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Archive for the ‘The Great Outdoors’ Category

Well, December was a busy month indeed, and our planned hike at Shenandoah National Park didn’t pan out when Skyline Drive closed due to snow, but I managed to get out on the trails anyway – in a slightly different way this month.  When, rather at the last minute, we decided to visit my parents between Christmas and New Year’s, my dad offered to take us all skiing at our local mountain, Jiminy Peak (in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts).  Steve ended up needing to work, but the rest of us bundled up to hit the slopes.

The kids had never been skiing before.  I would love to get them out on the slopes – we do have a few mountains around us, and there is some decent skiing in West Virginia in particular – but since Steve doesn’t ski, it’s been too much of a challenge and I have (I am ashamed to say) just not gone for it.  But the prospect was much less daunting with my parents’ help.  My dad is a ski instructor for a program called STRIDE, which teaches skiing to disabled children and adults, and he also taught me and my brother to ski when we were kids, so I jumped at his offer to give a lesson to my little ones.  He also was able to get them free rental equipment from the mountain, which was very nice indeed.

Our first (and, as it turned out, only) stop was the bunny slope, Jiminy Cricket.  We let the kids watch for a few minutes so they could see other littles their ages on skis and get over some of the fear, and then they took short runs between my dad’s legs and clinging to a ski pole.  This is exactly how I learned, so it was pretty cool to watch.  Full circle.

NUGGET HATED EVERY MINUTE.  I was shocked, because I really thought he would be the one who would have fun – he had been talking for days about going skiing – and his considerably more timid sister would be the one to flip out and go off the deep end.  They both surprised me.  Nugget went completely insane and screamed in the lodge for two hours (keepin’ it real, you guys, keepin’ it real) and Peanut ended up tearing up the slopes like a miniature Lindsey Vonn.

After a couple of runs with my dad up and down the “magic carpet,” she even ASKED TO GO ON THE CHAIR LIFT.  This is big stuff, you guys.  She was really quite nervous before getting out on the slopes, but she faced her fears and ended up having a fabulous time – hooray!  It helped that she had her trusted Grandad by her side.

As for my dad, he was beaming the whole time.  It meant so much to him to share skiing – which is one of his favorite things in the entire world – with his granddaughter.  We are definitely going to have to get her back on the slopes soon.

…So, was this really a hike?  Well, I’m choosing to call it one and say it counts.  I didn’t end up getting to ski – my dad and I were hoping to take a few runs together on the expert slopes while the kids warmed up in the lodge, but Nugget had gone so far off the rails that we all had to go home.  But I did a great deal of tramping around the bunny slope and the trails surrounding it.  Walking – check.  In the woods – check.  Wearing boots – check.  It’s a hike!  (Feel free to leave comments agreeing with me.)

And that concludes it!  Final hike of the year.  I know I’m not alone in getting intense cabin fever if I have to sit indoors, and I am so grateful that I’ve been able to get outside with friends and family year-round.

Did you get any outdoor time in last month?

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I can’t believe that Friday will be December, and this hiking year is almost at an end!  We’ve had some amazing experiences on the trail this year, and November’s hike was no different.  What with Steve being a little under the weather, we haven’t been able to get on the trails as much this month as we’d have liked to, so by Thanksgiving weekend, I was really craving a good hike.  With my parents being in town for Thanksgiving, I also wanted to do something a little special with them.  Once it became clear that our plans to escape to the mountains for a couple of days after Thanksgiving were going to work out, I started researching the best family-friendly (read: kid-friendly) hikes at Shenandoah National Park, and Stony Man Mountain immediately jumped out as the hike to do.

There are two ways to hike Stony Man.  The main trail, which hits only Stony Man Mountain, is a 1.6 mile out and back with 340 feet of elevation gain – basically, the easiest possible way you could ever expect to climb a mountain.  There’s also a longer, and a little more challenging, trail called the Passamaquoddy Loop, which covers Little Stony Man as well.  That would normally be our choice, but with Steve still recovering and the babies not getting any easier to carry, we opted for the shorter trail this time.

Someone would have liked to hike on his own two feet, I think.  Soon, little man!  (Really – soon.  Mommy isn’t going to be able to schlep you forever.)  He was also desperate for a hiking pole of his own – that’s Nana’s, collapsed all the way down.  Too funny!

The trail was beautifully maintained all the way up.  My parents are used to hiking on Adirondack boulders, so I think they enjoyed the groomed trails in Shenandoah.  There were still plenty of opportunities for bouldering.  My dad is part mountain goat!  (I’d have been up there with him, but I was carrying 36 pounds of my heart’s most precious treasure on my back.)

Even with the relatively gentle incline, I was still feeling it.  This is one densely-packed little boy!

But even so, it seemed like no time at all before we reached the summit.  The final “push” to the peak was anything but – just a flat, gentle trail through the woods to the overlook (we’d already done all of our climbing).

Looking forward to that view!

Breathtaking!  The valley floor with the long mountain ridge in the background was absolutely stunning to behold – and there were two peregrine falcons swooping through the skies.  I think my parents were definitely not disappointed with this one.

Nana is a bird!

Just off to the left, the mountains reach back and back and back in shaded layers of azure, cerulean and sky – our Blue Ridge.

Summit snaps!

It was a lovely day on the summit.  The sun was warm and there was no breeze to speak of, so we were comfortable lingering, taking pictures, and goggling at the view.  (My dad was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t take the kids out of the backpacks to pose for pictures with the grandparents, but that was one thing I wasn’t comfortable with – the dropoff after the boulders was pretty steep.  Next time they come, I promised, we would take them to Great Falls – the kids can run around there.)  We spent about twenty minutes at the summit, just soaking in the payoff of a wonderful hike.

Another wonderful national park experience!  We love having Shenandoah in our backyard, and we hope to get there a lot more in 2018 – and it was fun to take my parents there for the first time.  We all share a love for the national parks and for hiking, so a family visit to Shenandoah was long overdue.  Can’t wait to see where our family adventures take us in 2018!

What’s your favorite national park?

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I’ve been craving a good, long, remote hike for awhile now.  Lately it has seemed like we’ve been on the go with social engagements – either family or friends, in town or out – almost every weekend.  While friend time is fun and important, we all needed some time to decompress, breathe, and just be together as a family.  And so when Steve asked me what I wanted to do as a birthday weekend activity, I had one request: a hike.

As we’ve planned out our hikes for the year, I’ve had my eye on two Virginia state parks that are a little more off the beaten path: Sky Meadows and Shenandoah River.  Both are within our home region of northern Virginia, but they’re far enough away from D.C. to make it very difficult to get in a hike and make it home for lunch and naps without anyone (coughNUGGETcough) falling asleep.  But lately the guy’s been on a weekend nap strike, so Steve and I decided – if he’s not going to nap at home no matter what we do, why worry about car naps?  With the time pressure removed, we found that our exploration options widened substantially.

After hemming and hawing a bit, I decided that we should do my birthday hike at Sky Meadows.  We’ve actually been there before – in 2009 or 2010; I can’t remember which.  Long, long ago in the days before babies, Steve and I used to go on super cool dates.  Can you imagine?  And one evening we packed up a picnic and joined a stargazing evening party hosted by Sky Meadows.  We plunked down a blanket right behind the house and listened to a talk on constellations while taking turns peering through telescopes at the night sky.  The park is super-remote, so there’s almost no light pollution – turns out, Sky Meadows is a very apt name.

Anyway, it had been a long time, and obviously we weren’t going to be doing any stargazing this time.  (Although I can’t wait to take the kids to one of the Sky Meadows star parties when they’re old enough to enjoy it.)  The park also has a big network of hiking trails that we’d explored a little back in the day, and I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with the footpaths.

When we got to the park we discovered that there was an autumn family festival going on.  We chatted with the rangers a bit and promised to return after our ramble – and then it was off to check out the trails.  We decided to do the Snowden Trail, a fairly easy, but still scenic, loop through the forest.

Here we go!  The path was wide and carpeted with leaves, and the terrain was gently rolling – nothing too crazy; just enough to keep things interesting.

After a bit of walking on the main “road” (a slightly larger path, really) we turned onto the Snowden Trail and enjoyed a quiet morning’s walk in a beautiful forest.

The trail network was well populated.  On the main trail, before we branched off, we saw a large group coming back from a night of camping.  They had several small children with them, which really inspired me.  We’ve been discussing camping with Peanut’s BFF and her family.  BFF’s dad really wants to get his family into camping, and her mom agreed to go as long as I was there – haha!  They’ve been asking us to camp for months, and I’ve been putting them off, because I didn’t want to introduce tent camping until Nugget was out of his crib.  Fortunately, they totally understand that – next summer, it’s ON.

Once we got onto the Snowden Trail, the leaves were slick with dew and I had to spend a lot of time looking down at my feet so as not to fall.  Fortunately, the view of the forest floor was just as gorgeous as the rest of it.  Can you believe that moss?

Eventually, we made our way off the trail and back to the main part of the park.  I gratefully let Nugget down out of the backpack – I swear he gets bigger every time we hike – and the kids scampered off to explore the fall festival attractions.

There were wooly bear caterpillar races.  I liked the caterpillars, but was appropriately horrified at what they will eventually become (disgusting tiger moths).

The kids named all of the caterpillars and coached them ruthlessly through their races.  The ranger in charge – who shared a name with Peanut – thought they were delightfully adorable.

I decided to commune with some critters more my speed.  CHICKENS!  They were sitting on the gourds as I approached and I thought they’d make a fantastic photo, but a fellow park guest scared them off by trying to pick them up.  Poor form, fellow park guest.

After I’d run around snapping pictures and the kids had sufficiently traumatized the caterpillars, we packed up and drove to the picnic ground for lunch.

Nugget was confused about what was happening, and he didn’t eat much as a result.  But I was so excited to be out on a picnic – a picnic! – with my family, and not be contorted into an impossible position shouting at Nugget to stay awake in the backseat as we sped home for lunch in our kitchen.  This was much more relaxing!  The kids had cheese, crackers, tomatoes and fruit, and the parents had falafel sandwiches – yum.  Such a treat!  I’m so glad we can finally do things like have picnics an hour away from home now.  There’s one consolation of the kids not being tiny babies anymore…

Thanks for a perfect birthday hike, Sky Meadows!

What’s your favorite state park?

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With only one day left to enjoy California before we had to fly back to the East Coast (sniff) we were determined to make it an epic day.  Fortunately, we had big plans – whale watching!  I have been on several whale watches, but all as a kid – usually with my dad, but my mom and brother joined us from time to time.  Taking Peanut and Nugget on a whale watch has been high on my list of things to do, and I wanted to do something extra special to mark Peanut’s fifth birthday – so I convinced Nana and Grandad that they wanted to spend several hours on a boat with us (ha!) and we were in business.

We talked the whale watching trip up for weeks beforehand, and the shorties were EXCITED.  So was Nana!

The trip began with a  very interesting presentation by some naturalists who volunteered through the national park.  Seriously, how do I get that job?  They passed around some baleen and some krill for everyone to check out.  Nugget was extremely suspicious.  As for me, I was bouncing in my seat and raring to go.

We finally started chugging out of Ventura Harbor and wasted no time in spotting wildlife – even before we’d completely left the dock area!

Hey fellas!

(I had my camera all tricked out with my zoom lens.  I think I was halfway across the boat when I snapped this, and was zoomed all the way out.  I was READY.)

Heading out to sea, we saw passed the same buoy that we had passed on our way out to the Channel Islands the day before.  Once again, it was covered with sea lions.  They could very possibly have been the same sea lions, and none of them had moved in twenty-four hours.  They really did look exceptionally lazy.

Interesting fact we learned: the darker the sea lion looks, the more recently he or she has come out of the water.  The ones that are light in color look that way because they have been snoozing on a rock (or buoy) for quite some time.

But who’s judging?

Nugget.  Nugget is judging you for your laziness, sea lions.  Just kidding.  Nugget loves you!

Before we’d gone too far out in the channel, the captain came over the public address system to announce the very thing we had been holding our breath and hoping hard for – they’d spotted a whale!

Hello out there, big fella!  (Or big mama?)

We pulled up a big closer, killed the engine, and a hush came over the crowd as we stared at this majestic creature.  It was a blue whale – one of the rarest species in the world.

(Note: these are not black and white pictures!  It just happened to be a really cloudy day, which we learned was great for spotting whales.  I was worried that the cloud cover would hurt the visibility out on the water, but it turned out just the opposite.  With grey skies and calm waters, we had perfect whale watching weather according to the crew.)

We watched the first whale as long as we could, and we weren’t the only ones.  A curious sea lion, way out in the channel, popped over to say hello to his big friend.

And waved us goodbye as they both headed off on their separate ways.

Before long – another whale!

Another big blue.

This one, like the last, took a couple of “sounding dives” – deeper dives, during which the whale stays below the surface and out of sight for about six to eight minutes – while we sat, quietly and patiently, waiting for our friend to come up to the surface again.  We were hoping for some tail fluke action, but that would have to wait.

After a bit more peek-a-boo with our blue whale friend, we were joined by a pod of cheerful dolphins.  Seriously, this day kept getting better and better.

Some of them swam up very close to check out the action on board the Islander.

Well, hello down there!

They were such a delight.  Incredibly playful, they jumped and splashed in our wake as we chugged along toward Channel Islands National Park and in search of more whales.

It wasn’t long before we happened upon another whale!

Check it out – a little spout action!

I was in awe of the way they rose out of the water and their backs just kept going and going.  I can see why ancient mariners thought they were sea monsters.

Another sounding dive!  Before I knew it, we were approaching the Channel Islands – again!  I was excited to see them – after the previous day’s adventures hiking and kayaking the sea caves, the islands felt like old friends.

Ass we steamed closer to Anacapa Island, more playful friends came along for the ride!

We were joined by a small pod of dolphins.  These guys were having fun.

Before I knew it, we were in island waters!

The Anacapa Island lighthouse and rock arches are iconic.

More wildlife!  Another bunch of lazy sea lions, napping on a rock.  These guys!

So gorgeous it didn’t look real – but I promise you, it was.

As we steamed away from Anacapa, our own pod was getting a little sleepy.

But everyone perked up when we met up with yet another bunch of playful dolphins!

This was a nursery pod – several of the adults were swimming alongside babies, which was an absolutely incredible sight.  I love marine mammals in general, and cetaceans in particular, and seeing healthy baby dolphins is a joy.

At some point, the captain came back on the loudspeaker and announced, with a sigh, “Well, folks, looks like it’s just one of those days.  Another whale.”  Ha!  The whole boat was pinching themselves, because it seemed like we were seeing blue whales everywhere we looked.  In total, we spotted eight blue whales and a fin whale.  Peanut was the first to get eyes on the fin whale, and actually called it out for the captain – you go, girl!

Of the eight – eight! – blue whales we spotted, we saw everything from fully grown bull whales to a mother and her calf.  The latter was the most incredible sight all day – we actually had the great privilege of watching the mother whale nurse the baby.

Check out that spout action!  We couldn’t see much, but the captain and naturalists aboard the Islander explained what was happening.  We spotted the mother and calf swimming together.  Then at one point they stopped, and the mother hovered near the surface for an extended time, while the calf could only be spotted swimming around underneath her.  Witnessing the miracle of a mother blue whale nursing her baby was something I won’t soon forget.

It wasn’t a big day for tail flukes – blue whales aren’t big on acrobatics – but we saw a couple.

This one:

And this beauty:

WOW.  Nature is so powerful.

As I mentioned up above, I went on several whale watches as a kid.  The first one, when I was about Peanut’s age – maybe a bit older.  We were in Cape Cod on vacation, and my dad took me whale watching, primarily to get me out of my mother’s hair while she was busy with my newborn baby brother (you know, the seal).  On that trip, we saw a right whale calf, who put on a show for the boat – breaching, spyhopping, tail- and pec-slapping, and being generally amazing and adorable.  The captain explained that right whales had been hunted nearly to extinction, so seeing such a playful baby was a special privilege.  I never forgot that day, and it was the start of my lifelong love of cetaceans.  I’ve been on other whale watches since – including one awesome day when we saw ten of my beloved humpbacks – and I hope that this trip was the start of a similar love affair that my kids will have with nature generally, and with cetaceans (my favorites!) in particular.  Of all of the things I hope to pass on to them, my love of whales – and my desire to protect them – is one of the biggest.  (Pardon the pun.)

As we steamed back to the harbor, we were joined by a massive pod of over a thousand common dolphins – what a way to end the trip!  Photos did them no justice.  They were truly spectacular.

A happy day, indeed.

Sadly, this ends our trip.  It was one for the ages.  I think the whole family had an amazing time – I know I did!  We flew home the next day, feeling exhausted and sorry that it was over, but also very full of love and family and adventure – and I think that’s exactly the way to end a trip.

Goodbye for now, California!  Thanks for showing us such a marvelous time.  We’ll be back soon!

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Somehow, I have let almost six weeks go by without telling you about our September hike – whoops!  Truth is, I thought we might be able to squeeze a few hikes into September, and I’d have a selection to choose from, but it ended up being a busy month and we didn’t get out on the trails as much as I’d have liked to.  Ah, well – that’s life, and I’m certainly glad that we made time for a hike in the beginning of the month.  Looking to mix things up, Steve suggested Piscataway Park, an NPS-managed park on the Maryland side of the Potomac, with awesome views of Mount Vernon.  I’m in!

Coming off a successful hike in Joshua Tree National Park, we had high hopes that Peanut would walk the entirety of the comparatively short and easy trail.  As it turned out, it was not her day.  Well – it happens.

Annnnnnnd she ended up here.  Much happier, I might add.  So, it was fine.  We hike for fun, and it’s much easier to have said fun when everyone is happy and no one is whining.  Still would like her on the trails consistently, but she’s only five.  We’ll get there.

As usual, I was rocking Nugget in the hiking backpack.  I’m pretty sure he weighs more than Peanut.  Just saying.

The trail was a pretty pathway through overhanging trees, but what made it particularly engaging was – do you see those signposts?  Each one was a page of a story about a pig who wanted to lay an egg, and all the shade his barnyard friends threw at him.

We took turns reading the story aloud to the kids.  I found the whole thing utterly delightful – the fact of the story being on the trail at all, the barnyard shenanigans – until the end of the story, in which the pig finally hatches his “egg” and it turns out to be a cocoon and the “baby” is a butterfly, and I just, NO.  NO to all of that.  Sorry for spoiling the story, but NO.

Anyway, after a short and easy hike, we reached the payoff – this view of Mount Vernon.  I swear it’s really there.  Sorry for the crummy picture – I snapped it on my phone, as I was hiking without my dSLR.

Our hike finished with time to spare, we decided to stay and poke around the National Colonial Farm, a little historic outpost I had no idea was hiding right across the river from Mount Vernon.

Nugget desperately wanted to play in this garden.  The boy loves plants.

We found a little dock with an even better view of Mount Vernon.

And we made some animal friends.

(Protecting his ladies.)

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Ahem.  Ahem.  Tap, tap.  Is this thing on?

We also met some other residents of the farm.

I derived great enjoyment from trying to make them break character.  (I kept thinking of the Bracebridge Dinner episode of Gilmore Girls, where Lorelai throws a period dinner during a snowstorm at the Independence Inn and Kirk waits at the table – remember that one?  Lorelai makes it her mission to get Kirk to slip up and her refuses, until she finally breaks him with an I Love Lucy reference.)

I never got them to break character, but they did admire my “time travel device” (cell phone) and I had way too much fun wishing them luck with the rebellion.  Their token male was a little unsure about which side to take, but I convinced him that he should join the Patriots and help oust George III.  I think I really bucked him up.

And a good time was had by all.

Have you ever hiked at a historic site?  Do you also like messing with period actors?

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When we left off last week, Steve and I were coming down off the bluffs after our morning hike on Santa Cruz Island, getting pumped for our afternoon adventure.  And that adventure was – kayaking the sea caves!

The Channel Islands are home to dozens of sea caves across the park.  You can see two of them above (along with a very faraway armada of kayakers) in this shot from our morning boat ride in.  I was wildly excited to get out on the water.  I’ve done lots of calm flatwater kayaking, a tiny bit of eco-touring, and some surf kayaking (as a teenager) but kayaking the sea caves promised to be a new adventure.

 

My adventure buddy and I made our way to the kayak camp and got suited up in our gear – waterproof jackets (the adventure company provided them but we actually had our own), life jackets and helmets in case of sea cave wall crashing incidents.  (Spoiler alert: there were no crashing incidents.  But it’s good to be prepared.  Safety first!)  I was mad at myself for forgetting my paddling gloves – blister city.

We looked so cool in our helmets.

Once we were all suited up, our group made our way to the beach.  Adam, our guide, gave a short safety briefing and asked our small group to introduce ourselves and share where we were from, what kayaking experience we had, and what we were hoping to see on the trip.

And then it was time to hit the caves!

Steve and I launched our double kayak last, after an unsuccessful attempt to mount our GoPro to the bow.  (Apparently the GoPro surf and kayak mount doesn’t work on sea kayaks’ rough surfaces?  That would have been relevant information…  Anyway, I tucked it into my life jacket pocket for snapping old-school style.)

And then we were off!  We quickly caught up to the rest of the group and listened to Adam discuss the plan of attack for our first sea cave.

And then it was time to run the cave!

IT.  WAS.  SO.  COOL.

We floated around for a few minutes while Adam added more information – more safety chat and cave-running tips, plus some geology facts for more context about the caves we were checking out.

It was dark and spooky!  Okay, not really spooky.  But definitely dark – and insanely cool.  We ended up running about seven caves, and taking multiple passes at a few of them, for a very full and adventurous ninety minutes.  Not enough time!  We made every second count, and it was an afternoon that I think Steve and I will both remember forever.  I’ll let the pictures and videos speak for themselves.

Each of the caves had cool (and slightly intimidating) names.  This one, if I recall correctly, was Boatwrecker:

You don’t say…

Once Steve and I had a chance to get comfortable with the kayak – neither one of us had used a double kayak before; we’d always taken singles – I pulled out the GoPro and snapped a few pictures:

We worked our way up the craggy coastline of the island as Adam guided us to – and through – each cave.

After a wonderful and humbling adventure on the water, we reluctantly paddled back to shore and boarded the Island Explorer for our trip back to the mainland.  I think we were both sad to leave Santa Cruz Island – I know that I personally felt we’d barely scratched the surface of all the adventure the island had to offer, and it’s not even the only island in the park!  But fortunately, the Santa Barbara Channel had a few more treats in store for us to sweeten the trip back.

First of all, the sun finally came out!  We didn’t mind the grey skies and seas, but it was a treat to see all that beautiful blue.

Then – as if they knew we needed a little more adventure – we got some visitors.

Dolphins!  These guys were so fun and playful as they rode the wake and swam alongside our boat.

Hello down there!

Exhausted and happy, we chugged into Ventura Harbor and past the Channel Islands National Park Visitors’ Center.

I can’t say enough good things about the Channel Islands Adventure Company, who ran the tour, or Adam, our guide.  The entire day was well planned and perfectly executed – speaking to the Adventure Company’s expertise at handling these kinds of excursions.  As for Adam, he really knew the island and was glad to point out the wildlife we encountered and to answer questions about tides, geography, and anything else we threw at him.  Most importantly, he knew the caves like the back of his hand, and he kept the whole group safe throughout the trip.  I’d absolutely book another adventure with Channel Islands Adventure Company, and I would recommend them to anyone.  (And no, they’re not paying me to say that – they have no idea who I am!)

It was an amazing adventure.  I’ll leave you with a couple of the GoPro videos I shot (and please don’t mind my shaky footage; I was using the GoPro, as mentioned above, as a handheld camera since my surf and kayak mount failed me).  Really, really epic day…

 

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In between all of the family time and beach relaxation, Steve and I really wanted to sneak away for an adventure, just the two of us – like old times!  So we asked my parents to take the kids off our hands for an entire day; they were happy to oblige, and bright and early on Wednesday morning, we found ourselves at Ventura Harbor getting ready to board the Island Explorer for the ride out to Channel Islands National Park.

Look at us!  I feel like we’ve been together forever, but I also can’t believe that we recently celebrated twelve years of married adventuring.  He’s still my favorite person to hit the trails (or the high seas) with.

I am Moana of Motonui.  You WILL board my boat…

Heh.

As we chugged out of Ventura Harbor, the captain came on the loudspeaker and pointed out a bouy off the starboard side.  “Do you see the seals?” he asked.  “Yeah!” cried half the boat excitedly.  “No you don’t!” he chortled in reply.

Because they’re SEA LIONS.  Steve and I did not make that mistake.  We know our pinnipeds, thankyouverymuch.

It was a bit of a hazy and choppy day, but we got up a good clip and it wasn’t long before we had company – Pacific common dolphins, riding the wake!

And then, up ahead – Santa Cruz Island.

It was so exciting to approach the island.  I put a lot of thought and planning into this adventure, and Steve and I had both been looking forward to it with great anticipation for months.  I couldn’t believe we were finally there!

The island was gorgeous.

Steve was excited, too.

We pulled into the cove, docked, and headed off for a briefing by one of the Channel Islands National Park Rangers, who gave us the lay of the land and some instructions for the day.  About half of the folks on our boat were there to explore or camp on their own, and the other half – including us – had other plans in mind.  But more about that next week.

Our morning was free – our big, exciting, planned adventure didn’t start until after lunch – so we trotted off on a hike, keeping an eye open for the island foxes the Ranger promised we’d see everywhere.  He wasn’t kidding – one of our first wildlife sightings of the hike was a couple of island foxes trotting along the main road.  They’re the biggest mammal predator on the island, so they have some swagger.

I say it every time I hike far from home – one of my favorite things to do while traveling is to hike in places with a completely different landscape from what I’m used to.  Joshua Tree delivered, and so did Channel Islands.

We headed past the campsite and into the hills, and started climbing almost immediately.

The trail and the scenery were so beautiful – I couldn’t stop smiling.

Our plan was to hike a five-mile loop – from the boat dock to Potato Harbor and then Cavern Point, then back in time for lunch and our p.m. adventure.  We felt lighter than air without our usual (adorable) encumbrances, and we practically bounced the entire five miles.

The usual loop hits Cavern Point first, but we had it on good authority that we should hike the loop backwards, in light of the weather.  The hope was that if we got the inland walking out of the way and hit Potato Harbor first, the mist would have lifted slightly for our walk back along the bluffs, giving us better views.  So we headed for Potato Harbor first.

I loved seeing the diversity of plant life on the island.  From the water, and especially on a grey day, the islands looked like a lot of forbidding rock, and a little bit of brown grass.  Once we got up onto the bluffs, we were amazed by how much there was to see.

And then, before we knew it, we’d made it to beautiful Potato Harbor!

Don’t ask me to explain why it’s called Potato Harbor.  We asked everyone who looked like they might know anything about the park, and no one knew.  (If you know, please leave a comment and tell me.  This mystery is killing me.)

So gorgeous!  There was another couple hanging out and watching some sea lions through their very heavy-duty binoculars.  They offered the binoculars to us, and I took a turn but couldn’t see the sea lions – bummer!  You bet I could hear them, though.

After a little while spent drinking in the view at Potato Harbor, we hopped back on the trail and headed for Cavern Point.

The views were stunning as we walked the bluffs.

Happy hikers!

Before long, we came across a sign and we knew we were headed in the right direction.

And then we were there!

Cavern Point was a beautiful vista.  Mainland or island – there’s nothing like a California coastline.  We found a comfortable rock, sat down together and just enjoyed the view.

It was hard to leave, but eventually we had to move on.  Our stomachs were rumbling, and we had to eat lunch and get ready for our afternoon activity (about which, more next week).  But lucky for us, the walk back to the cove delivered plenty of beautiful views.

Including the Island Explorer, moored and waiting for us to take it back to Ventura at the end of our fabulous day – but not just yet!  We waved to the boat from our perch high up on the bluff and thanked our lucky stars that we had more adventure to come.

And then we were descending – too soon.  I was a little sad to say goodbye to such a beautiful hike, but I couldn’t be too sad, knowing what was in store for the rest of the afternoon.  But that is a story that will have to wait – until next week.

Do you like to go on adventure dates?

 

 

 

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