Lose Yourself In Death Valley

Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the nation besides Alaska boasting more than 3 million acres of federally protected land areas of wilderness, sand dunes, canyons, salt flats, and mountains. This is a lot of adventurous territory to explore, scramble, and trek through. With so many must see spots and interesting history, how can one pass up the opportunity to see this place! And on top of that, you can even take a tour of the locations where Star Wars was filmed!

Although, it is considered the hottest place on earth, it does have an average temperature of 100 degrees Farenheight in the Summer, Death Valley still is an incredible place to experience. As well, the other seasons especially Fall, can provide perfect weather conditions for an extraordinary adventure. Whether it is hiking through colorful canyons, scrambling over through badlands, or witnessing unobstructed views of ridges and valleys, this place will not disappoint.

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“An adventure in the middle of the desert in Death Valley, California?” you might ask. My response is yes! This national park is spectacular to wander around and soak in the amazing fresh air, enjoy colorful rolling hills and mountains that surround you. We were once again pleasantly surprised of what this national park has to offer and all the adventure opportunities it has.

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We started our day by hitting the road very early in the morning from San Diego and as usual we prepared for our road trip adventure by packing lunch, water, and serviced the car. Here is my vehicle prep blog I wrote earlier this year if you need a guide: Road trip preparation tips.

Since we knew this adventure would only be primarily a day trip, we took the route by going north via State Route 127 from Baker to Shoshone and Death Valley Junction with connections to the park on State Route 178 from Shoshone and connection with California Highway 190 at Death Valley Junction. 

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We finally arrived at the park and began our journey exploring around the area. Depending upon the amount of time you have to visit the park, there are so many interesting and historical places to see. Including the Visitor Center at Furnace Creek where there is an incredible video-movie they offer that portrays several historical and interesting insights into Death Valley.

One of the interesting topics discussed in the movie is that in a particular part of the park, there are several large rocks sitting in the bed of a dry lake and over time, they move and leave a trail in the sand. Scientists are baffled as to how these rocks are moving. The area is called Racetrack Playa, and the mystery continues about these rocks also called ‘Sailing stones’ and their intriguing movement across the desert. Read more about this topic here:  

Badwater Basin:
This area of the park is truly remarkable in that it is the lowest point in North America at 182 feet below sea level! And the salt flats are amazing! The feeling of a cool twist in the air, with the warming sun, and the ‘extra’ oxygen intake can make you feel like a million bucks! 

Artists Drive:
This scenic drive is spectacular and is a one way drive-through loop that takes you 9 miles between multi colored rolling hills that will have you saying wow!

Artists Palette:
This area is just a short distance from along Artists Drive and is the point where there is a look out and you can walk out onto some of the hills and take photos and explore the area.

Zabriskie Point:

Badlands and rolling hills painted with golden and reddish hues everywhere you turn. An area that is a result of once highly active earthquakes and violent waters, this serene setting was submerged under water as it was filled with sparkling lakes.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes:

Rising nearly 100 feet from the Mesquite Flats, these beautiful sand dunes will have you thirsty for curiosity! The dunes are incredible to explore, hike, trek, and climb! We climbed and climbed as the sand was filling our shoes. But we finally made our way up and over the dunes, and saw a few folks with cameras and what appeared to be a photo shoot for a bridal wedding scene. Just in time for a stunning desert sunset over the dunes.

Death Valley carries a lot of history and is still home to the Shoshone Indians. These are a few highlights you may wish to explore as well:

-Scotty’s Castle *A glance into the times during the Roaring 20’s and Great 
            Depression of the 30’s. (Temporarily closed at this time.-Nov 2018)
-Furnace Creek Inn *Opened in 1927 by the Pacific Coast Borax Mining Co.

-Harmony Borax Works *A mine that processed borax ore from 1884 to 1888
-Keane Wonder Mine *Historical gold mine
-Death Valley ghost towns and silent ruins  
-Wild Rose Charcoal Kilns *Beehive shaped structures that helped process
           silver/lead ore built in 1877.
-Barker Ranch *Once the ranch was a sanctuary for recreational ranchers. Also in 1968; it was occupied by the infamous Mansion family for about a year before it was raided and the family members were jailed as a result of their vandalism to the property.

We had an amazing day at Death Valley National Park as it was full of interesting exploration over badlands and salt basin, painted hillsides along Artists Drive, and an exciting drive through narrow roadways of steep and curvy pathways. We plan to return for another visit to this park in 2019. 

We were also on the lookout for wild donkeys. There are invasive burros throughout Death Valley. They are destroying water resources for other animals, stomp around and mess the fragile spring habitat. It is suggested that you do not feed them, do not approach them or exit your vehicle. 
We finished our incredible adventure at the park by taking Panamint Valley Road to Trona Road and went through the mineral mining town of Trona. Finally reaching US-395 to I-15 South returning home to San Diego.

More information on Death Valley National Park:  DIRECTIONS

Death Valley National Park
PO Box 579
Death Valley, CA 92328
760-786-3200
www.nps.gove/deva   

Other information:
Off road driving is strictly prohibited!
Camping is available.
Cabins/lodging is available:
         The Oasis at Death Valley, Panamint Springs Resort
The park is a great place to ride bicycle.
Pets, other than service animals, are not allowed in certain areas of the park. Check the website for more specific information before you go.

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Find more adventure and take a journey with me through Capitol Reef National Park.

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Sources:
Death Valley brochure.
Wikipedia.com

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Pinnacles National Park * The People’s Park

Pinnacles National Park is the final national park we’ve visited over a three-day weekend on our quest to visit three national parks in three days. The previous 2 days were filled with impressive historical sequoia trees, beautiful landscapes, and stunning sunsets! Read about it here:  For every new national park we visit, we have a new found appreciation and desire to explore more parks, landmarks, and nature.

Machete Ridge

Background:

Pinnacles is an interesting park in that it is actually part of the San Andreas Fault Zone (running east of the park). Did you know? San Andreas Fault system is part of the Ring of Fire; a zone of earthquake and volcanic activity that partially encircles the Pacific Ocean. The park is a result of a combination of heat, frost, water, and wind wearing away rock. The caves are also a result of fault action and earthquake activity created by boulders falling into deep, narrow gorges and getting stuck between the rock walls.

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The People’s Park:

During the 1700s, the Pinnacles’ Native Americans; the Chalon and Mutsun Indians, were hunter-gatherers and harvested on the local resources. Later, when emigrants arrived, Pinnacles became a popular place for activities, picnics, camping, and exploring.

Hiking Adventure:

Juniper Canyon Trail, Tunnel Trail, High Peaks Trail, Condor Gulch Trail, Old Pinnacles Trail, Balconies Cave Trail.

We hit the road toward Pinnacles around 9:00 a.m. after meeting up with friend and Fitlife360 guest blogger, Sam, at our hotel in Salinas. Sam was also traveling and exploring Santa Cruz and Monterey areas over the weekend and shared with us her interesting trip. She departed San Diego Thursday night drove directly through the areas where the large massive fires were near Los Angeles/Ventura. She was directed towards several detours around those flames until she finally made it to her destination in Santa Cruz.

We continued our way south on highway 101 from our hotel and onward into the Pinnacles National Park, which is about 45 minutes from our hotel in Salinas, California. We arrived at the park entrance and used the restrooms and enjoyed a chat with the park ranger. We had formulated our plan and map drawn out to explore Bear Gulch Cave, Balconies Cave, and see Condors. Things did not go the way we planned exactly, but we still had an amazing and very cool experience.

We began hiking from the Chaparral Parking Area and continued on the Juniper Canyon Trail. As we were approaching the Tunnel Trail, it was becoming a bit challenging with gradual inclines and switchbacks. It was only a short while into the trail, when we looked up and saw two large condors flying near one of the mountain peaks. This part of the trail was very interesting with the beautiful large boulders and rock formations, where some of them had splashes of colors on the boulders and rock formations.

Some of the trails connect with each other and can be difficult choosing which path to take. We had intentions of taking the trail that leads to Bear Gulch Cave Trail, (to explore Bear Gulch Cave) this is where we chose the wrong trail path and ended up at the Overlook on the Condor Gulch Trail. (We only saw Condors earlier on the hiking trail).

We continued on a decline trail of switchbacks and narrow paths towards Old Pinnacles Trailhead Parking lot area. We sat around for awhile and rested in this area for a short while. We decided to continue on this trail where it took us through a tree filled hillside, some areas had a canopy of trees, then we approached an area of an open dried up creek bed. (West Fork Chalone Creek) This is where we encountered a wild bobcat roaming around. My husband grabbed the Nikon and took off toward the bobcat. He captured our bobcat friend and he said it was like the cat was sitting there posing for him.

Shortly after our wild animal encounter with the bobcat, we proceeded to make our way towards Balconies Cave. The journey through the cave is very cool with the darkness, quiet and silent inside the cave, and the thrill of finding your way out to the other side of the cave. Check out the video of the cave adventure:

The journey through Pinnacles National Park was amazing! Despite the past couple days of experiencing smoke filled hazy skies, it was a beautiful day with blue skies and sunshine.

By the end of our day exploring, we had hiked about 11 miles, scrambling over rocks in Balconies Cave, and enjoyed a backdrop of massive boulders and stunning landscape views. Here are the many activities you do at Pinnacles.

*Hiking
*Explore Caves
*Rock Climbing
*Enjoy Plants and Trees
*Birds-Condors and Bats

Here is more information to plan your visit:

Pinnacles National Park
5000 Hwy 146
Paicines, CA 95043
8310389-4485
http://www.nps.gov/pinn
DIRECTIONS TO THE PARK

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The Amazing Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

It is truly a treat to have visited America’s second oldest national park at Sequoia. Every visit we make to the national parks, we become more inspired and motivated to see more! We finally arrived at the park after the long hours of driving north from San Diego and maneuvering the roads through all the fires happening in the Los Angeles area. 

Sequoia National Park

As we proceeded to drive near and around LA, we saw a plume-like cloud as the backdrop of the city on our journey northward. It felt a little eerie witnessing this as all these fires reminded us of our experiences dealing with fires and evacuations back in 2014. We experienced the massive fires in San Diego in 2007, as well as evacuating during the 2014 San Marcos fires which were burning almost literally in our backyards. Here are a few photos.

Sequoia

We arrived at Sequoia National Park early enough in the day to enjoy most of the park. Well, at least the parts that were not closed due to the winter season. We continued our path into the park on The Generals highway. This 80 year old roadway is included as part of the overall park experience.

We encountered construction delays as we went through the entrance. We were told there was up to a 2 hour delay but we made it in time, to where there was only 40 minutes until traffic would be allowed through. Currently, as of November 2018, repairs are being done on the highway to handle a larger number of vehicles. We spent some time at the Foothills Visitors Center and enjoyed a little break as we waited.

Take a look at our journey through the park as we share some of the highlights and points of interest of Sequoia.

Giant Forest Museum

We stopped in at the Giant Forest Museum and used the restrooms at this stop. Sequoia exhibits, information, gift shop, and permits are offered here.

Our next stop was to see the General Sherman Tree as there are two different trails that take you to the tree. The main trail is about 1/2 mile down stairs and paved walkway. There are small signs that say: high elevation, so take your time. This sign is of course intended for those walking back up the hill. These trees are incredibly massive, and very interesting. 

The General Sherman Tree is estimated to be 2,200 years old. It’s largest branch is nearly 7 feet in diameter. Wow! Do you know the difference between Sequoia and Redwood trees? Here are a few details.
Sequoias grow naturally in the west slope of the California Sierra Nevada range and have a massive trunk and is also called the Sierra Redwood.

Sequoia tree

 The Redwood tree is a taller and more slender tree and grows in the northern and coastal part of California.

Redwood trees

Several of the meadows, water fall trails, and other paths were closed for the winter season. We were hoping to see a few bears as well, but there were few if any of them around and they do loiter around different parts of the park during certain times of the year. 

We were informed that the bears are small black bears, about the size of a large dog, but to still remain at a distance, do not feed them, and properly store your own food in appropriate containers. The ranger also indicated there might be a few bears in the meadows areas, but we did not see any.

Kings Canyon overlook

Unfortunately, due to all the fires happening around California, and the national park doing a contained burn, we were presented with smokey hazy skies. 

Kings Canyon

On our second day visiting the national parks in this area. we started quite early in Kings Canyon as we stayed in lodging in Fresno the night before. (Since Sequoia and Kings are located right next to each other). It was a beautiful morning as we made our way in and around Kings Canyon National Park.

Take a look at the above photos and compare the fallen Monarch to the black and white photo taken around 1900. Sequoias can avoid decay even for thousands of years fallen on a forest floor. Take a walk through the center of the fallen Monarch here in the video below. Click here.

Another point of interest is an incredible overlook we stumbled upon on our drive down to Hume Lake that offers stunning views of the canyon below and impressive landscapes. 

Again, we were a little disappointed because of the hazy smokey skies that we had to deal with during this particular weekend.

Hume Lake is a neat and peaceful area of which it is on private land and not part of the national park. There are camping and large group camping events available and hiking around the lake which is approximately 2 miles. We were not really impressed by this area, but it was nice and peaceful. 

Our next stop was during our hike to see the next infamous giant sequoia tree but we came across one of the first early cabins where the first park ranger resided here at Gamlin Cabin during the early 1900s. Take a look.

The impressive massive General Grant, Americas Christmas Tree. The world’s second largest tree!

Our first time experience visiting these two beautiful national parks was full of stunning landscapes, interesting history, and impressive plant life (trees). We recommend visiting these two parks on your next visit to California as they are conveniently located next to each other. 

To top off our amazing visit to these parks, we were able to enjoy a few stunning sunsets!

More information about these parks are below:
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
47050 Generals Highway
Three Rivers, CA 93271
www.nps.gov/seki

Other info:
*There is no gas available in the park.
*Trails: Day hikes are available in all areas.
*Bears: Black bears are attracted to human food, and they know what the plastic grocery bags are. You can’t even begin to understand how good their sense of smell of food is. You must properly store food at all times.
*Do not feed any wildlife.

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Read about more fitlife360 adventures: 
Capitol Reef National Park a photo essay: 

Exploring Channel Islands National Park: Santa Cruz Island!

Channel Islands Painted Cave

Photo Essay: Capitol Reef National Park

CRNP SIGN

Capitol Reef National Park can be described by its vibrant palette of red hues that are on display everywhere across the landscape in this part of Utah. This park consists of folded geological shapes, lifted rugged earth that was created millions of years ago.

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The geological feature that defines Capitol Reef is a wrinkle in the earth’s crust that extends nearly 100 miles from Thousand Lake Mountain to Lake Powell. The Waterpocket Fold was created as a result of deposition, uplifting, and erosion of the rock layers. (Source: Capitol Reef info brochure)

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It was a last minute decision to take a road trip to visit another national park while on business travel and wow; were we glad we did! The drive from Salt Lake City was over 400 miles round trip, but it did make for a bit of a stressful experience that being we were on a time limit, due to a flight scheduled to return home from Salt Lake City.

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This national park did not disappoint with its towering cliffs, massive domes, arches and bridges; this bedrock of beauty was spectacular!
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As you peruse through the park, you might think there is no life here. But if you look closely, this place is home to over 100 species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish; 239 species of birds; over 900 species of plants; and 33 ecological systems. (Source: Capitol Reef Park brochure)

Take a preview of these captions; they include some highlights and points of interest and of the surrounding landscapes.

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Chimney Rock

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The Fluted Wall

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Path to the Petroglyphs area

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…the light seems to flow or shine out of the rock rather than to be reflected from it. 
-Clarence Dutton, geologist and early explorer of Capitol Reef, 1880s.

This is only a small portion of what our visit was, there is still much more to explore in this beautiful national park. Here are some must see points of interest:

Hiking:
Chimney Rock
Grand Wash
Cassidy Arch
Cohab Canyon

Scenic Drive
Hickman Bridge

More info below for your next visit:
Capitol Reef National Park
HC 70, Box 15
Torrey, UT 84775
435-425-3791
nps.gov/care

Read about more Utah adventure here:

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A Journey Through Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is located approximately 140 miles east of Los Angeles and a short distance to neighboring Palm Springs area. This protected land is comprised of vegetated high desert and low desert making up this extraordinary national park.
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This park has many interesting and diverse parts that will appeal to any exploring hiker.

Much of this land expands across both the Colorado and Mojave Deserts and is home to a variety of species living in this desert ecosystem. Here are a few of the living residents of this amazing national park:

Big Horn Sheep
Chuckwalla
Cactus wren
Beavertail cactus
Greater roadrunner
Desert tortoise
Desert iguana

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Vegetation includes:
Joshua trees
Prickly pear cactus
Hedgehog cactus
Juniper
Scrub oak
Mojave yucca
Cholla cactus
and many more.

Our day of exploration at the park was on National Public Lands day so we enjoyed an entry fee free day. The next fee free day at the parks is November 11, Veterans Day. As we continue our journey through this park, we were more amazed the further we went. The beauty, quiet, serene, and peaceful ora of the desert is intoxicating.

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Big Horn Sheep

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Barker Dam Hiking Trail

We were lucky enough to also spot some big horn sheep and capture them wandering around near the Barker Dam area of the park.

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Some of the key points of interest that you may wish to explore on your visit to Joshua Tree National Park are listed here:

⭐️Quail Springs
⭐️Keys Ranch
⭐️Barker Dam
⭐️Hidden Valley
⭐️Keys View
⭐️Ryan Mountain
⭐️Lost Horse Mine
⭐️Geology Road Tour
⭐️Cholla Cactus Garden
⭐️Cottonwood Spring
⭐️Indian Cove

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Joshua Tree   fitlifeandtravel.com

Barker Dam Trail

Check out the hiking trail at Barker Dam: a short, easy pleasant trail to the historical dam. And wow those boulders and rock formations are incredible!


Skull Rock Trail


Hidden Valley

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Hidden Valley Camping area

Camping is also allowed and the sites are located near impressive boulders and lovely trails, this particular site is located at Hidden Valley; this area was where a cattle rustlers hideout was.

Views throughout the park:

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Quiet, serene and peaceful surroundings.


Silver Bell Mine

Cholla Cactus Garden
This garden is comprised of jumping cholla, so you do need to be careful and cautious as you stroll this attraction. It is a bit mesmerizing as the endless number of cholla cactus dominate this particular area of the park.

The cholla cactus (jumping cholla) with its barbed spine, are known to attach to skin, fur, and clothing.

The day we tipped toe through this garden, a female in the group in front of us ended up with a cholla spine in her shoe, and it appeared to go all the way through the rubber sole of her shoe.

Another side note; be cautious of bees near and around the cholla cactus garden area.
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Here is a bit more information you should know before you visit Joshua Tree National Park:
1.There is no cell phone service in the majority of the park.
2.Stay away from abandoned mines.
3.Carry at least one gallon of water per person per day.
4.Flash floods are a danger; avoid drainage areas during and after thunderstorms
5.Do not climb unless you are properly trained and equipped. (Rock climbing is allowed).
6.Pets are prohibited on the trails and beyond 100 feet from any park road, campground, or picnic area.
7.Off-road driving is prohibited.
Some camping sites are available at a first come, first serve basis; visit www.recreation.gov to learn more. Campgrounds are usually full on the weekends from October through May. Check out the website to plan your next visit.

Joshua Tree National Park directions.
74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
760-367-5500
www.nps.gov/jotr

The desert may not be high on your list of places to see and visit, but Joshua Tree National Park may change your mind. It is incredible how this desert land teaches us about adaption as these animals, plants, and landscapes adapt to the summer 100 plus degree temperatures, relentless sun, and so little water. That is impressive in my book.

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Channel Islands NP: A Whale Of An Adventure

Channel Islands National Park might be one of the most under appreciated national parks of them all. Granted, there are still several national parks I have yet to visit, but Channel Islands has definitely been put on my ‘visit again’ bucket list.
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We had no expectations of this park and were open minded and excited to see something new. This national park is truly amazing and unique. So much natural beauty, landscapes, and pleasant surprises; like seeing a whale surrounded by a pod of dolphins and seagulls all in their natural habitat!

The Channel Islands are comprised of a total of 8 islands of which only 4 are included and designated as the national park. These four islands include San Miguel Island, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Cruz Island, and Anacapa Island. You must call ahead and plan your visit and tour either by boat or airplane concessioners that will take you to the islands. The national park visitor center is located nearby the Ventura Harbor where the boat excursions depart from. Ventura Harbor is also a visiting stop for the Hikiananalia California Voyage; a 2800 mile voyage from Hawaii to California using traditional old school non-instrument navigation.

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Ventura Harbor Channel Islands National Park

The several activities you can do on the islands include the following:

Swim
Snorkel
Hike, explore tidepools, beaches, & rugged canyons
Camp
Kayak
Sail

This is one of the top scuba diving sites in the world as well.

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Prisoners Harbor Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz is the island we chose to explore and go hiking. We also planned the extra tour of Painted Cave.  We called about a week prior to our visit and made our reservation and purchase on the catamaran boat operated by Island Packers, Inc. There is an additional fee for Painted Cave; and it was well worth it! Learn more about prices and trip info here: islandpackers.com

For this type of adventure, you need to plan and be prepared in advance for your day trip, which is the tour that we chose. We were informed to bring the following since there are no concessions, water, or supplies on the island.

Packed lunch and snacks

Enough water for entire day

Dress in layers, weather can be unpredictable

Bring needed supplements to minimize motion sickness if needed.

Bring hat, sunglasses, sunscreen

Do not feed any animals

We arrived early at the Ventura marina and checked in around 8:10 a.m., it’s recommended that you arrive early so you are not delaying the departure of the boat. The scheduled time to board the boat is about 9:15 a.m.

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Ventura, California

There were approximately 85-100 people on this excursion. The weather was windy and the seas were very rough due to the hurricane to the south of the area (near Mexico). The staff member who checked us in asked us if we were okay with rough waters and if we have issues with motion sickness. We told her, “guess we will find out.”

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Ventura Harbor Island Packers Inc. Catamaran

We departed on time and began the morning with a fun and exciting bumpy boat ride. It was about 30 minutes later, when several folks started to feel motion sickness, but the crew members were fantastic and continuously walked around the boat to check on people and helped anyone who needed it.

I admit, I was getting close to that sick feeling, but I turned on my mental power and made it to the island.

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The boat ride is about one and half hour long, and the passengers who did not purchase the additional tour were dropped off at Prisoners Harbor and those of us remained on the boat and continued onto Painted Cave. This ride was approximately an additional 30 minutes one way. All I can say is,.. this was well worth it!

Painted Cave

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Painted Cave

 

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Painted Cave looking back out to the ocean

Painted Cave is a magnificent site that is one of largest and deepest sea caves in the world! You will see multi colors of remnants of algae formed on rocks and is absolutely beautiful as it reflects off the blue-green waters.
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This was such an incredible experience to gently float into the cave and hear the quiet, serene environment with the breathtaking surroundings.

We spent about 20-30 minutes pondering within the cave, of which if the weather and waves are too strong, they do not go into the cave,. But on this day we were lucky enough to have been able to go deeper in the cave and capture some incredible photos.

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We continued on and returned to Prisoners Harbor on Santa Cruz Island and disembarked the boat and began our hiking journey.
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We began hiking the trail of Del Norte and found a picnic table setting at a perfect viewing point and spot for enjoying our lunch.


We hiked about 2 hours before we had to start heading back to the boat dock for boarding.

On the return boat ride, it was a much smoother more enjoyable ride the on the way to the island. And we got lucky again with an added bonus on this experience as we encountered a hump back whale and a swarm of dolphins and seagulls on a feeding frenzy. Photos by: My husband.

Humpback Whale

This was the most incredible thing to see! This made our trip to the Channel Islands one of the most amazing experiences we’ve had.

Exploring around the island was spectacular as we captured some of the features and beauty that make up Santa Cruz Island.


Channel Islands National Park exceeded our expectations no doubt! The thrill of traveling over water to unfamiliar land and exploring the unknown is exhilarating! The wildlife on the island migrated over on vegetation. These include mice and fox. Precautions are mentioned about avoiding all contact with any of the animals on the island. Learn more about his beautiful park at nps.gov/chis

Here is more information to plan your next trip to Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park   Directions
1901 Spinnaker Drive
Ventura, CA 93001
805-658-5730
www.nps.gov/chis

Island Packers, Inc.
1691 Spinnaker Drive, Suite 105 B
Ventura, CA 93001
805-642-1393
www.islandpackers.com

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