(Originally published 06/08/09) Where in Santa Barbara County can you see Catalina Island and the Palos Verdes Peninsula?
I’m supposed to be covering the Santa Barbara area and here I am writing my first piece about something not connected to the town except by name. This Saturday I spent hiking Santa Barbara Island.
Driving along the Rincon we saw the glass-like sea-state, which meant we’d have an easy passage. The boat left Island Packers in Channel Islands Harbor and took about two and a half hours to travel the 38 miles to the landing cove. To get up from the platform to the visitors center is a bit of a climb, but not as daunting as the 150-plus steps on Anacapa Island. On the way up I heard the echo of sea lions barking in the inlet below, but once up top the dominate sound turned to squawking gulls.
Santa Barbara Island is an important breeding ground for Western Gulls and Brown Pelicans, and has several unique native plants. Looking around I saw clusters of stubby, stark trunks that looked dead, but these Giant Coreopsis are very much alive. In late winter and early spring they flaunt their bunches of yellow blooms. At the beginning of the trail I saw a nice specimen of the endemic Santa Barbara Island buckwheat.
Although the island is only one square mile, the trails wind around offering over five miles of hiking. The North Peak trail was closed to allow the breeding pelicans their privacy, so we headed the other way. Part of the hike passed through nesting gull territory where parents guarded newborn chicks. The gulls buzzed us, but we were told they wouldn’t dive bomb if we raised an arm in the air. Our group of hikers looked like an evangelical church with our hands waving over our heads.
At the Sutil Island overlook we observed a preying Peregrine Falcon swoop down, just missing a gull. Bob Schwemmer of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary was stationed there with his camera and filled us in on the one notable shipwreck on this island.
Then we ascended to Signal Point. I’ve walked up California Street to the Riviera many times, and this climb was steeper. We could’ve chosen to follow this trail in the opposite direction, but would going down the slope have been any easier?
The effort paid off. At the top an ocean view spread out 360 degrees. To the south sat Catalina and to the southeast loomed Palos Verdes. Surrounded by veils of marine layers, other Channel Islands were visible—San Nicolas, San Clemente, and even as far up as San Miguel.
Back down at the landing cove, waiting to board, one of the ladies who selected to dive or snorkel said she saw lots of bat rays. On the boat ride back I visited the Island Packers galley and found they serve nice wine and beer at reasonable, non-tourist prices.
Although Santa Barbara Island was never a part of the mainland, it is part of Santa Barbara County. In future articles I will stick closer to town and cover events like Solstice and Fiesta, local restaurants, theaters, galleries, and people.