Sunday, March 20, 2011

Santa Catalina Island

Avalon harbor on Santa Catalina Island
I am out in the Los Angeles area for two weeks of training for my new job. This has given me a free weekend to fill, so on Saturday morning I drove down to Dana Point and took the ferry over to Santa Catalina Island for the day. The island is a popular destination for sailors in this area, and I have been reading about it in Latitudes & Attitudes magazine for many years. It didn't disappoint.

The Catalina Express took about an hour and a half to cover the twenty-two miles to the island through sizable swells heaped up by a Pacific storm front that has been blowing in over the last few days. We docked in Avalon, the principal town on the island, and I immediately bought a ticket for the inland bus tour, figuring I would have plenty of time afterward to wander around Avalon. The tour bus took us briefly through town and then up the big hill that is visible above the ferry in the first photo. That's writer Zane Grey's home at the top of the cluster of houses extending up the hill, the clarion tower commissioned by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr.'s wife Ada further up the road, and of course the famous Casino at the far end of the harbor. (Click the photos for full-size views.)

Lone buffalo on Santa Catalina Island
The bus took us up the winding road, lined with eucalyptus trees, to a natural overlook, where we stopped to take photos. Further on, we spotted a lone buffalo. According to the tour guide, he is one of the descendants of fourteen buffalo brought to the island in 1924 for the filming of "The Vanishing American", based on Zane Grey's novel. We also spotted a pair of the island's native foxes, which were almost wiped out by a distemper epidemic in the mid-1990s. The turnaround point for the tour was the island's airport, a 3000-foot strip of asphalt and a control tower built by Mr. Wrigley to allow him to fly his DC-6 over from the mainland. There were commercial flights after World War II but only private pilots use the strip now.

Santa Catalina Island Yacht Club in Avalon
On our way back to Avalon, we were accompanied by two ravens flying next to the bus. The tour guide explained that another tour guide had found three raven chicks on his front porch one morning almost ten years ago. He named them Edgar, Allan and Poe, and raised them to adulthood. He released them at the airport, and they continue to live along the road that leads there. The airport sells really good chocolate chip cookies, and the tour guides have made it a habit to stop and share one with the ravens during each tour, which explains why two of them were flying next to us. Our guide was prepared, and he stopped the bus to toss a cookie to the expectant birds.

Old Ben statue in Avalon on Santa Catalina Island
Back in Avalon, I walked out to the Casino, which is not a place to gamble but rather a very large, circular ballroom. Behind it is a dive park, where people were scuba diving through the kelp right off the shore. I heard one diver comment that she had seen an enormous crab. On the way back around the harbor, I took a photo of the Santa Catalina Island Yacht Club building, which sits on stilts over the water. In the background, the house highest up the hill is the Wrigley's mansion. The final photo shows a statue of "Old Ben," a notoriously friendly seal who lived in the area in the early 1900s. Up on the hill behind the statue is a unique home with its own story, about a wealthy man who built it for his future wife to move into from the mainland, only to find that she had run off with another man. The wealthy man lived in the house as a bachelor until he died many years later. And he died happy, according to our tour guide.

If we should ever find ourselves sailing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, I would make it a point to spend some time on Santa Catalina Island. There is so much more I would like to explore than I had time for in my brief visit.


Volcanic24Flower said...

Sounds like you're already on an adventure John. You're descriptions open the mind to wondrous views of your stops along the way. I will return to your blog again. Heather Hawtrey

John Lichty said...

Thank you for your kind comments, Heather. Do you know if there are any plans for a 35-year high school reunion? See you on Facebook!