• Alexander Tucker

Little James Franco and the Miracle of Santa Cruz Island

Ferries to Santa Cruz, the largest island in California and most prominent of the Channel Islands, depart daily from Ventura. It holds esteem as a spectacularly beautiful site yet still remains accessible as one of the lesser traveled National Parks. Once maintained as ranching land it is now being returned to its natural state. As a runner and nature-lover this means one great thing, wide-open and private trails. Local friends had a packed schedule with visiting family so I was left with an open day and rushed to a 9am ferry departure. Cruising out of the harbor we had already set our sights on beautiful wildlife; a gathering of grinning sea lions sunning on a harbor bell. Further out, halfway into the channel, we saw spouts shooting and fins cresting, a sure sign of good and rare marine life. As we got closer we made out a pod of a half dozen Orca whales breaching and spouting not more than a stone's throw from the boat. It was an unexpected and most-welcome surprise. We spent 30 minutes following them as they broke the surface and slapped the water with their tales. The largest killer whale had a giant dorsal fin that kept rising out of the water while a baby Orca followed closely, holding to the pod, diving in protection behind its mother.

Continuing on to the island, we docked and set foot on the red sandy soil. I immediately felt like I had stepped back in time. A few post-colonial building structures still remained in the old harbor town but the most of the evidence of civilization had been removed. After stashing my bag in a lockbox I set off to explore the island the best way that I know how; running from one spectacular sight to the next, trying to squeeze in as much as the time allowed. Taking off for Scorpion's Anchorage I climbed to some some sweeping bayside views and then turned south to Smuggler's Cove. After a refreshing dip at the beach I turned back to the island's summit at Montanan Ridge; catching panoramic views in all directions. Following the trail back I turned down Scorpion Canyon and ran back to have a quick snack at camp. After opening up my small lunch I was joined by a small Santa Cruz Island fox, taking the seat opposite me at the picnic table. The fox population, once on the brink of extinction, has made a noble comeback. Judging by our 30 minutes together he was happy I made the visit to wish them well. I named him Little James Franco.

After our meal I figured I could squeeze in a few more miles before I Had to get back to the ferry to return home. I told Little James to wait for me and took off up the steep hill out of the Ranch towards Cavern Point, a cove on the northern facing bluffs. The ground was dry and alien on top of the ridge, cracking and spidering out like a salt flat. The angled vista offered a whole new vantage point and I could see clear west along the entire northern coastline to the setting sun off yonder.

All said and done, the 4 hour run brought me 14 miles around the eastern end of the island and to the summit of one of it's 2000' peaks. I changed into comfortable clothes and boarded the ferry for our departure. Midway between the island and the mainland we once again experienced a miracle. Our little vessel suddenly found itself surrounded by jumping, breaching, spouting dolphins; thousands upon thousands of them. Dolphins as far as the eye could see.

I arrived back on shore with sore legs, a new furry friend, and a deep sense of gratitude for a full and complete blessing.

#ChannelIslands #Trailrunner #Traveler #Explore #AmbitiousVagabond

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