Santa Rosa Knows How to Show You A Great Time

Hi everyone! Remember that 5-day, island-camping adventure to the Channel Islands National Park I told you I’d be participating in? Well guess what, I participated in it! So let me tell you how it went! I took a giant yacht-like boat with the SAMO Youth Group from Ventura Harbor and braved the choppy waters for about 3.5 hours, in which we saw dolphin pods, sea lions, gulls, and humpback whales! Our boat, run by Island Packers Cruises, made sure we got great views of all the sea life that was popping in and out of the water as we sailed into the Pacific, and what’s more, the crew is made up of Naturalists, who know the wildlife in and around the Channel Islands. As the boat cruised around the Channel Islands, a horrid stench seeped on board, a stench that was a mix of sewer water and feces (sorry not sorry); little did we know that we had three extra passengers on board.

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One of the three sea lions released 🙂

The Island Packers had three sea lions aboard the boat, ready to be released into their native habitat of the deep, blue sea. They had been abandoned by their mother and after having taken them in for a few months, the crew decided to release them back into the wild with new-found energy and excitement! Here’s a snippet of the dolphins and sea lions going wild!
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Dolphin, seagull, and sea lion feeding frenzy!

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Humpback whale tale!


Hours later, we were greeted by a very windy Santa Rosa, winds that we later found out were thanks to the island’s geographical location.* We settled into our new home for the next five days, and luckily, we had the option of camping out in tents or bunking in the California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) Research Station, which I opted for. 😉 The actual research station building was an old rancher house, fit to house about 25 vaqueros during the seasons in which they worked the farms and cattle ranches on the islands. A few of the supervisors and students in our group decided to camp out for the week, braving harsh winds, sneaky island foxes, and the sound of the waves crashing into the shore. The rest of us bunked for the week, while being environmentally conscious by limiting our showers to 1 minute or less, only one day out of the week. Yes, we went there.

During the day, our group of about 27 was divided into three smaller groups that would each lead a different task from the list of things we were meant to do on the island in our hopes of helping out with the restoration of the island’s ecosystem, and since we were there for basically three working days, each person was able to alternate and try out each task. Task #1: Painting A Historic Schoolhouse I chose to help with the restoration work on a historic (remember my definition last time?!) schoolhouse for my first day of work. According to the ranger (Rachel) we were working with, the schoolhouse was built around the early 1900s and fit no more than 10 students, however, the house was expanded in the 1960s and was turned into a residence until the 1990s when the island stopped housing residents from the mainland. The interior of the house was in ok condition, but the exterior needed to be watertight and a fresh coat of paint, since the National Park Service has a few ideas on what they could use the schoolhouse for in the future (visitor center, museum, ranger residence…).

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The SAMO Youth prepping the paint


Painting the exterior of the schoolhouse. Note the piece of wood running vertically in the middle. That’s where the house was expanded. The wood before that vertical piece was the original size of the schoolhouse.

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Watching the paint dry

Task #2: Swamping Now, “what’s swamping?” you ask? Well, in our island restoration context, swamping is the pruning and removal of eucalyptus tree debris from the island. There’s a mile-long row of eucalyptus trees on the island, whose main purpose is to create a wind barrier for the land in front of it, which was used for cattle grazing and farming. When the ranching days of the 60s and 70s came to an end, the eucalyptus kept growing and shedding its leaves everywhere, causing more eucalyptus trees to sprout everywhere. These trees aren’t native to the island; they’re originally from Australia and were brought to the island during the beginning of the ranching era (1800s). We didn’t want to totally remove all of the trees, since the wind barrier is still necessary for the campgrounds near the eucalyptus groves, but we did want to prune the trees, or give them a haircut. With the help of more park rangers (Carl, Jim, and Duck…yes, Duck) with chainsaws** and a wood chipper (which eventually malfunctioned), we created countless piles of eucalyptus branches and trunks that were ready for to become mulch, as soon as the chipper was up and running again. Let me tell you, carrying bundles of branches, twigs, leaves, and stumps over the course of 8 hours was no joke, but the feeling of satisfaction when we saw how much clearer the groves looked was payment enough for the strenuous work we put in that day.
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Swamping, in action.

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Taking a break

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Lugging the lumber


Carl and Jim talking to us about the chipper


Hard hat selfie!

Task #3: Removing Invasive Salsola For my final day of work, my group and I went out with another park ranger and botanist (Paula) and helped her remove an invasive, non-native species of nettle called Salsola. These pesky plants had very sharp thorns running up and down their stem, and when they dry out, the plant turns into tumbleweeds. Aside from turning into annoying tumbleweeds, the salsola seeds get spread around the island by way of the park ranger truck (they get stuck in the tires) and propagate everywhere that the truck drives. As the salsola keep popping up, native plants from the island that are trying to make a comeback are denied space in the ground because of these plants. Part of our restoration work on the island is also meant to bring back the native species of plants and animals onto the island. During the ranching days, large flocks and herds of sheep and cattle ate all of the available pasture, which left the soil barren and without any sort of covering on top of it, which prevents the deeper soil from flying away in the strong island winds. The top soil allows for plants to successfully grow in place, but thanks to the overgrazing of the sheep and cattle on the island, native plants have a harder time trying to make a comeback, and plants like the salsola just add to the problem by taking away valuable leg room for the native plants. So for that day of work, we went off-roading in a pick up truck around the island! Think of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, BUT 10 TIMES BUMPIER AND 10 TIMES MORE REALISTIC. We were bouncing up and down the seats as our super duty truck roared through the paved roads on the island, all the while keeping our eyes pealed for any salsola on or around the road. To avoid getting stabbed by the pesky plants, we each wore heavy duty gloves that helped us pull out and uproot the salsolas and place them into large trash bags for future termination.
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Russian thistle, salsola


Wreck Canyon, a cool stream brimming with cattails

At the end of each work day, we had the option of doing whatever we wanted to before quiet hours, so of course, I went to explore the beach, I hiked up Cherry Canyon, I walked along a cool canyon with a warm stream, I helped construct two, count ’em, two puzzles (a 500 piece one and a 1000* piece one), and I cooked dinner, which was another task we each had to do (along with helping out on one breakfast day).

There were a lot of bones scattered on the island…this one might be from an island fox.


A stream running through a canyon we found 🙂


A 999 PIECE PUZZLE. The larger elephant is missing a piece of its ear, but you can’t see that, no one can see that. We’re ok. It only took us three days to finish this puzzle. We’ll survive without that piece *eye twitches*.


Awesome shore


The other end of that stream in the canyon, leading into the ocean.


Bechers Bay Pier


Fun in the water!


We found a tiny tree frog in a pond of muck!


Beach selfie! 😀




View from the top of Cherry Canyon On our final night, the other park rangers in our group (Anthony, Antonio, Joey, Joe, and Mary) took us out to the pier and gave us a star gazing talk. This was by-far my favorite part of the trip: seeing the Milky Way in all (as much) of its glory!
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The Milky Way, as seen from the pier 🙂

We spent our final day cleaning up the research station and set out to the pier to load up our remaining cargo. Our trip back on the boat was much calmer and filled with even more sights! Thanks to great weather conditions, the Island Packers took us into one of the largest caves in the world, Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island! And if you’re getting Pirates of the Caribbean vibes, you’re in the right direction! A piece of the first film was filmed in this cave.
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A humpback’s hump!




Entering the Painted Cave


The Painted Cave 🙂

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Goodbye whale! 🙂

I painted a house, I carried heavy bundles of logs, I pulled out thorny plants, I swam in the beautiful Pacific Ocean, I saw the Milky Way, I witnessed dolphins, sea lions, and humpback whales swim together, and I spent a week with the amazing company of park rangers and hardworking students. I think my time spent on Santa Rosa Island was well-spent, don’t you?

*Santa Rosa is located off to the west of Point Conception, which is where all of the wind travels south and towards the island. Anything inside the area underneath and east of Point Conception is spared of the fierce winds, but anything west of that gets the whole enchilada of winds. Santa Rosa and San Miguel get hit the hardest. **People who saw down trees and wood are called “sawyers.”  

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