Anacapa Island (in the distance) from Scorpion Harbor at Santa Cruz Island
Channel Islands National Park was established in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter. The National Park upgraded and expanded the earlier Channel Islands National Monument established in 1938 by President Franklin Roosevelt. The Park protects five of the eight islands in the California Archipelago off the coast of southern California: Anacapa and Santa Barbara (which comprised the original National Monument), Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel. The Channel Islands, which were never connected to the mainland and are separated from the North American coast by deep underwater trenches, are called the American Galapagos because of their wealth of endemic species (at least 145 species of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet).
During the last Ice Age, when sea levels were much lower, the four northernmost islands (San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Anacapa) were connected as one huge island south of what is now the city of Santa Barbara. At that time, the distance from the mainland was much shorter, allowing mammals as big as mammoths and as small as mice to cross to the island. Birds, currents, and winds carried seeds to the island. After sea levels rose with the melting of the huge ice sheets, many of the species on the islands were cut off from both the mainland and the other islands, evolving into distinct species and subspecies.
Our friend Patrick’s year in Los Angeles on a Getty Fellowship was the ideal opportunity to visit Channel Islands National Park, particularly since the ferry dock was less than an hour from his apartment and (even more importantly) he was keen to join us for a day trip. Our voyage across the Santa Barbara Channel would be the conclusion of a larger eleven-day trip visiting Patrick, Disneyland, and Yosemite National Park.
Logistically, we knew that we wanted to avoid either Disneyland or Yosemite on weekends, and going over to one of the Channel Islands on a Saturday or Sunday worked best for Patrick. As planning for the larger trip solidified, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, our final full day in California, became the best option.
The only remaining question was which of the Islands we would visit.
On Saturday, May 28, we broke camp at Hodgdon Meadow Campground after four nights in Yosemite National Park. It was time to return to Patrick’s apartment in Los Angeles, and then on to other adventures in Channel Islands National Park the next day. Saying goodbye to Yosemite for the second time, I knew it would not be the last time. But likely our next visit will be with our kids someday.
Sean and I were back in Yosemite Valley around 3:30pm on Friday, May 27. We decided to see out the afternoon by going to the Valley Visitor Center and then taking a walk. My hope when planning the trip was that we’d spend one full day in the valley, perhaps parking the Jeep at Bridalveil Fall and then walking the trails all the way as far as Mirror Lake. That and any hikes up from the valley floor, such as Yosemite Falls Trail or the Mist Trail, were victims of Sean’s lingering cold. But he had been a trooper throughout the trip, and the late May weather was glorious, so we sallied forth to see something beautiful.
Pothole Dome and Tuolumne Meadows
It was the morning of Friday, May 27, and the National Park Service had reopened the Tioga Road through the Yosemite High Sierra. The road had originally opened for the season the week before, but a storm front that had passed through over the previous weekend had forced its closure. As the week had advanced, we’d waited for it to reopen. And then on our final full day in the Park, it did.
There was no question but that we would do a scenic drive along the Tioga Road. When I had been to Yosemite as a youth in July 1993, the northern part of the Park, including the famous road, had been closed because of a manhunt for an escaped convict. And with the delay in reopening the road, I’d almost missed seeing it again. But soon we were in the Jeep and ready for one of the most famous auto routes of the National Park system.
Image: Sean M. Santos
Go where you may within the bounds of California, mountains are ever in sight, charming and glorifying every landscape.
– John Muir, The Mountains of California (1894)
Along Big Oak Flat Road on May 26, after our day above the south rim of Yosemite Valley, we stopped to have a look at the wildflowers. The area the road passed through had burned in the late August/early September 2009 Big Meadows Fire. The fire, which began as a prescribed burn, escaped and burned 7,425 acres of mid-elevation forest west and north of Yosemite Valley.
In the seven years since the area was burned, a robust chaparral ecosystem has replaced what had been pine forest. The upshot is that this western section of Yosemite National Park, even at an elevation around 5,000 feet, feels like “California,” like the chaparral of Los Angeles or elsewhere in the state. There may be many high-elevation plant species that are the same as those found in the Rockies or the Cascades or Alaska even, but this chaparral was a reminder that Yosemite National Park is a California park and that these are the mountains of California.
Taft Point, Yosemite Valley, the Merced River, and El Capitan
We completed our hike to and from Sentinel Dome at about 3:15pm on Thursday, May 26 and immediately set off on a hike to Taft Point. Like the Sentinel Dome Trail, the trail to Taft Point was only 1.1 miles one way from the parking area. Unlike the route to Sentinel Dome, however, this trail descended about 320 to Taft Point. All told, between the two hikes, we covered 4.4 miles and a vertical rise of 860 feet. Not bad, particularly with Sean still feeling under the weather.