Santa Cruz, Channel Island National Park

Down Hwy 101 we go to Ventura, our first stop in southern California since February.  We head to Ventura for three nights, so we can visit our last National Park for the 2015.  This year we’ve visited 21 National Parks, along with a few National Seashores, Monuments and Forests.   Channel Islands will be our 22. 

Since Channel Island is a series of five islands, including San Miguel, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Anacapa, Andrew and I must select one island to visit and book at day trip through Island Packers Cruise; however, December cruises choices are quite limited to Santa Cruz, Prisoners Harbor or Scorpion Ranch, or Anacapa Island.   Scorpion Ranch on Santa Cruz Island is the winner , since it offers the largest selection of hiking possibilities. 

The cruise over to the island is fairly uneventful, with only few marine life sightings and large swells to keep the boat rocking.  The weekend’s bad weather and large wave damaged the Scorpion Anchorage dock, so visitors are ferried to the island by skiff. 

Once on Santa Cruz, Andrew and I unanimously select the 7.5 (roundtrip) trail to Smuggler’s Cove.  This trail leads up a steep road and across one side of the island to a gem of a cove.  We arrive with enough time for a picnic lunch and a greeting from a harbor seal.  On our route back, we are fortunate to see several Island Fox, a small species of fox that inhabit only the Channel Islands.  Seeing the cute foxes is the highlight of our day.

From island to skiff to boat, we journey back to Ventura with a pod of bottlenose dolphins who meet us at the harbor to say goodbye. 

Cruise to Santa Cruz Island
Cruise to Santa Cruz Island
Our Ride to Santa Cruz Island
Our Ride to Santa Cruz Island
Bay View, Santa Cruz Island
Bay View, Santa Cruz Island
Along route to Santa Cruz Island
Along route to Santa Cruz Island
Arch Formation near Santa Cruz Island
Arch Formation near Santa Cruz Island
View from Smuggler's Cove Trail, Santa Cruz Island
View from Smuggler’s Cove Trail, Santa Cruz Island
Smuggler's Cove Trail, Santa Cruz Island
Smuggler’s Cove Trail, Santa Cruz Island
Smuggler's Cove, Santa Cruz Island
Smuggler’s Cove, Santa Cruz Island
Blooming Flora, Santa Cruz Island
Blooming Flora, Santa Cruz Island
Island Fox, Santa Cruz Island
Island Fox, Santa Cruz Island
Bird, Santa Cruz Island
Bird, Santa Cruz Island

Monterey & More

With a month of rest in El Dorado Hills, it is time to hitch up and hit the road again.  Our first stop Monterey Bay area.  Monterey has been on my travel list for quite some time, mainly because of the aquarium.  Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the leading institutes in sea otter rehabilitation and conservation.  Before moving back to the States, Andrew and I focused most of our vacation around helping endangered animals, whether it be assisting rangers in Russia’s Kedrovaya Pad Nature Reserve with the protection of Amur tigers and leopards or Uganda’s Ngamba Island with rehabilitatian of chimpanzees.  I hope to use our visit to the aquarium to find out more about how we can help in the future.

This journey starts a little awkwardly, with a gray cloud of karma winking at us. First, we witness an car accident while inquiring about propane at a gas station. Then, we see the remnants of deadly accident between a Fed-ex truck and a pick up on I-5.   Andrew and I  breath a sign of relief when we safely arrive to our Sunset Beach State Park campsite.

Our first day in the area, we spend exploring the Sunset Beach area.  This lovely park is situated on top of dunes between the ocean and strawberry fields.  Watsonville is the closest town, but  Santa Cruz, Capitola and Monterey are also conveniently accessible from our campground.  While the beach has strict rules against dogs on the beach, we try a few overlook trails and the road that leads down to the beach. It is worth walk down to witness the bay’s fiercely, large waves and see Santa Cruz and Elkhorn slough in the distance.   In the evening, we host a dinner for Andrew’s aunt and uncle, who decide to join us a Bay-filled weekend.

Saturday we meet up at Aunt Linda and Uncle Chris’ hotel, with Andrew’s cousin Megan joining us too, and drive to Monterey.  Upon arriving at the aquarium, we discover that it is community free day, meaning all Monterey and Santa Cruz residents have free admissions and the place is zoo of people.   Fortunately, we book a behind the scenes “Sea Otter Conservation” tour, which gives us access to areas without other visitors…and some great facts about rehabilitian efforts (check out the special uniform worn for feeding rehabilitating offers; it is suppose to protect otters from getting comfortable with humans). 

We enjoy the rest of Saturday wandering the shops around Monterey Bay; however, the day is not complete without some ice cream from the Ghirardelli chocolate shop.  On Sunday, we again meet up again drive to Nisene Marks State Park in Aptos.  We, Ame included, enjoy a long rainy trek through the forest.  Then, onto Capitola to warm up and grab a light lunch.  From here, we say our goodbyes (but only few a weeks, we’ll be seeing the gang again in San Diego) and head back to camp. 

Andrew and I arrive back at Sunset State Beach to a surprise….the campground has closed and was evacuating people due to coming storms and wind.  We must pack up and move to the parking lot at SeaCliff State Park in Aptos.  While happy to have a spot to relocate for the evening, but we are also amused by the fact that the storms had passed earlier in the day.  Our afternoon at Seacliff is filled with blue skies and a few raindrops, the storms have passed.

 

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jellies Love, Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jellies Love, Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jellies Love, Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jellies Love, Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jellies Love, Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jellies Love, Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jellies Love, Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jellies Love, Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jellies Love, Monterey Bay Aquarium
Jellies Love, Monterey Bay Aquarium
Not our tribute to Star Wars, Sea Otter Rehabilitation Wear
Not our tribute to Star Wars, Sea Otter Rehabilitation Wear
Seacliff State Beach
Seacliff State Beach
Seacliff State Beach
Seacliff State Beach
Seacliff State Beach
Seacliff State Beach
Monterey Bay
Monterey Bay
Evacuation camping for State Beaches
Evacuation camping for State Beaches

Empire Mine State Park

For our last weekend visiting with our El Dorado Hills family, we thought we make on final day trip.  This time we headed to Empire Mine State Park, one of the oldest gold mines in California.  This dog-friendly park is home several historical structures, including the mine yard and Bourn cottage, and scenic trails.

Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park
Empire Mine State Park