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An Adventure in Ventura
June 3-6Dear Diary and Friends and Family,
Written June 4+
A few months ago, Marianne went to a charity dinner of some sort and bid on a silent auction offering of a day trip to Anacapa, one of the Channel Islands, and a resort near Palm Desert. The resort will have to wait, but we managed to squeeze in a trip south to Ventura for the Anacapa excursion.
We chose to avoid the shorter route, via Highway 99, the most dangerous highway in the United States. Instead, we crossed the San Joaquin Valley on Highway 44, an almost as dangerous non-freeway, until it crossed Highway 33, the West Valley Highway. We did not know what to expect.
Initially, Highway 33 was flat, straight, and empty, really empty. This seemed like a better deal than 99, but maybe not a lot safer since boredom was now a threat.
An hour or so down the road, we started to see oil wells, lots of oil wells. The farther we went, the more wells and oil field equipment we saw. It was fascinating, after seeing so little of anything for so many miles.
South of McKintrick, just north of Taft, we saw both large modern "pump jacks" and "NMWSS #1", and old wooden machine, maybe 100 years older but of the same, basic walking-beam design. I could not find out what NMWSS stands for, but in researching that, I discovered the fields we passed by were part of the Teapot Dome scandal of the early 1920s where President Harding's Interior Secretary was convicted of bribery in awarding oil contracts from these then-federal lands. Of course, it reminded me of the current president and his oil-industry flunky, EPA Chairman Scott Pruit. Maybe another conviction?
From Taft, we turned up into the San Pedro National Forest, initially with hardly a tree in sight. What the drive lacked in trees, it made up in vistas of interior California. I especially liked the colors of the hills and sky backdrop to the Santa Barbara Highlands Winery vineyard. (left)
Alongside the road, if we went slow enough, we could see a variety of wildflowers. The best and most dramatic were ALWAYS where parking was impossible on the narrow, two-lane highway. Nevertheless, we stopped over and over to at least get enough pictures that we would remember both these and the ones we had to zoom past.
After the mountain pass, we wandered into Ojai (pronounced "oh hi" to the non-Californians in the audience.) It was a cute little town, with plenty of art and home decoration shops, always a family attraction. No pictures, except this failed attempt at a selfie. Fortunately, a passerby took pity on us and snapped a regular tourist shot. Thanks.
A half hour later, we arrived at our chosen accommodation: The Boatel" in Ventura Harbor. We chose this AirBnB option because it was close to the pier for our boat ride to Anacapa and because it sounded interesting. So far, "interesting" is the key word. More stories after our full stay.
On Monday, I was up early on a cool, gray morning, not exactly Southern California perfect weather. The first night on our "boatel" was fine, the bed was comfy and all the noise from nearby bars and restaurants was all gone by 10pm. And there are no other people staying on boats nearby, so it was like we had this corner of the harbor to ourselves.
I wandered around to look at nearby boats, a mix of private sail and motor cruisers and several work boats, including a large seine fishing rig that reminded me of Petersburg, Alaska, several decades ago. That was a harbor where cool and gray was normal. I also saw the large motor catamarans that would take us out to Anacapa on Tuesday. Reassuringly big boats.
But Monday would be a land excursion, to the Santa Barbara Zoo, about a half-hour up the coast. Two day passes had been part of the charity auction Marianne had picked up and I figured I am always up for a little photo safari practice.
The SB Zoo started out as a simple petting zoo on the grounds of a wealthy donor. It is still fairly small, but very nicely done, with elaborate grounds and enough birds and animals to distract kids and photographers.
We started with birds: a colorful Chinese Duck, a pair of equally bright Macaws, and a puffy bird named, I think, a Heart Bird.
The Chilean Flamingos enjoyed parading around, except for one guy who was eating bugs off the flowers, upside down. The three little black birds were raising a racket from their perch. Talking about tourists, I think.
Elsewhere, a pair of White Handed Gibbons were hanging around their island home, either climbing in the trees or just lounging on the sunny bridge. I think they also enjoyed performing for visitors.
Over in the "rain forest", a Chinese Alligator was keeping an eye on us too. Sometimes.
This cute little turtle was also looking up at everyone who passed and there was even an uncaged bunny that seemed comfortable with crowds.
The Poison Dart frogs are colorful to warn predators that eating can be dangerous.
A little tree frog made me think of Jabba the Hut, smaller but just as blobby.
The SB Zoo has a number of large predators, including a regal Golden Eagle and four pretty ugly Condors. These are all injured birds, so their lives will be spent here at the zoo.
I think we were just being kids on this trip, so we HAD to take the train ride. We squeezed into kiddie-size seats and rode the entire loop.
At the end of the visit, we stopped by the kitchen where almost 300 daily meals are prepared. The fruits looked fine, but I'm not sure about the squirming grubs.
On the way out, we posed for pictures with the zoo's mascot gorilla. Just like all kids should.
We finished the day with a walk through downtown Ventura (cute enough) and dinner back in our boat neighborhood (good enough.) Overnight, the boatel was as comfy as before, but we had to admit we were nervous about our upcoming boat ride and day-long hike. As seniors, new things make us nervous.
Early Tuesday our harbor quiet was disturbed, a little, by a neighbor boat loading up with divers getting ready for an excursion somewhere. I don't think that would be my idea of fun, what with the cold, gray skies and cold water. To each their own.
We started our day with breakfast at the Harbor Bar and then walked over to Island Packers for our trip to Anacapa Island. Island Packers, the National Park Service concessionaire for water transport to the Channel Islands, has been run by the Connally family for 50 years. The family business started with a single dilapidated Word War II converted navy launch and has expanded to their current fleet of four modern motor catamarans running from Ventura and Oxnard.
We boarded on our chilly morning and chose the chilliest seats on the boat - better for pictures. Marianne is a good sport as a photographer's assistant!
The captain deftly maneuvered the boat away from the dock at precisely 9:30, the published departure time. Timeliness is apparently a feature of Island Packers and they are proud of it!
On the way out of the harbor, before the boat sped up to its 20 knot cruise speed, we passed a great coastal pine tree and some of our first birds: brown pelicans that had covered jetty rocks with their white paint. We would see a lot of this paint.
As we approached Anacapa, bare rock cliffs and the classic light house gradually appeared out of the fog. Our harbor neighbors had already reached their dive location among the kelp beds. Reports are that the water is filled with colorful fish, but it just looked like a cold, dangerous hobby to me.
Getting onto Anacapa is tricky. The boat noses up against the dock at Landing Cove and passengers disembark, one at a time, over the boat-to-dock gap and up the rusty ladder. I think Marianne had worried about this process from when she first heard about it, but she handled it like an old salt.
From the dock, it was 157 steps up the vertical walls. Good, sturdy steps, for sure, but heights are not a favorite of ours.
Our landing group was briefed by a NPS volunteer before we could be released to wander the island. Her emphasis was on protecting the fragile nature of the wildlife, specifically the nesting grounds of the 10,000 Western Gulls. She cautioned that even walking on the paths required care as the gulls would nest right next to where our feet would land. We would spend the next four hours being careful.
The first recorded wreck on Anacapa was the December 1853 crash of the Winfield Scott. Because of the difficulty in building on the island, it was 60 years before an unmanned light was erected and only in 1932 was a modern lighthouse built and initially manned by an eight-man crew. The lighthouse is now fully automatic and the only residents are wildlife and NPS rangers who stay a few days at a time. The relatively large, two-story building holds the camp's water supply, brought in by supply boats to this desert island. (Visitors need to bring in all the water they need.)
Nesting gulls are the wildlife that draw the most attention on Anacapa, but there are more than that. Down on the rocky beaches, brown seals warm up after feeding in the cold waters.
The Brown Pelicans that nest on West Anacapa were threatened with extinction in the early 1970s due to egg cracking from DDT poisoning, but have recovered in the years since prohibition of the pesticide.
Other birds, such as this cormorant, nest in the caves along the island walls, safe from most predators. Our tour guide said there are a pair of eagles in the caves by Inspiration Point, but they only come out to feed, often on the gull chicks. Apparently, when eagles are in the air, the entire gull adult population flies up, screaming, to discourage them.
Despite getting only a few inches of rain each year, and even less in the last six years, plant life covers the island. The fog provides enough moisture, particularly for ice plant that was introduced during the lighthouse construction to stabilize the soil. Now the Park Service is trying to irradicate introduced species in favor of native vegetation. It seems like an impossible job.
In less than an hour, we were turning back into Ventura harbor. And what was our overall impression? A great trip, despite the cool, gray day. We had learned about Channel Island birds and history. Spending a day without much food or water was easier than we had thought. Being yelled at by 10,000 bird-parents was tougher.
For dinner, we tried the Greek restaurant that the Boatel owner had recommended. The flaming cheese was surprisingly good and the rest was good enough. The harbor where we were tied up had about a dozen restaurants and we had now tried three. I'm not sure any were remarkable, but all were "good enough".
And the Boatel experience? It too was good enough. The location was very convenient for our trip out to the Channel Islands. There were plenty of eating and drinking places at our doorstep. The boat was quiet at night and the bed comfortable. The shower was so small I had to bend the door to squeeze in. The boat interior was cluttered, especially if one opened any of the various shelves and cupboards. Not a problem, exactly, just a departure from a hotel or "regular" AirBnB stay. Would we recommend it? For the island trip convenience, sure. For the novelty, probably. For a repeat? Probably not.
And it will provide stories, the purpose of any travel.
For Wednesday, we could choose a direct drive home or one more overnight on the coast. We opted for a coast drive up to Cambria, a favorite cooling off destination during our Fresno summers.
Since we had plenty of time, we went as much on side roads as we could. The roadway was split between farmlands and the type of hug-the-coast twisty paths that car commercials are filmed on.
We stopped in Lompoc, just to see what was there, and were impressed with a darling downtown that showed tons of civic pride. It seemed every blank wall had a mural of some sort and empty lots had been turned into mini-parks. If we could only get Fresno to follow suit, albeit on a much larger scale.
We were headed to Cambria, an hour north of Lompoc. For us, Cambria is a known and, after the Boatel, we were ready for the known, especially the small hotel we headed to. (More later). Cambria, too, is a pretty darn cute little coastal village, one we have considered for home after our Fresno time is over. It has a cool climate, good for me but perhaps not what Marianne would prefer.
Since we had visited several times before, we passed on the bigger tourist destinations, Moonstone Beach and Hearst Castle, in favor of The Vault Gallery and a few of the kitschy little shops. The offerings at the Gallery are very nice, but above our price range. We are still considering ordering a living room light from Cinnabar. That's the expensive part about Cambria, there is always something we NEED.
For us, however, the main attraction this time was J. Patrick House, our small hotel. A big part of disappointment about the Ventura Boatel was an absence of attention-to-detail. J. Patrick House is completely at the other end of the attention-to-detail spectrum. As a matter of fact, I can not remember any place we have stayed (home excepted) where the details are so thoroughly covered. Anywhere.
One special feature is the 5:30 hosted reception with exceptional wine and hors d'oeuvres, generous enough that it serves as our dinner. Even better than the food and drink, it is an opportunity to chat with owner Linda and chief fixer Ron, as well as with other guests. Truly exceptional hospitality.
The next morning, I was up before breakfast time, as usual, so I wandered around snapping pictures of the hotel. The main building is one of the oldest in Cambria but most rooms are in a more modern addition in back.
And, for my early morning routine of writing these diaries, the setting is perfect.
Breakfast was also special, with Linda serving something excellent every day. She claimed a certain fame for the best breakfasts in the area and we would agree. No pictures, since we were too busy eating.
We will be back.
The three hour drive back across "The Valley" was as uneventful as we could hope for and our Fresno home was as welcoming as always. The weather was just pleasantly warm, not the triple-digit hot that will arrive shortly. Oh well, we can always go back to Cambria.
We have a trip up to Portland later in June, but who knows what might happen before that. We'll see.
John and Marianne
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