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Situated off the coast of Southern California, Santa Cruz Island is the largest member of Channel Islands National Park, and seafaring adventurers can explore the beauty of its distinct ecosystem from a campground on its western point.
We opted to camp at Scorpion Ranch on Santa Cruz Island (though camping is available on all five of the park’s islands); with running water and bathroom facilities, it isn’t quite as primitive as the others. The site fee is only $15 dollars a night, but chartered transportation to Santa Cruz is required before booking. For us, that duty fell to Island Packer Cruises, which has been operating sightseeing and research trips in the marine sanctuary since 1968. Our overnight, roundtrip fare cost $79.
As the sun rose higher, a sea lion waved bon voyage, and our ship departed Ventura Harbor for the hour-long trip. The wind was whipping through my hair as the captain’s voice blared over the intercom, announcing the proximity of an enormous pod of dolphins, surfing in the boat’s wake and rocketing from the ocean’s surface.
According to a legend told by the Chumash people who first inhabited the isles, dolphins were formerly people who transformed when they fell into the sea and crossed a magical rainbow bridge. Regardless if this is true or not, the streamlined cetaceans certainly know how to captivate and entertain.
Before long, the chalky-white cliffs of Santa Cruz Island came into focus. Private sailboats and sea kayakers bobbed around the edge of the cove. We made anchorage and set for shore on a Zodiac inflatable boat (the pier was under construction at the time). A second layer of sunscreen was necessary as we waited for our backpacks to be delivered — the summer temperature had already reached the lower 90s, and we still had a walk ahead of us.
Thankfully, the campground was shaded by a grove of eucalyptus trees. We set up the tent and busted out the beef jerky, attracting some of the island’s unique residents in the process. Island foxes are found nowhere else on Earth, but there were plenty on our doorstep. They have little fear of humans and are resourceful scavengers (think raccoons), but their multicolored faces make them extremely cute. Resist the temptation to feed them, and be sure to lock up your goodies.
Our time on Santa Cruz Island was limited to one day, so during our whirlwind tour, we hiked to Smuggler’s Cove, gazed at the Milky Way and even did some snorkeling.
I’ll never forget those 24 hours.