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The Channel Islands
Two of California’s least known natural wonders, Channel Islands National Park and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, are located off the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara. Whale and bird watching, kayaking, hiking, and diving (skin or scuba) are prime pursuits that blend into each other, with photo opportunities arising apace. Depending on the destination, visitors can go for the day or for several days at a time. Be forewarned: these are primitive islands with minimal creature comforts. Those who enjoy civilized pursuits will find little of interest. Conversely, those who love the natural world will be entranced, entertained, and emotional from the stark beauty of island, ocean, and sky.
The islands are not easily accessed by those with disabilities; however, one can get a taste of them at one of several visitor centers located on the mainland. In Ventura, the Bob Lagomarsino Visitor Center is located on Spinnaker Drive, in the Ventura Harbor. There are displays on the islands as well as tide pools and a beautiful beach area to explore. In Santa Barbara, the Maritime Museum in the harbor also has exhibits and information, while the Watershed Resource Center at Arroyo Burro Beach has information about the effect of humans on the natural world as well as a native plant area and a wet lab. These are good ways to introduce oneself to the terrestrial and sea life of the islands.
Those who can venture further will want to choose between the five islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Barbara), or the waters surrounding them. There are several ways to do this. Island Packers has long been an established concessionaire, offering whale-watching trips as well as guided tours and transportation for those who wish to camp. A & M Boat Charters offers guided kayak tours and dive trips, while Channel Islands Sportfishing offers whale watching and fishing trips. For those who wish to visit by the air, Channel Islands Aviation offers flights to Santa Rosa Island. Finally, there are landings available for those with their own boats.
There are no services or lodging available on the islands. Campgrounds are primitive, only offering picnic tables and pit toilets. Campers must bring everything with them, including water (the Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz campgrounds do have potable water.) Campers must hike from the boat landing to the camp grounds; the distances vary from half a mile to a mile and a half, some with steep inclines or stairs. Those willing to endure these conditions will find the Southern California that the original pioneers found, filled with foxes, ravens, seals, sea lions, and other creatures. Wildflowers are in bloom from late winter into spring, and there are many plants that can only be found here.
Day trips are a way to experience the isolation and natural beauty of the Channel Islands while not giving up creature comforts. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is ranked as one of the world’s top 10 diving destinations, and has been named a United Nations Biosphere Reserve; dive trips enable visitors to experience the wonders underneath the ocean’s surface. Kayaking tours allow guests to view birds as they visit caves and beaches. A hiking trip in the late winter or early spring gives one access to gull nests and baby birds. Those who wish to stay on the concessionaire boat can experience some of the best whale watching in the state.
The Channel Islands are a part of California that many have never seen. A visit here can be challenging, but well worth one’s time. Go if possible, and experience the natural wonders of Southern California in an area protected from development and time.
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