A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Santa Cruz islands in Channel Islands National Park for the first time. Though I’ve lived in the area going on 10 years and have traipsed up, down, and around most mountains and state parks in the county, I never made it across the channel to any of the islands. The islands have always held a sense of mystery for me. I mostly thought of them while driving down the 101 and seeing their dark shapes on the horizon, usually shrouded by haze. We are lucky to have such history and opportunities to view unique species not too far away.
One our way to the island, hundreds of leaping dolphins and swooping sea birds followed us through the waves. Upon arrival, we were greeted by rusty abandoned farm tools and small houses and outbuildings, all remnants of the ranching days that preceded its current protected status. A short hike, led for half a mile by a trotting fox, brought us to Smuggler’s Cove. At times along the way, it was possible to look certain directions and see no sign of human existence, apart from the trail we were on. You could put yourself in the decades and centuries past and imagine what the Native Americans and early settlers experienced.
Smugglers Cove itself amplifies this feeling. You come through the trees, first seeing glimpses of sparkling water and sandstone cliffs through the trunks, then emerge on a secluded, rocky beach. Other than the boats bobbing offshore, you feel as if you could be in the 1800’s or longer ago. In this pondering, there is a sense of connection to the island itself, as well as the topography and materials that make up the memorable beach. The bathroom buildings, a wayward plastic container, and a tiny island fox (who very obviously makes his living scrounging crumbs from beneath the picnic tables), pull you back to modern times.
To leave the cove, you hike uphill, eventually cresting on a ridge facing the mainland. The houses and developments that mark the landscape burst the bubble you’ve created. One where you feel free from the noise, pollution, and chaos that are our normal environments, if only for a moment.