Channel Islands NP, Santa Cruz, 2013

I've had the good fortune to live in Santa Barbara for many years now, giving me great access to many great places to experience the beauty of the West. I've seen many things and over the years visited all the national parks in California, save one...the one closest to me...the Channel Islands. Last time I was on a boat in the Pacific I fared none too well, but my friends talked me into taking a trip. Though they canceled I wound up deciding to go out anyway for a short solo backpacking trip. Requisite safety gear and pills in hand it was checking weather week by week, and it looked good. Off to Santa Cruz and Del Norte I go!

I was astounded at the beauty of the island. Being very lucky, the day when we got out there it was clear as can be and the California coastline stretched as far as the eye could see. On the boat sailing to the dock finally I was close to something I'd seen on the horizon for nearly a decade. And the island looked beautiful, a jagged coastline, straddled with eroded canyons and beaches and low mountain peaks.

But it wasn't until I was on the island that I saw how beautiful it was. Here everything seemed like California but just a little different. Some plants smaller than I was used to, some moths bigger. Flowers I'd never seen. And views. Nearly everywhere, views. Hiking up the Del Norte trail leads from one vista to another to a gorgeous campground (alebit, would be more gorgeous with water) but there you are high up with a few oaks looking out back to the land.

Packing in 20 lbs of water for a three day trip was excruciating on the legs, but in time I made it and decided to go on an evening hike up to the road to get a look at the south side of the island. And that's when I saw the first fox. The island fox is found only on Santa Cruz; at one time there were only 50 left. But far up the road I saw one. It was curious, looked at me, and I got a few distant shots, but then it ran off. I also saw a few island jays but none wanted to pose either. What do I know; I'm a landscape photographer and may not have the knack for animals.

So the next day I decide to try and get some pictures of another unique subject, the Santa Cruz island pine. China Pines is a small forest of these trees up on the ridge of one of the canyons. I started out hiking but for some reason missed a trail that had washed out and instead found myself up on the road to the Montanon Ridge. What a stunning place to be! With a nice clear day, look to the left, the extant of California, look to the right across the sea to the unknown, look ahead and the other islands beckon on the horizon. Ascending the heights the landscaped changed into something not unlike a minature reproduction of the foothills of the Sierra. Unexpected, but what a fulfilling detour. After a bit of a trek (and a half liter of water from an eagle watcher to whom I am much endebted) I made it to China Pines and got some portraits of those trees.

I get back to camp, tired after a full 12 mile day with nearly 2000 ft. total ascent. Another camping pair had taken the spot where I knew there was shade, so I laid down to recuperate for a bit and pull my sun hat over my eyes. Dozing off for a bit suddenly beside be I hear a rustle. Startled, I sit up, and startle just what had startled me. 20 feet away, staring back at me, was an island fox! Being very still I reached for the Lytro which, being silent, would not startle it. As it found a mouse or lizard I spent nearly 15 minutes next to it as it hunted and fed. After 15 miles of hiking, who would ever think such an encounter would happen at such a time!

After a windstorm and minor drizzle overnight, the morning finally brought that fog for which this area can be so famous. I didn't take many pictures, but hiked out and spent hours reading Nietzsche on the shore. And wouldn't you know, the couple next to whom I had been camping were philosophy majors. But the great new friendships didn't stop there; on the boat back I had the great pleasure of sitting across from Tony, a guide for Aquasports Island Kayaking. When I go out kayaking there, this is the guide who I know will have my back. In just under an hour between exchanging stories and excitement I must have learned more about the Channel Islands than in my months of reading online. From how to remount a kayak to search and rescues to endurance swimming, great stories, and shared by someone with an obvious lifetime of passion for these islands. If you're planning on going out there, find them.

His passior for the islands makes me sad I did not experience them before, thankful to have experienced them now, and excited to experience them more and in different ways in the future. Time for me to start finding some kayak instruction lessons to return for more new adventures!

The Photographs

Picutres were from the a900 system with the 24-70, 16-35, and 70-300 lenses.

Click "Next" in the upper right to begin.

For the island fox Lytro series and a few other shots, click here.