top of page

Someday Has Arrived

Tuesday, 2 May 2023, Channel Islands NP

Amazing how much easier sleep comes when the air is cool, rather than kicking off the blankets as you swelter in the summer heat. The temperature dipped into the 50s overnight, and I needed my light jacket as I lugged my bags to the car. I got started earlier than expected, with enough time to pick up extra water and snacks for the day. Not gonna be any stores on the island!

I checked in on time, then returned to the car to pack for the day, including my APB sandwich. Here's the bagel, here's the avocado, where's the peanut butter? I checked my pack, I check my cooler, I looked behind the seat. Great, I must have forgotten it when I left my room. Drat! I relegated myself to an avocado sandwich, slicing it thick on the bagel. As I packed the sandwich in its container, I noticed the peanut butter, hiding in plain sight next to the gear shift where I'd put it. Luckily I still had ample time to spread it on the bagel. But I'd better start focusing on the world around me before I miss something else.

Again, expectations. With the adventure about to unfold, my thoughts kept returning to my previous visit here, five years ago. On that trip I'd rented a kayak for unguided paddling in the sea caves. I floated with a group of other renters as we moved along the coast, venturing under a few overhangs. At the first real 'cave', I could see another kayaker go into a slot and disappear, then moments later re-appear further down. I considered following his tracks, but hesitated. What if a swell catches me in the cave? What move do I have to make inside? Is there some special technique to get me through safely? In the end - paddling by myself - I couldn't bring myself to risk the unknowns. Someday, I promised myself, I'd come back and take a guided tour.

Someday had arrived.

The cruise over to the Channel Islands took an hour. Our goal: Santa Cruz Island, Scorpion Anchorage. The captain cut the engines twice on the way over, once circling back to see a shark the size of a dolphin ("They call them 'captain's sharks,' because the captain is usually the only one who sees them!" the captain joked, but the rest of us did catch a glimpse), and once for a giant ocean sunfish, shimmering an iridescent blue just under the water's surface.

The wind kicked up moderate swells, occasionally sending up sheets of spray, but the captain assured us it was far rougher yesterday. I only hoped that the threatening clouds filling the western sky didn't bring rain our way.

On Santa Cruz, a guide led us over to the Adventures shed. Here the guides geared us up: wet suit, paddle jacket, helmet, PFD, paddles, crocs. As the guides outfitted us, they told us about the island. "Santa Cruz lies 17 miles off the coast, and it stretches 19 miles, east to west. If you could pivot it on its eastern edge, it would stretch past the coast. Though the entire island is within the National Park, only this half is owned by the park service. The western half is owned by the Nature Conservancy - in order to set foot on that part, you have to get permission."

Later, John (the lead guide for our half of the tour) mentioned exploring the island during his many years working here. "The island's character constantly changes," he said. "I've kayaked around the entire island. It took me 3½ days."

I thought about that. "So on that tour, you had to get permission to come ashore for the nights you camped there?"

"Come again?"

"You had to get permission for camping on that trip?"

"What trip?"

Awareness finally dawned. "I see."

John paused, then laughed. "Yes, we had permission for every time we went ashore." I enjoyed having a guide with a sense of humor.

John led us to the beach to assign us kayaks. Besides the two guides, we had twelve people on six double kayaks (sit-on-tops, no sit-inside) and myself on a single. Before starting, he asked each paddler what they hoped to see on the water (generally, sea caves and/or wildlife) and their experience level. The others' answers ranged from a couple times on the water, up to a dozen or two paddles. When I mentioned that I've been kayaking for three decades (almost all flat water, not on the open sea), John said, "Good. I'll let you lead."

We had to haul the kayaks over the rocky beach to reach the water.

To launch, the guides walked us into the surf, then held the kayak stable as we climbed aboard. No sandy beach to launch from here! As they got each of us underway, we paddled into the kelp forest to await the rest.

As we rocked with the swells, John talked about the tectonic origins of the island chain, and how the weather controls things. "On rough days, the waves are too big to safely enter the caves. We had to cancel our tours yesterday because it was too stormy." {Sounds like I lucked out with the weather this time.] Soon he had us paddling west through the gentle swells.

I recalled the first (called The Belly of the Elephant) and the second caves, large openings that only extended a short bit under the cliffs,

just enough to feel enclosed. Then came the In and Out Cave: "The daughter of one of our guides gave it the name. She said, 'Dad, you go in and come right out.' Yep, no Burger King cave here!"

Of course, this was the cave I'd balked at five years earlier - I recognized it immediately. Both guides glided through it, verifying it was good to go. John posted himself just outside it, where he could time the swells, and the other guide lingered inside to provide any needed instruction. John then got us primed: "When you paddle in, stay toward the back of the cave; there's a ledge hanging down that you'll bang your head against otherwise. When you pass that, make a hard right turn, and head back out."

One by one, John urged us to paddle into the unknown, timing the swells for us. I was the second one through as John waited by the entrance, timing the swells, telling us when to go. I swung wide to avoid the overhang, then turned sharply to avoid banging the back wall. Once I'd turned, the exit shone brightly, the escape from the dark. What a rush! [And I decided I'd made the wise choice five years ago, not trying it without guidance.]

Further west, we saw a pair of cormorants blending into the dark rock. As John explained, "They're a unique bird. Not the best of flyers - when they take off, you wonder if they'll go airborne. They make up for it with the ability to dive up to 150' to find food. To do that, their bones are solid, not hollow like in other birds. If they had hollow bones, they'd crumple like tissue paper before ever hitting 150'."

Thus far, we had enjoyed moderate swells. "This bay is protected by the headland here," John informed us. "Once we get past it, things will really change."

Ahead, I could see sheets of foamy water frothing the surface. Once I passed the headland, large waves gave us a show, crashing against the rocky shore only a hundred yards away. For ten minutes we sat bobbing in the large swells, seeing Mother Nature at work sculpting the shoreline. "There's a sea cave there," John pointed out. "As you can guess, we won't be entering that one."

Soon we turned back to the shelter of Scorpion Anchorage. Back near the pier, we stopped for a kelp talk. "Kelp is not a plant, it's an algae. This variety can grow up to 1½' per day, the second fastest growing thing on earth. Somewhere in Asia there's a type of bamboo that can grow faster." As he talked, the clouds unleashed their 'fury' on us, dropping a barely-detectable drizzle for a minute or two.

As we passed the launch beach, John reminded us, "I said that anyone can have the option of calling it quits at this point, going to shore and enjoying the island now. Any takers?" Dead silence greeted his question, proving that he hadn't scared any of us away.

He warned us that as we continued east that we would see larger waves. "I'm not sure how many more caves we'll be able to enter. But we'll try for a couple."

John decided one cave entrance wouldn't work, but he found two others we could still experience. Both had less drama than In and Out - we went straight in, turned around before washing onto the rocks, and headed out the same way. Again, John timed the swells for us, and his assistant stayed inside for any problem.

By this time, I think we were all feeling confident in our boats.

But too much confidence can be a bad thing. As the group waited outside the last cave for the final paddlers, a woman near me took her iPhone out for a picture. As I watched her frame her shot, I saw her kayak begin to tilt. Before I could react, it moved past the balance point and dumped both passengers into the water. John quickly paddled over to hold their kayak stable as they flopped back on board, wet but unbowed. And she even managed to keep her phone safe! I'll have to keep that re-boarding technique in mind, in case I ever dump in deep water.

"That's if for caves," John announced, "but I noticed that the blowhole on Scorpion Rock is active. Let's go check it out." He led us out to a large rock - call it a small island with no beach - lying 60 yards offshore. This far from the headland, the waves grew getting larger. When we approached the Rock, we could see waves hammering it, entering a small steep-walled cove. When enough water built up, it would shoot out of the blowhole, often spraying over a hundred feet high.

Impressive! The guides certainly enjoyed the visit, positioning themselves where the spray would wash over them.

"Ready for one last thrill?" John asked. He led us around the backside of Scorpion Rock, where we could see more waves inundating the rocks. But what's this? He's leading us over to the 60-yard straight separating the rocks from the island. As the waves curled around the west side, the waves behind us came into meet them. The result: two waves crashing into each other, forming a line of whitewater stretching from rock to island.

OMG. And he's telling us to paddle through that maelstrom?!?

This time, John's instructions were simple: "Stay to the left of Scorpion Rock, then paddle like hell!" The others looked unrattled as they paddled into the churning water, and they all emerged with no difficulty in the protected waters.

I pulled up last in line. The guides had bracketed the best place to enter the straight and gave me the go-ahead, so I took a deep breath and dug my paddle deep into the water. Around me, the swells took on a different, choppier character. With each paddle stroke I powered closer to the middle of the strait.

Focus on the calmer ahead. As I pierced through the water, the tip of my kayak began tiling upward. I could see the water rising in front of me. Suddenly, only a few feet ahead, the wave crest turned to whitewater. One more stroke and I blasted through, successful at the transit. Still, the oceans had given me a good soaking as I passed, letting me know they were really still in charge.

Talk about intense!

Our motley crew now paddled back to the beach we launched from, where the guides helped us land safely. Back to the Adventures shed, where we de-geared and put our traveling clothes back on. And, of course, tipped the guides for a fantastic tour.

That left me with over an hour before my boat back to the mainland. I grabbed my sandwich and camera and set off on the Cavern Point trail. The path climbed through the lush grassland to the top of the protective headland,

feting me with views over the anchorage to Scorpion Rock,

with Anacapa Island rising in the distance. The line of kayaks waiting to be loaded onto the boat added a splash of color to the scene.

Afterward, I had time to look at rusted-out ranch equipment, relics from the days when the families that owned this island ran it a sheep ranch.

Such a perfect day, far surpassing any expectations I'd had. On the cruise back, our course crossed paths with only one humpback whale, though I was on the wrong side of the boat to catch the only glimpse we had. But with less wind on the return, the smoother ride made up for it.

One more night in a hotel room. To honor the memorable stay, I wrote a detailed review online:

I arrived at your fine hotel at 8:20 p.m. on a Tuesday evening. Mea culpa, I did not realize that the 8:00 hour was an inconvenient time for checking in until I saw the 'Sorry we missed you, we'll be back at 9:00' sign on the wall and no one behind the counter. How arrogant of me to expect coverage at that time.
No problem, I figured I'd take a moment to attend to nature in the lobby's restroom. Oops! that would require a keycard. That's okay, I didn't mind sitting quietly in the lobby with my legs crossed while waiting for the clerk to return.
When she arrived, she courteously checked me in, and charged me an extra $10 for a permit to park there. This surprised me, since she said that doesn't guarantee a parking spot. I had no idea gambling was legal in Glendale!
In my room, I attempted to read my emails from the day. After the third try connecting to Wi-Fi, it finally came up, at the blazingly slow speed of ~2 Mbps. (Even then, it didn't stay up continuously.) I must have been sleep-deprived, since I kept dozing off while waiting for each web page to load. Ahh, it was like a stroll down memory lane, with a dial-up modem.
The room came with two lamps, each atop a nightstand. Only one, however, had a switch that worked. Oh, well, I've always said that light is overrated.
Should I have been surprised when my keycard no longer unlocked my door? I didn't mind walking back to the lobby for a new card; three hours of kayaking followed by a hike to Cavern Point had not burned off all my energy, and I needed to get more steps in. Gotta keep in shape! Back at my room, the new card would not open the door - but the old one now worked again. I knew that if I just stayed inside until I left in the morning, I should have no further problems.
I firmly believe that one should find something positive in every experience. With that in mind, I'd like to congratulate the hotel on the presentation in the bathroom. The shower fixtures were certainly several levels above run-of-the-mill. Well done, Glendale Hotel!

The rest of the trip home passed with no drama. I passed the time reliving the excitement of the island tour, putting the memories on a endless loop. Hmmm... maybe I should add a score...

51 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page