Monday, March 9, 2009

Galapagos of North America

So we're officially on the road again, after having checked out of our apartment on Thursday morning. The southbound travel through California was smooth, but lengthy. We traveled via the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco to San Jose, where we spent a night with Mike's wonderful cousin and second cousins.
The next day, we drove to Santa Barbara, where we met up with our Peace Corps friends (who we last reunited with in the Virgin Islands, a few winters ago). We had a terrific time catching up over a delicious Italian meal. Thank you to our amazing hosts so far!
We took a ferry to Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands (a new national park for both of us), and saw several humpback whales enroute. We had little idea what to expect upon arriving in the park...but it blew us away. The island is vibrant green, filled with vegetation at this time of year. Hillsides of yellow flowers with a backdrop of the aqua colored ocean made us feel like we had arrived in paradise. We hiked up 1,800 feet to a viewpoint along the Montanon Ridge and saw whales spouting in the distance. Later, we watched the sun set over the ocean from a perch high on a cliff, in complete solitude. We camped for a night under the eucalyptus trees in a very peaceful campground. On the ferry trip home, our captain spotted two humpbacks and brought us within 200 feet or so. We were all amazed as one whale demonstrated pectoral fin slapping on the surface, to scare the krill into a ball so the other whale could dive deep and swallow them. So beautiful! I love marine mammals.

(By the way, they say that the Channel Islands is like the Galapagos Islands of North America, since there are nearly 150 endemic species found there--and nowhere else on earth.)

Now we're in Las Vegas, briefly visiting my parents and sister. We spent the day hiking around the Springs Preserve, a fascinating outdoor museum which demonstrates gardening techniques for super dry climates. After an evening of swimming and relaxing in a jacuzi, we're ready for bed! On the road again tomorrow morning, heading toward Albuquerque.

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