CHASING DOWN THE MUSE
A black-winged raven calls me to waking from my dream-filled
sleep. He and a partner glide through the grassy-sloped canyon
searching for their first meals. Stephen snores softly in harmony
with other campers. I slip out of the tent and down the canyon trail.
Cool fog fills the spaces between the ridges and eucalyptus leaves
drip with evening dew. Small wrens flitter in the scrub shrubbery and
the telltale signs of wild pig are everywhere. It is said that
California must have looked just like this 100 years ago, pristine
beaches, no land developments or paved roads -- just solitude and
We’ve come to Santa Cruz Island for a long weekend of sea kayaking
and hiking. It’s the largest in Channel Island National Park. 22
miles long and between two- and six-miles wide, it encompasses more
than 61,000 acres. 24% is part of the park system; the other 76% is
in the trust of the Nature Conservancy, and accessible by one-day
permit only. My first thought as we arrived: How is it that I have
lived in California all of my life and never been here before?
There are 12 in our group. Darin, traveling with his mother, is
the youngest at 14 and Jean, 83, and her husband Bill, 86, are the
oldest. Our veteran guides from South Wind Kayak, Joe and Stephano,
know the waters well -- and the sea caves, which are the calling
cards of this particular island. Painted Cave, one of the largest in
the world beckons on the northern end.
Island Packers transports our gear and kayaks from Ventura to
Scorpion Bay in about an hour. Now we have to hike the 1/2 mile to
the campground. I am so thankful that this time I packed light.
After a safety briefing, we hop into our boats and out through
small waves. The water is stunning. Multitudinous shades of blue
stretch to the edges of the horizon. The sun has broken through the
morning fog and everything shimmers. A brilliant orange garibaldi
glides under the hull of my boat followed by a young manta ray. A
harbor seal peeks his head above the surface not more than five feet
from me. We exchange curious gazes.
The first cave is wide and easily traversed. Joe examines each one
first as a safety precaution -- giving us the go or no-go signal.
Tide fluctuations and swell surges can change the nature of each cave
quickly. Inside, odd stalactite formations mark the ceilings. Bats
race from corner to corner swept along with swallows nested in the
dark recesses. Some of the caves are one-way passages; others cut
through the cliff face. We enter on one side and exit in a new bay.
Saturday, we kayak northward and lunch at Potato Harbor near a sea
lion rookery. Their bellowing fills the salty air while gulls and
pelicans graze the bay’s surface. The clear blue calls us to snorkel
and we are rewarded with opaleye, octopus, lobsters, seals, kelp,
coral, starfish and sea urchins. More than 2,000 species of land and
sea life live in this secluded ecosystem -- 145 are found nowhere
else on earth.
Potluck dinner is shared over camp stoves and conversation. Terry,
a retired fireman tells tales of climbing Everest. James and Lynn,
surprisingly from Laguna, are our newfound kayaking buddies.
Sunday, Steve and I decide to hike the eastern end of the island.
A well-worn path takes us to Smuggler’s Cove and an old olive grove.
A pair of brilliant blue scrub jays -- unique to the Channel Islands,
hop between the trees. Small boats anchor in the nearly still waters.
We head up hill and across field toward Potato Harbor on pig paths
that lead into tall grass and then disappear. Our pants, socks and
shoes are laden with stickers when we arrive at the overlook.
Quickly, we scramble back to Scorpion Cove to load the boat.
Amazingly, we’ve discovered another paradise -- right at our back
door. Relaxed, and maybe exhausted after our 18-mile hike, we lean
back on the top deck of the “Islander” and watch Santa Cruz and
Anacapa Islands vanish in the mist. Our heads fill with plans for an
* Catharine Cooper is a local designer, photographer and writer
who thrives off beaten trains. She can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (949) 497-5081.