Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park in California is yet another island park. I wish they had chosen another name. When I hear “Channel Islands” I think of Guernsey and Jersey, not Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. Oh well, they never consult me about these things.

We had one day to visit the park, and on a one-day trip it is possible to visit only one island. We chose Anacapa because the closest and smallest seemed to be a good choice for our first trip. It turned out to be an excellent choice. The boat leaves from Ventura, and once I got the song Ventura Highway out of my head, it was a great day for a boat ride. The big excitement of the trip was when we saw hundreds of dolphins and birds in a feeding frenzy at a spot where the dolphins had found some fish.

Anacapa Island is actually three islands, East, Middle, and West. The boat goes to East Anacapa Island, and there is a long flight of steps up from the dock. On this end of the island there is a lighthouse. The island is rather small, only a mile or so long and not very wide. The views are spectacular, as the island’s surface is several hundred feet above the surrounding ocean. There are huge swaths of beautiful wildflowers and many birds, seals, and sea lions. There is plenty of time to enjoy the scenery because the boat drops you off for about four hours, and hiking around the island takes a fraction of that time. At the west tip is Inspiration Point, from which there is an excellent view of Middle and West Anacapa Islands.

The different islands have different characteristics, and I would definitely like to return and try some of the others.

My visit: March 2005

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Return of the Sisteri

In my previous post I was talking about how good The Barefoot Sisters: Southbound is. I have now finished reading their second book, The Barefoot Sisters: Walking Home. It chronicles their return trip from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail after having completed the southbound journey in the first book. This is known as yo-yoing in AT parlance. It is a good read, but I did not enjoy it quite as much as the first book. Southbound seemed well balanced between the trail itself and the social aspects of hiking, such as meeting people and going to town to eat and sleep.  Walking Home is skewed towards the social aspect. This is not necessarily bad, but I prefer the balance of the first book. I recommend Walking Home, but you will definitely want to read Southbound first. If only there were a third book...

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Barefoot Sisters

The Appalachian Trail, officially the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, is a 2,175-mile hiking trail stretching from Maine to Georgia. It is the fantasy of many hikers to through-hike the entire trail. It usually remains a fantasy for two reasons. First, two thousand miles is not a distance to be trifled with. Second, most people have jobs and/or family responsibilities that do not allow them to take six or more months off to complete the hike. Luckily for us, many people who are able to do it write books about it. It is much easier, quicker, and cheaper to hike the trail from your La-Z-Boy. It also makes your wife much happier.

An outstanding example of such a book is The Barefoot Sisters: Southbound, by Lucy and Susan Letcher, a.k.a the Barefoot Sisters, a.k.a. Isis and jackrabbit. In this book, they hike from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia in about eight months. They encounter weather ranging from bright sun to raging blizzards and emotions from joy to despondency. They meet interesting characters on and along the trail. They have good days and bad. Above all, they tell their story in a very well-written and interesting manner. The book switches between Isis' and jackrabbit's point of view in a continuous narrative. The best compliment I can give it is that it is the type of book that will make you long to hike the trail yourself.

To make matters even better, the last words of the book are "To be continued..." Yes folks, as they approached Georgia they decided to hike back to Maine when they finished, or yo-yo. The second book, The Barefoot Sisters: Walking Home is on its way to me even as I write this. I can't wait.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida is another island park. It is in the Florida Keys, well past Key West, and consists of several islands and quite a bit of ocean. Fort Jefferson, a mid-19th century fort, takes up most of Garden Key. Appropriately, the former name of the park is Fort Jefferson National Monument. A visit to the fort makes a fine day trip from Key West. There are two ways to get there from Key West: boat or seaplane. The boat has the advantage of being cheaper, but the seaplane ride was well worth the extra money. It was much faster, and the view was great - we saw sharks and rays in the water and the approach to Fort Jefferson was magnificent. Also, it was cool being in a seaplane.

Fort Jefferson is unlike any other fort I've been to. Most forts in the Great Lakes area are either rebuilt, restored, or maintained. Fort Jefferson is something of a ruin. Some of the mortar is missing, large sections of brick are falling off the walls, and stalactites hang from the ceilings of the corridors. One of the best features of the fort is the multitude of arches, a favorite subject for photographs. Garden Key is not much bigger than the fort, so it seems as if the fort were rising right out of the ocean. There is an ocean view through all the openings, and the water is a sparkling blue.

There is quite a bit of wildlife at Dry Tortugas. The crystal-clear water contains both coral and fish. Snorkeling is popular there, but not really necessary - you can see a fair bit right from the moat wall. There are also tons of birds. Magnificent Frigatebirds circled the fort and gulls and other birds squawked on nearby Bush Key.

My visit: April 1999

Friday, April 9, 2010

Isle Royale National Park

Only people who really want to go to Isle Royale National Park in Michigan go there. As an island in Lake Superior, it is one of the more isolated National Parks. It is often said that more people visit Yellowstone in a day than visit Isle Royale in a year.  It takes quite a bit of time and money to get there, even if you are already in the area. For the boat ride and one night in the lodge, we spent $500. Moreover, if you do not want to hike, there is not much point in going. There is no single “must-see” sight in the park, but rather it is a place of quiet wilderness. Other than the lodge and a few facilities at Rock Harbor, the island consists of trees, rocks, water, moose, wolves, and backpacking trails. The Greenstone Trail, traversing the length of the island, is well-known among backpackers, and Isle Royale is something of a backpacker’s paradise.  Backpackers, of course, do not have to worry about the cost of the lodge. Money and time aside, it is a thrill to take a boat across Lake Superior, the greatest of the Great Lakes. It is an even bigger thrill to be on a wilderness island in the lake.

The usual way to get to Isle Royale is by boat, though you can also take a seaplane. From Michigan, you can start in either Houghton or Copper Harbor. The trip from Copper Harbor to Rock Harbor on a commercial boat takes three and a half hours. The trip from Houghton on a park service boat is noticeably longer, though the drive is shorter. I like Copper Harbor and I really did not want to spend six hours in the boat each way, so the decision to leave from Copper Harbor was quite easy for me. Additionally, on the way there you pass by the Jampot, where monks sell muffins that must weigh five pounds each. On the subject of food, another attraction of Copper Harbor is the Harbor Haus Restaurant. You can also get to Isle Royale from Grand Portage, Minnesota. The trip is only about two and a half hours, but it goes to Windigo on the western tip of the island. If you want to get to Rock Harbor, you have to sail the length of the island, and the trip takes seven hours.

After arriving in Rock Harbor, orienting ourselves, and eating lunch, we started hiking the Tobin Harbor Trail to the Mount Franklin Trail, a ten-mile round trip. For a while, the hike was not so great. The trees on Isle Royale are not very good looking, and frankly, the trail was ugly. However, we came upon a pretty little beaver pond, which improved things considerably. All grumbling was dispelled upon reaching the top of Mount Franklin. It is perhaps the best view this side of Glacier National Park, and it opens up suddenly. We could see the island below us, Lake Superior beyond that, and then on the Ontario coast was the Sleeping Giant. The Sleeping Giant was a particular thrill for me, since I had seen the other side of it when I was up in Thunder Bay several years before. To top things off, we saw a moose standing offshore in Tobin Harbor on the way back.

The Rock Harbor Lodge is right on the edge of the water, and we could hear the water through our window as we went to sleep. The reflection of the moon on the water was beautiful.  It is not the nicest lodge we have stayed in, but it probably has the best location. The next morning we hiked to Scovill Point, a five-mile round trip. It is the end of the spit that separates Rock Harbor and Tobin Harbor. This was a nice walk in the woods with good views of Lake Superior. Fresh dew covered many of the plants. The point itself is pretty much solid rock with very little soil. If you have ever been to the coast of Maine, you will feel right at home on Isle Royale. After a final lunch at the lodge, we took the boat back to Copper Harbor. As we approached the town, the anticipation mounted; the Harbor Haus staff traditionally does a can-can for the returning boat. Sure enough, they all ran out and danced for us - a fun way to return to civilization.

One last thing - Royale is pronounced as Royal, not Roy-AL.

My visit: August 2008