Saturday, March 14, 2009

Whale Watching around Catalina Island

Last Sunday the American Cetacean Society (the whale society) of Orange County sponsored a whale watching trip around Catalina Island. The Catalina Flyer from Newport came over to Avalon on it's normal run and instead of being on a mooring all afternoon in Avalon, it took a cruise around the island looking for whales. It was a great deal for Catalina residents - only $35 plus it was narrated by whale experts and by Aaron, a wonderful naturalist from the Catalina Conservancy. Most of the 3rd grade class at Avalon School got to go - for many it was their first trip around the island.

The boat was a bit late in arriving but once we were on board we headed south, past Lover's Cove toward Pebbly Beach and past the quarry. Our first stop was Seal Rocks. Now I'm not sure why they call it Seal Rocks since the California sea lion hangs out here, but I guess a pinniped is a pinniped. The sea lions are curious so before long a gang of them came close to the boat, checking us out.

We eventually cruised on and ran into porpoises everywhere! Very cool. Some came right close to the boat and in the clear water you can see them streaming alongside. Others were leaping out of the water in groups of 2 or 3. Almost everywhere you looked, you could spot them.

Then we saw a blow! (Thar she blows!) And we're off in search of the gray whales. Gray whales migrate from Alaska to their mating and calving waters in Baja every fall and head back to Alaska every spring. From January to March is the best time to find them in the waters around Catalina. About 90% of them are on the outside - the backside of Catalina - and about 10% of them head inside in their northern journey - between Catalina and the mainland - going by Avalon. They are big - about 45 feet for an average adult and they weigh 30-40 tons.

We ended up seeing quite a few gray whales - more than we had expected. It was amazing to think they they are traveling such distances. They were certainly on a beeline to Alaska. They come up, blow, and you can see the bulks of their backs, and then they head back down with a classic whale tail dissolve.

As we continued around the island, many in the boat spotted one whale breaching just outside of Two Harbors. I missed it of course, but I did see the splash.

We also saw more porpoise and even bald eagles - in fact we got close enough to see a bald eagle nest - with an eagle cam close by sending pictures of the eagles (and soon to be eaglets) across the internet.

We were back in Avalon by about 3pm. All in all it was a great way to spend an day! Cruising the coastline of Catalina in search of whales. Thanks to the American Cetacean Society for sponsoring the trip. They do it every year in March. We'll do it again!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Yacht Regatta Finishes in Avalon Harbor

Dateline: Avalon, Catalina Island. What's great about living high on the hill on Catalina Island is that you get to observe what's happening below -in the town and harbor. Arthur calls it being "a spy in the sky." It's like being a voyeur in your own town; it's the ever constantly changing TV.

Mostly we sit out on the deck and watch the harbor. It's always fun to watch the harbor fill up for the weekend. This Saturday late afternoon there was a regatta finishing up just outside the harbor, near Casino Point. We watched a 35-40 foot red-hulled foot boat, which we later found out was called the Pendragon, coming in on a long port tack. From the corner of my eye I caught another boat (T N T) coming in from Lover's Cove, that tacked and headed toward the finish line also - also on a port tack. At the finish line, both boats were neck and neck toward the line. After watching Pendragon for 20 minutes on a beeline to the end, TNT snuck across the finish line just a boat length ahead of the Pendragon. I'm sure Pendragon wasn't happy. But as yachtees, I'm sure everything is forgiven at the bar afterwards.

About 15-20 boats continued coming in for the next 2 hours. Many boats came in with their colorful billowing spinnakers. Just beautiful to watch. The Marina del Rey Flyer boat arrived in Avalon just as the middle of the pack boats were finishing up and had to maneuver though them to get to the dock. As the sun set about 5:15pm over the Bay, there was little to no wind in the harbor but about 10 boats were still on their way to the harbor.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Catalina Island's Interior and Two Harbors (Part 3)

It's on to Two Harbors on Catalina Island. Just the anticipation of the view of the town and the coastline from above is breathtaking. It's our favorite spot on the island. If you ever want a place to get away with no phones, no TV - just rest and relaxation, along with scenic beauty - this is it. Only 1 lodging spot (the Banning House with it's 12 rooms and rustic serene ambiance), 1 campground, 1 restaurant, 1 bar, 1 grocery store. It's also a very popular boating spot.

But today we only are stopping in for lunch and a quick walk from one beach, across the Isthmus, to the beach on the other side. Two Harbors is also called the Isthmus, which in geography speak is the narrowest point of land - and you can literally see two harbors - Catalina Harbor on the windward side and Two Harbors is on the leeward side. In this case, the isthmus is only abut 1/2 mile wide, so it makes for a quick walk. And we sadly depart.

Heading back to Avalon we see more buffalo - one big male by the stables. A bike rider rides by on the road about the same time the buffalo is walking by. The bike rider speeds up to get past and the buffalo pays him no mind.
On the way home we take the other road back which goes past some beautiful beaches - Cottonwood and Ben Weston - and continue on through Middle Ranch.

We stop at the Catalina island fox home of Tachi. Tachi was the runt of the litter and abandoned by his mom and during his caring was imprinted on humans and could not be returned to the wild. He is now an ambassador to saving the native island species. Tachi was out (normally they are nocturnal) so we were happy to see him and his caretaker - Julie. At one time the tiny foxes numbered only 100 on the island. and were classified as endangered. Now they number over 700.

We pass Middle Ranch with it's stables and the Catalina Island Conservancy's nursery and maintance yard. About a dozen families live out here and work for the Conservancy. I didn't realize it but the Conservancy maintians about 200 miles of road throughout the interior of the island.

Pimu, the bald eagle has a home in Middle Ranch area also and you can stop to see him. Bald eagles live on Catalina and there are a number of nesting pairs. They are gradually making their way back after the DDT incident a number of years ago. There was already a small bus there and since our friend is from Alaska, he's seen bald eagles numerous times before so we didn't stop.
Soon we join up with the road that leads to the Airport and back to Avalon and in no time we're winding back down the steep hilly road - back home to Avalon. All in all it was a great day in Catalina Island's interior.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Catalina's Interior - Part Two - On to Two Harbors

Back to the Airport in the Sky...
We watch the planes come in and there must have been a flying club coming in because there were small airplanes in a pattern, coming in one right after the other. We saw about 10-12 land in about a 30 minute time period. Never realized the airport was so busy. There’s a bit of an interpretive center there and a short botanical trail as well as a huge tile map of the island. It’s really cool to show people where they started out and where they’ve been. Most people are surprised to see how big the island is. There’s also a small gift shop with some very nice stuff – as well as a restaurant with indoor and outside patio seating – which overlooks the mountains of the island – very nice.

Also there is a short (less than ½ mile both ways) interpretive trail down to the steatite soapstone quarry. It’s the first time we’ve hiked down there and it was a bit anti-climatic when you got there but there are some rocks that the natives had started to carve out their soapstone bowls. Soapstone is very soft rock so it’s fairly easy to carve. This trail intersected the Airport Loop Trail as well as the Trans-Catalina Trail.

Continuing on to Two Harbors we saw our first buffalo. It was a lone male on the hill. Lots of time you can see a herd by the airport but it's always amazing to see the buffalo. The juxtaposition of them by the surf is an incredible sight.

We went through Rancho Escondido - which means Hidden Ranch. It's a gorgeous spot in a bit of a hollow and a beautiful spot for a ranch. It's where the Wrigley's raised Arabian horses. There are stables with boarded horses and a number of territorial stucco buildings and recently planted vineyards. There's also a small museum that you stop at on the tours that displays some beautiful saddles and trophies won as well as carriages and stage coaches.

Climbing out of Rancho Escondido we spot more buffalo. Very cool.

On to the scenic overlook. You couldn't find a more beautiful spot on the island, overlooking Shark Harbor and Two Harbors (with the rock formation called the Whales Tail between them) and in the distance the entrance to Catalina Harbor. Of course we have to get out and soak in the view.

Off to Little Harbor - one of the islands 5 or 6 scenic campgrounds. Parking the car and walking through the campground we head to the beach. The recent rains have made the low land before the beach a muddy/sandy mess but we get thru it with a minimum of slides. The beach is wide and a bit rocky. Our friend heads over to the tidepools while we search the beach for flat rocks to skip in the surf. I hate to leave but we're getting hungry - it's way past noon.
The terrain after Little Harbor turns very desert like and lots of prickly pear - very different than the scrub and small trees on part of the island we just drove through. We round a corner and there's the coastline and Two Harbors - just spectacular!

Next up... the small community of Two Harbors.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Into the Catalina Interior

We had a friend come in this weekend from Alaska. He’s been to Catalina a couple times before but he hadn’t been into the interior – didn’t really know it existed, which is pretty typical of lots of visitors to Catalina. So, that's where we decided to go.

We don’t get into the interior of the island very much. Maybe once every 8 months – so it’s a big treat for us to take a day and go see the views and look for the island buffalo and fox.

We borrowed a car and just after leaving Avalon, head up the winding steep road into the interior. East twist and turn takes you farther away from the "civilization" of Avalon and offers better and better views of town and the hills and the surrounding ocean.

Our first stop was our neighbors’ garden just at the top of the mountain road, past the reservoir. All visitors are welcome to stroll along the gardens' trail as long as you close the gate. He painstakingly and lovingly takes care of the beautiful tear-drop shaped area that is planted with a number of native endemic plants. Many of the plants are identified along the trail so you can learn the names. Some of the plants are in flower and at least 3 gorgeous red-headed hummingbirds were vying for the flowers. There was also a ruf0us-sided towhee scratching, as they always do in the bushes. There are benches on the perimeter of the garden, overlooking the sea. It’s a very contemplative and serene spot.

We passed Haypress Picnic Area and it’s really recovering nicely after the fire we had on the island in May of 2007. The Lions Club of Avalon have taken care of the picnic area. There are some new Torrey Pines and 3 Catalina Cherries that have been planted recently. The small pond is pretty full and the playground equipment, which was not burned in the fire, is being used by a family having a picnic.

Soon after we come across the new Trans-Catalina Trail sign. We stopped again and really couldn’t discern exactly where the trail goes. It officially opens in April so it doesn’t look like there’s been a whole lot of people hiking on it yet. We saw a few other trail signs along the road – but again – couldn’t really tell where the trail was. It’ll be nice feature to the island though, enabling people to hike from one side of the island to the other.

Next stop – the Airport in the Sky...stay tuned

Friday, February 20, 2009

Unique Catalina Island golf cart

I think the owner of this golf cart also owns a fire extinguisher business and has a bright red 1950s vintage Chevy pickup truck.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Crazy people on the beach

There's a cruise ship in the Avalon harbor today. Usually this one isn't here on Wednesdays but because of the bad weather (we had a big winter storm on Monday), the Monday ship - the Carnival Elation - came in for the very first time on Tuesday. And the Tuesday ship, the Carnival Paradise, came in today.

The ship must have passengers from someplace cold and snowy like Alaska, Iceland or Maine. There are a couple of kids in swimsuits frolicking on the beach. It's 54 degrees at our place!!! No ice on the shoreline, but the water temp has to be less than 60 degrees. Those people must be crazy.

The truth is, I would have been down there on the beach with those kids when we first moved here. But I've adjusted to the warm California weather. Call me surfer dude. I won't even think about sticking a toe in the water until it warms up a bit in July. For right now, we're suffering through a cold spell. Brrrrrrrr!

When the cruise ship is in port, some brave souls always sign up to go para-sailing. Their parachute is a bright, rainbow-colored thing, and it's looks great against the snow-capped peaks in the distance. And I bet once they're up there they have a fantastic view of both the Catalina and mainland coastlines!

Catalina Island Chronicles, daily life on the CA island