I got the chance to go out to the West Coast for the first time in my life last year during the summer of 2014. The Grad school I was going to at the time, The University of Southern California, had a course that required you to take a trip out to California and spend a week on the USC Wrigley Campus on Catalina Island. Sounds terrible right!? When most people think of Catalina Island, their first thought is, “It’s the Catalina wine mixer!” – followed by the glamorous town of Avalon.
Avalon is nice I’m sure, but is more touristy and built up. What most people don’t realize is there is another side of the island, with a town called Two Harbors. The USC Wrigley Campus is located 2 miles from the center of Two Harbors, which is just a small local town that a lot of fishermen and campers hang out in. There is only one bar and one general store and that is about it. What’s cool though is there’s a hiking trail called the Trans Catalina Trail that goes from Two Harbors to Avalon, is 32 miles long, and has a bunch of different campsites located along it, so it’s perfect area for any camping or hiking fanatics.
The USC Wrigley Campus has a few townhouses that us students stayed in. I was roomed with two other girls, named Shannon and Jenni, and the three of us instantly became good friends. The class we were taking dealt with collecting GPS data and then using that data to create some type of spatial analysis. The three of us wanted to enjoy being outside as much as we could, so we decided to track where mammalian species were within a radius of the campus and Two Harbors. We did this by hiking along deer trails, recording points whenever we found signs of a mammal (scat, footprints, dens), and whenever there was a sighting.
There are only a few mammalian species located on Catalina Island, the Mule Deer, the Island Fox, Feral Cats, and the American Bison. Since we were tracking animals, we spent the majority of our mornings and evenings hiking along trails created by the deer, and during the day we would do some of our computer work, and then would go down and kayak or go to the beach to swim. In the end, we created a hot-spot density analysis of where the mammalian species were located around the USC Wrigley Campus and Two Harbors. For those of you that have no clue what I am talking about, check out the maps we created from our data below!
This trip was seriously one of the best trips I have taken in my life so far, even though it was for school. I met so many great people here, and wish I could be back on this island with them again.
I had many great experiences on Catalina, but one of my favorites was waking up early one morning with Shannon, Jenni, and our friend Brian to go out kayaking. It was absolutely amazing. There is a small harbor at the USC Wrigley Campus, and if you kayak to the right of the harbor during low tide, there is a cave in the cliff side that you can take your kayak through. We decided to get up early to do this while the sun was coming up, and the sun had just risen, and as we came around the corner to the other end of the cave, a baby seal was just sitting on a rock hanging out. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced so far in my life.
The four of us had another seal experience late one night too that was also amazing. We all went down to the docks, because Brian claimed that the previous night he was shining his flashlight at the fish and they were jumping out of the water and it was a sight to see. So we all went down there and Brian’s flashing his flashlight, and nothings happening. Then, all of a sudden, this flying fish speed jumps out of the water, swimming for its life, and we see this huge blob chasing after it. All of us were like “AHHH” thinking it was one of the small sharks that hung out at the bottom of the harbor, come to find out it was a seal chasing the fish. After that we just kept seeing the seal swimming back and forth trying to find these flying fish, and one ever rammed into the dock right below where we were standing watching trying to catch a fish. Brian’s reaction was basically just like, “Wow this is definitely better than whatever it was I saw last night.”
Another great thing about Catalina, is if you are outside late at night, you can see so many stars, which is almost surprising since it is so close to LA where there is so much light pollution, you’re lucky if you ever get to see stars. It’s so dark out there that you can even see the Milky Way. Jenni and I went for a long hike one night, and it was absolutely amazing. It was honestly probably the one of the only times I’ve ever not been afraid to be outside in the dark at night (because I’m always afraid something is going to find me and eat me haha).
I only got to experience the Two Harbors side of the island, so I can’t really compare the two sides. However, if you are into hiking/backpacking/camping, I would totally suggest checking out Catalina island as a travel destination, because it has amazing views, out of the two camping areas I checked out while I was there, both were located right next to the beach, and there are no huge predators you have to worry about (this is one of my huge fears of camping).
Also, I have a huge caution tip for if you do ever travel to Catalina. Before I stepped foot on Catalina, I did not expect there to be cacti, but they are seriously everywhere. Basically, if you are hiking, try not to fall over into a cacti patch, because that totally happened to me and I was picking cactus thorns out of my hands for the next two months.
I definitely plan to come back here one day and hike along the Trans Catalina Trail, because I only saw a small portion of this island, and would definitely love to see more! If you would like to see more photos from my time on Catalina Island, check out my Photo Diary of Catalina Island!