• Anusha Parthasarathy

A Pedacito of Santa Rosa Island at Channel Islands National Park

The idea to visit Channel Islands National Park has been brewing for about three years, from back when my husband and I lived in Orange County, California, just south of Los Angeles. But it was only towards the end of summer 2020 that our plan was set in motion when our interest in camping and going outdoors went up considerably after flying was out of the question.


Along with a couple of friends, we scoured the Recreation.Gov site for campsites, and when we didn’t find one initially, we were quite bummed. But over the next three days, we refreshed the screen at least a few thousand times and finally landed ourselves a site on Santa Rosa Island, California. Hurray! Now that the hard part was finally over, we could finally begin planning for our upcoming trip!

Our first view of Santa Rosa Island
Our first view of Santa Rosa Island, part of Channel Islands National Park in California
We got to see all kinds of marine life as our boat travelled between islands at the Channel Island National Park
We got to see all kinds of marine life as our boat travelled between islands at Channel Island National Park

A week before we were set to leave, we began to list out everything we needed. And believe me when I tell you that it was quite a long list. Apart from clothing (we packed warm) and bathing essentials (the campground at Santa Rosa Island doesn’t have showers), we had four backpacks full of camping gear and food.


We planned out each meal to the last ingredient and stocked up. We did this knowing that the island didn’t have trash disposal, and all travelers had to carry their trash back to the mainland.


The weather at Santa Rosa Island was always on the chillier side. It’s the windiest island of the chain, and evenings were definitely slated to be cold. Freezing in our tents was not an option, and so we made sure there were enough layers to hide in. This trip was going to be memorable, and we also prepared our cameras to click a million pictures.

The day our trip began, we heard the bad news. A heat wave had come out of nowhere and would last through the weekend; Channel Islands National Park would not be spared. So much for packing warm and taking just two small coolers! So, with heavy hearts (and jackets), we left by an early morning ferry to Santa Rosa Island.


The trip from the port in Ventura, California to Santa Rosa Island took about 3.5 hours and was a pretty entertaining ride. We got to see whales, dolphins and some interesting sights. The choppy waters also kept everyone guessing.


Covid-19 measures were in full force on the ferry, and we tried our best to enjoy the ride while maintaining social distance. Finally, as the clear, aquamarine waters got shallower, we knew that we had arrived.

The island is stunning when you first set eyes on it. Its white-sand beaches sit comfortably along its rocky edges, giving it a beautifully sandy outline. It was an almost 2-mile hike to the campsite from the pier and one that we had to do, carrying a lot of weight on our backs. We moved slowly and steadily, trying not to buckle under the heat that was beating down on us.

The heat was scortching on Santa Rosa Island that week
The heat was scortching on Santa Rosa Island that week

The landscape was parched and desert-like, with low-hanging shrubs making for most of the vegetation. I also realized that there were barely any trees! The National Park Service provided a wind shelter for each campsite on this ground and hid under it for most of our first day to hide from the sun.


The campground was clean, well-spaced, and only had 15 spaces in all. The toilets, especially, were the cleanest I've seen in any campground so far. We cooked, ate, and watched the sunset behind the mountains, turning the valley a beautifully gradient orange.


The next morning, we were up by seven, woken up early by the sun heating up our plastic tents. Before it became a full-on furnace, we hurried out, took cover under the wind shade, and gulped down a quick breakfast before heading out for a hike.

There was a trail right outside the campground, and we followed it up the hill. Three miles in, we were zapped of energy and decided to end the hike and head towards the beach. Against the cool wind blowing against our hair, we spent the rest of the afternoon splashing into the water, playing cards, and exploring different parts of the beach.


That evening, as we prepared dinner, we heard a strange rustling near our tent. Before our very eyes, an island fox sauntered out lazily, walked right up to our tent and punched at it, and when we shone a light on him, walked coolly back into the bushes. We would occasionally catch the glow of their eyes as we walked across camp to the rest area in the nights, but this was the first time we saw one up close.

On Day 3, the heat was almost unbearable. Even the wind shelter was of no use, and there was no other shade to hide under. So again, we found ourselves on the mile-and-half long hike to the beach, where we stayed until the day got cooler towards the evening. And finally, that night, we got to experience a little bit of Santa Rosa’s windy side just before we left.


Interested in learning more about national parks? Check out these stories from our other storytellers!

 

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