Shenandoah National Park: Flying to the Blue Ridge

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Black Swallowtail (female) on Common Milkweed

On Friday, July 29, Sean and I took an 11:49am flight from Chicago, which landed at 2:38pm in Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville, in the Virginia Piedmont east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is both the home of Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia and the gateway city to Shenandoah National Park. We had chosen Charlottesville rather than one of the Washington, D.C. airports because it was closer to the heart of the Park, less busy than D.C., and had comparatively inexpensive flights.

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Shenandoah National Park: Planning

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Fog-shrouded Shenandoah Valley from Hawksbill Summit

To celebrate the National Park Service centennial year, Sean and I had decided to calibrate our park journey so that by the end of the year, we’d have been to the same parks. Next up on the list was a weekend in Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I had briefly visited the Park in the summer of 2001 on a road trip, but now it was time for a proper visit.

The long, narrow 200,000-acre Park, which had been established in 1935, traces the crest of the Blue Ridge, offering Appalachian peaks as high as 4,000 feet and rolling easterly vistas of the Virginia Piedmont and westerly views of the picturesque Shenandoah Valley.

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Channel Islands National Park: Returning to the Mainland

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Brown Pelicans, Bottlenose Dolphins, and Anacapa Island

Our ferry would be leaving Santa Cruz Island at 4pm on Sunday, May 29, 2016, and all too soon it was time to board. And the next day we would return to Chicago, concluding a ten-day trip to California that had included visiting Patrick, going to Disneyland, and camping at Yosemite National Park.

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Channel Islands National Park: Along the Shore of Scorpion Anchorage, Santa Cruz Island

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Western Gull

It was about 2:45pm on on Sunday, May 29, and we had about 45 minutes to an hour left on Santa Cruz Island before Patrick, Sean, and I would have to board the ferry that would take us back across the Santa Barbara Channel to Ventura. So we decided to stay close to the beach at Scorpion Anchorage from which passengers were being ferried in dinghies to the actual ferry because the pier had been damaged in a storm.

We explored the rocky shoreline east toward Scorpion Rock.

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Channel Islands National Park: The Little Foxes

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Back at Scorpion Ranch on the afternoon of May 29, 2016, Sean and Patrick and I went in search of more little foxes like those we’d seen in the morning before we’d set off on our hike.

The Santa Cruz Island Fox is one of six subspecies endemic to the Channel Islands of southern California. Although they are descended from the Gray Fox on the mainland, over thousands of years of isolation on the islands, the foxes have grown much smaller. They measure only about two feet from nose to tail, about the size of a house cat, and they weigh only three to six pounds. The six subspecies also differ from each other in terms of tail length, muzzle shape, and coloration.

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Channel Islands National Park: Overland to Cavern Point, Santa Cruz Island

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Candleholder Dudleya (Liveforever) (endemic to the northern Channel Islands)

It was the afternoon of May 29, 2016, and our hike on the eastern end of Santa Cruz Island continued. Sean, Patrick, and I had already hiked from Scorpion Canyon out to the Potato Harbor Overlook. Now after picnicking there, we continued on our five-mile loop hike that would lead us to the top of Cavern Point and then back to Scorpion Canyon via a different route. Along the way we were afforded great views from the island’s three hundred foot high cliffs against the backdrop of a persistent marine layer over the Santa Barbara Channel.

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Channel Islands National Park: Overland to Potato Harbor, Santa Cruz Island

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Common Raven

After our first encounter with the Santa Cruz Island Fox (on May 29, 2016), Patrick, Sean, and I set off on a hike to the cliffs above Potato Harbor. We would combine this hike with a return past Cavern Point, creating a pleasant, five-mile loop hike on the eastern edge of Santa Cruz Island, where the undulating landscape is slowly recovering from over a century of intensive ranching, including acres in crops and pastureland.

The plant species of eastern Santa Cruz Island are a mixture of common southern California coastal species, endemic species found only on Santa Cruz Island or some combination of the Channel Islands, common wild invasive species from the mainland, and purposefully cultivated invasive species leftover from the island’s ranching history The animal species tend toward the native, since the wild hogs and sheep and other domesticated animals have been removed. The removal of these farm animals has allowed the island flora to begin to recover after a century of grazing.

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