
The easternmost end as seen from the ferry
Blow up this photo as much as you can to find the sea lions lounging on the rocks on the back side of the island
On the ride back our trusty boat crew spotted a gray whale that sounded several times as we floated nearby, trying to guess where it would resurface. No photos, just a great memory.
Our California adventure is off to a rousing start. Tomorrow: Santa Cruz Island and the start of our overnight backpack trip!