#NationalParkGeek - Anacapa Island

Channel Islands National Park. Honestly, for the day I felt like I was in Ireland.

A friend and I decided a few months ago we wanted to see the Channel Islands (off the coast of Ventura/Santa Barbara), starting with the smallest first - Anacapa Island. We took the boat, operated by Island Packers out of Oxnard/Channel Islands Harbor. 

When we arrived, the parking was a little confusing - 3 hour parking limit signs, but apparently it's not enforced (my car was still there, no ticket, when we got back). Upon checking in, they told us there was a possibility we wouldn't be able to get off the boat. This was a little disheartening, having driven from Orange County - we wanted to get on the island! 

Our reservation was scheduled for 9:30AM - and left right on time. The boat was actually smaller than I thought, smaller than the Catalina Flyer, if you've ever seen that one! Once everyone was on, luggage, gear and all, we took off!

I absolutely LOVE being on a boat. I feel so free and alive - sometimes more so than when I am outside hiking or dancing on the beach. I feel so CREATIVE when I am on water. Maybe, I should just make and create on a sailboat - that seems like a happy medium? Right?

So, like I mentioned, we didn't know if we were actually going to make it off the boat. About halfway (the trip is an hour) we saw a WHALE! A Fin Whale to be exact - apparently the 2nd largest species of mammals. He swam around and underneath the boat. Thank goodness for the clarity of the water, because we were able to see him so clearly. I was right on the edge, not even pulling out my phone for pictures, afraid I might miss something and staring in complete awe. Well, I think he blessed our boat and the weather. 30 minutes and 157 stairs later, we were off the boat and on top of Anacapa.

When you book the tickets, you can either come back the same day or camp! We were only going for the day, so we had to be back at the dock at 3PM. Now, 1030AM - 3PM seemed so short to me! However, Anacapa is the smallest and with just hiking the island, that is plenty of time.

I saw that there was a possibility of kayaking around Anacapa and seeing the sea caves. I called Santa Barbara Adventure Company (so incredibly helpful and kind) to check on it and ended up deciding against it. If you're very comfortable with sea kayaking - this might be for you! But without a guide, I wasn't sure I wanted my kayak hitting the sides of a cliff island.

So, we just opted to hike and picnic for the day.

The first photo above was Cathedral Point. The edges were roped off due to some deteriorating cliffs, but we were able to get close enough to see some beauty. 

Our guide for the island informed us also that it was 'Gull Season.' We had a welcoming committee of SEAGULLS - I am not a bird person. Luckily, they were pretty sweet birds and only got crazy if you came close to their nests. Some of the birds laid their eggs close to the trail, so when you passed, if they started squawking, all you had to do was put your hand in a fist over your head and they would stop. See the white dots in the photos above and below? Those are alllllll seagulls. Only slightly terrifying.

The main star of Anacapa - what you probably see photos of the most, is Inspiration Point. The tip of the island that looks out over the other islands of Anacapa and Santa Cruz. We hit this spot twice because it was just too beautiful and one look was not enough.

I MEAN LOOK AT THAT?! Isn't it incredible? 

We stopped about halfway through our trip along the west part of the trail, where you can see the sea lions below lazing, to have our picnic. A very fancy picnic I might add.

It was awesome to sit down and admire being completely surrounded by the ocean. The island is so small so wherever you are, you have a clear view.

After walking the whole island - the best parts twice - we were ready and prepared to get back on the boat and head home. We couldn't have asked for perfect weather on our day trip - although poor sunscreen application gave me a lovely shaped sunburn on my left arm. Don't forget your sunscreen! Oh, and water - since there are no facilities on the island.

Make the time to visit Anacapa. If you live in California, it is so incredibly easy! Just book a trip with IslandPackers and GET EXCITED. I promise it feels like you're in a whole new world for the day - and that's refreshing and amazing for anyone. Enjoy the Earth!

Desert Daze

Without living in California, I don't know if I'd ever appreciate the beauty of the desert as much as I do now. Growing up when I thought of the desert, I pictured the Sahara - photos I'd seen in my textbooks from Elementary school. A vast canvas of pinks, oranges & creams; camels creating shadows on the untouched sand. I am sure you've seen a lot of these photos as well. 

The desert in California has it's fair share of sand dunes - some of which in Death Valley & down south in Glamis - I hope to venture to soon. But, there's something magical about actually experiencing the desert - the still sound, the way the sun hits the surrounding hills - it's beautiful.

There are a million ways to get lost of course, but luckily service can be found. Taking the dirt roads instead of the paved - appreciating the journey, right?

A friend and I journeyed down to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park a few weekends ago to check out what was left of the #Superbloom. If you're unsure of what I mean by the Superbloom, here's some background. California has been in a severe drought for a few years now. Since I have lived here, I only remember short spurts of rain. Without rain, flowers have a hard time blooming. Thankfully, we got buckets this year - allowing beauty to sprout and thrive in places it hasn't recently. Thus, the Superbloom. I saw some California Poppy's in Lake Elsinore back in March - but desert flowers are a bit different.

Sadly, we missed a lot of the blooms - but there was still a lot to see!

We got there and knew what we were looking for, but didn't exactly know where to look. Behold the Visitor's Center - filled with great people and lots of information. They were such a blessing - detailed directions and maps to help us explore.

Located in Borrego Springs, the Visitor's Center wasn't the only shining light. We had lunch at a great Mexican joint - Jalisco's - which I think might be a chain? Mexican food in California is always bomb - so we knew we could trust this joint. 

As I love the harmony of art and landscape, one of the biggest attractions in this area were the metal sculptures by Ricardo Breceda. There are all sorts of different animals/creatures scattered around - mammoths, a sea serpent, a scorpion & grasshopper, camels, etc. My favorites were the scorpion/grasshopper & the sea serpent. Here's some more information and other photos as well if you're interested in some history!

I definitely want to make it back out to Anza-Borrego to hit some trails and capture views of the badlands. Maybe stop at Julian on the way home for their infamous apple pies!

If you're anywhere near a desert - check it out. Honestly, there is something magical out in the vast open space. 

Traveling through the Exumas

I'm pretty sure with every new place I get to travel to, I come home and I am like "WOAH - that was definitely the most beautiful place I've ever been." Each time. What does that say about the world we live in? Isn't it insane to think of the smallest, uninhabited nooks and crannies of the world - can you imagine how beautiful those places must be?

A few weeks ago, I was so fortunate to be able to take some time off with my family and head to the Greater Exuma Islands of the Bahamas. We're a pretty adventurous bunch, so we pick a place - alternating between hot and cold - each year to visit and explore. I don't remember exactly how we landed on the Exumas - but I am so glad we did. Many people know of these islands from the famous Swimming Pigs - the Bachelor? Oh, and Nassau being a huge cruise ship destination out of Florida - but these islands are much further North, so thankfully not much cruise traffic.

Just a heads up - there will be lots of photos - and I do not apologize.

To start off the trip, I flew home to Orlando and the next day we boarded a small (yes, small, see below) plane with Watermakers Air out of Fort Lauderdale Executive.

We made a stop at Fresh Creek (where all the fresh water comes from in the Bahamas - how cool!) to go through customs, got back in the plane and touched back down at Staniel Cay - Yacht Club, yes please! We had a beautiful Bahamian (Ba-Hey-Me-An) breakfast and then completed our day of travel with a half hour boat ride to Black Point, a few islands South. 

Through VRBO, my mom found wonderful cottages owned by a lovely local woman, Ida. Her and her husband own and operate a multitude of things on the island - a laundromat, the church, etc. We took our first two days to rest, figure out the food situation and lay out on our beaches. 

If you're planning on visiting, which I HIGHLY recommend, you should understand the food situation. If you're on any kind of special diet, you can forget it. There are 2-3 small grocery stores that are fairly expensive with limited food items and very limited produce. Then, there are about 5 restaurants - with mostly American type foods - think Hamburgers, Fries, Pizza, Chicken Tenders - and the Bahamian delicacy - the Conch, served in many ways. Would this deter me from going?! NO WAY. But, it is something that should be known. Life is too short to worry about what you're eating, especially on vacation (except allergies and things like that, I understand those fully).

Our third day we had a boat for the morning. Everything I read before coming said to make sure you have boat access for your trip. One of the beauties of the Bahamas is the water and the watercolor like qualities in how it changes colors - due to depth of course. I tried to capture it in photos, but honestly, it doesn't do it justice.

On our first boat tour, we hit Pig Beach, the Iguana Islands, the Mile-Long Sandbar & Thunderball Grotto (pictured above). To feed the pigs and iguanas we took bread & cabbage from the grocery. Some of the pigs at this time were sick (and a few had passed away) due to some unknown reasons. We heard from the locals that they were doing testing, but I never heard what the cause was. I can not stress enough that these animals still should be treated with respect and love. It's not funny, in any way, to give them beer or bad food, so please don't.

Staniel Cay had run out of gas, so we were limited to the half day. After making all the animals happy, we headed back to our cottages to plan dinner and relax.

During the span of the week, we saw: 1 dolphin, 1 sea turtle, sting rays, nurse sharks, piggies, iguanas, fish, goats, chickens, dogs, annnnd I think that's it! If you're an animal lover like me, you'll love it!

Due to the No-See-Ums and the Mosquitos, you're basically stuck in your living quarters past 7PM (if you even want to be outside that late). Bug spray helps, but not if you're a bug magnet like I am. We spent our evenings talking and flipping through the channels that were able to come across our TV - even played some Go Fish. Going to bed by 10PM each night made for early mornings - which were great to start tanning and wandering about. We had a baby girl (2 months old) with us, my niece, so the early mornings also meant time to spend with her and family.

These next few photos are of Great Guana Cay, the Black Point area. We rented a golf cart for a few days, which allowed us to see the island (although not very large) from end to end.

There were a few new things we decided to try in the Bahamas - some juices, Conch, way of life, etc. One of their juices was called the 'Goombay Punch.' At a local bar, I asked about the name and we learned that Goombay is actually a huge NYE party that happens in the Bahamas. They start celebrating around 1 AM on NY Day and continue to about 10 AM the next day! The dock above was just off their top party place - Regatta Point. The Friday night we were there, they had a huge party and you could feel the bass and see the light across the bay. Definitely will have to experience that someday!

One of my favorite parts of this trip, and this island, were the people. I absolutely love seeing how others live and then bringing that back into my own life. Their kindness and openness to talk to us was so awesome. I think it's something we forget, wrapped up in our day to day lives, thinking about the things we have to get done and just getting through the day. Everything should be appreciated and seen differently, in my opinion. This life and everything in it is a gift and travel and exploration can help you see how others see that in their own communities.

In one of the cottages next to us, we met a lovely lady from Vermont, who comes to Black Point every year for a month. She leaves her husband to tend at home and lives on the island for that time. They first discovered this particular island on their boat trip down the Intracoastal Waterway - all the way from Vermont! Crazy, right?!

If you live where there are storms, you know what they can do - easily. Growing up some time in Florida, I have been through countless hurricanes and tropical storms. In the middle of our trip, a bad storm - wild wind and heavy rain - hit in the middle of the night. I actually woke up to the wind - sounded like the A/C unit in my room was going to rip out of the house. We ended up losing water and power for about half a day. Knowing they have tourists on the island, the locals were quick to fix everything. It delayed our other boat trip, but luckily the Saturday before we left we were able to go out for another half day!

On this boat trip, we stopped back at the swimming pigs again - because how could we not - and headed even further North to the Exuma Cays Water & Sea Park. This was about an hour boat ride - a little far - but we got to snorkel some more in a protected area. The fish came so close!

On the way back from the Sea Park, we stopped at the sandbar - this time we were the only ones on it. Because of the tides varying so much, sometimes there's more water than at other times. We took another swim break at the sandbar and headed home.

Our last night, we took the golf cart around to make sure we captured photos of everything we wanted to. The goats on the side of the road, the docks, sunsets, everything. One of my favorite shots was on the dreamiest dock, watching the sun set, with my feet over the ocean. 

This trip was magnificent. I wish I could elaborate so much more on some of the things I experienced, but for everyone it's different. If anyone is looking to go somewhere in the Caribbean soon - or needs a vacation - go to the Exumas. Do yourself a favor, unplug a little bit (yea, limited access to Wi-Fi) and drag yourself out of your comfort zone. Most of us live very fortunate lives without even realizing it. When you start boiling tap water for the purpose of drinking clean, fresh water - that's definitely when you start being grateful for much more.