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Channel Islands 2011 Trip

Day 2 of 5

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Sunday, April 17th
Cavern Point

Sunday morning we finished packing our backpacks. The Scorpion campground at Santa Cruz Island where we were staying is sort of a hybrid -- you can't call it car-camping, since you can't drive to it, but you can't really call it backpacking since it has picnic tables, water, outhouses, and is only a half mile from the nearest transportation (in this case, a boat dock). Even so, the boat operator (Island Packers) suggests packing as if it were a backpacking trip, and that's what we did. I didn't weigh every ounce and plan every calorie like I do for a normal backpacking trip, but I otherwise packed most of the same stuff. I even brought my bear canister since it's relatively light and I wanted to protect our food from small animals.

After picking up a few last-minute groceries from the store, we arrived at the Island Packers office at 12:30pm and checked in. They mentioned that I should check our return time later, since they said they sometimes return early if they don't have any day trippers.

We made a quick stop at the National Park visitor's center, where we picked up a couple of Junior Ranger booklets for the kids. Then we parked in the overnight lot at Island Packers and took our stuff to the boat. We were the first ones to board, and the crew jokingly said that we had our own private yacht today. As it turned out, there were only a handful of other people - there would only be about 10 day trippers and no other campers on our boat.

Ventura Harbor

Just after 2pm, the boat set off for Santa Cruz Island. Now, I should mention that one of the reasons I had never visited the Channel Islands is that I have a history of getting seasick. So, this time, I took some dramamine an hour before the ride. Still, the day before I had noticed that the surf looked nauseating, and unfortunately today was no different. It was calm as we started slowly out of the harbor, but as soon as we exited, it looked like 5-foot waves started attacking the boat, over and over and over again.

The boat tilted up, then fell down, again and again. It was like being on a roller-coaster, but for over an hour. I got a brief respite when we stopped to see some sea lions. After that, I just sat still and tried to stay calm. I think the dramamine did have the effect of making me drowsy, which helped. I kept watching the GPS tracker on the boat TV monitors, thinking we were going awfully slowly. After perhaps 30-45 minutes we could finally see the island in the distance. Finally, at about 3:15pm we reached the boat dock.

Sea lions

We disembarked, and the boat left, to return and carry off the day trippers around 5pm. The four of us got a brief orientation from the rangers on the dock before we headed to the campground. They were actually leaving the island today, after staying for the weekend. They said that most rangers stayed 8 days (Tuesday to Tuesday).

After the orientation, we headed off the dock and back onto solid ground. Around the corner, we saw lots of people sitting by some picnic tables amidst an assortment of rusting car remains. These were probably weekend visitors returning on the 5pm boat. I recalled that when I made our campground reservations, the weekend nights (Friday and Saturday nights) were completely booked. There was plenty of space for other nights, though.

Rusted car remains on Santa Cruz Island

There are some interpretive displays, brochures, bathrooms, and a small unmanned visitor's center here. There are also foxes. I saw "are" because you'll almost assuredly see some if you visit. They looked kind of cute, about the size of small house cats, and fairly unafraid of the large human presence (though they would scurry away if you got too close, like maybe within 10 feet). They'd lose their "cuteness" later, though.

We continued up the dirt road past the visitor's center and after a few minutes reached the lower campground, where we were staying. There are 22 campsites in the lower campground, with 3 more individual sites in the upper campground along with several large group sites. There are pit toilets with hand sanitizer at each campground. At the lower campground there are eucalyptus trees which provide shade to most of the sites. Each site has a picnic table and bear storage locker, just like those found in Sierra campgrounds. So I needn't have brought my bear canister. The main reason for the bear boxes is to keep your food safe from the foxes. The rangers said that if you turned your back and your food was more than an arm's length away, the foxes would take it. All the time we were at camp, we saw foxes milling about, sneaking around behind our tent and in the bushes behind our site. No doubt, if given the chance, they would certainly have taken our food.

The campground also has water spigots and fire extinguishers. After we set up our camp, we started off on a short before-dinner hike to Cavern Point.

After the hike, we returned to camp and had dinner, which consisted of dehydrated meals. We were too lazy to plan anything more complicated on this trip. We noticed that the campground was only a third to half full tonight. One downside to the camp is no campfires are allowed, but we were too tired to have a campground, anyway (or maybe that was the dramamine affecting me). In any case, we went to bed early.

Considering how hard the wind had been blowing on our hike, the wind was relatively calm at the campground. That night, I could hear the wind blowing in the trees on a few occasions, but it never bothered the tent. We seemed to be pretty well sheltered.

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