Buffalo, eagles and wolves. You expect to see these in our national parks. Garibaldis -- not so much. Yet, the waters were teaming with the curious creatures my son likened to clown fish in "Finding Nemo." Like a giant aquarium, fish were darting through the kelp as we bobbed on the surface above.
Kayaking off the Channel Islands connects you with nature like no other activity on earth. Despite the mainland's dense population, (10 million people live less than 90 minutes away by boat) this string of five islands is one of the most remote destinations in our National Park system. On Anacapa, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, you can be alone. Really alone.
Or not. I once paddled into a cave off Anacapa and was greeted by a boisterous sea lion. He was sprawled across a lava rock shelf under a craggily overhang -- acting like he owned the place.
For many rare animals and seabirds, this kind of island ownership is critical for breeding. In fact, 145 species of flora and fauna are found here, and nowhere else on earth. And because this is also a National Marine Sanctuary, the Channel Islands get more funding than most National Parks.
Much of the settlement from a 2001 oil spill went to rid Anacapa of a serious pest -- the black rat. The non-indigenous invaders were raiding the nests of the Scripps's Murrelet and Ashy Storm-Petrel, not to mention large colonies of California brown pelicans and deer mice. After years of research and cautious implementation, the rats were eradicated and native species are once again thriving.
The Channel Islands offer solitude and a spiritual connection to both land and sea. Surrounded by ocean and battered by wind and the waves, they are refuge to God's most vulnerable creatures.
On the islands, you can hike among wildflowers sprouting from the rich, volcanic soil. You can camp overnight with the stars as your blanket and the surf as your white noise. Or, like us, you can kayak in sea caves and snorkel in forests of kelp. Swimming with "Nemo" may just be the National Park experience your son never forgets.
Island Packers takes visitors to all five Channel Islands: www.islandpackers.com/
Channel Island Outfitters offers activities including sea cave kayaking: www.channelislandso.com/
Holiday Inn Express has close access and sweeping views of Ventura Harbor: www.hiexpress.com