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The Galapagos of North America? The Channel Islands May be Such a Place

In busy Southern California, there is—amazingly—a place where open space and remote wilderness still exist. It reminds visitors of a time when the world was simple and unadulterated.

The place is Channel Islands National Park. Garrett Kababik has been guiding visitors here for 10 years. In 2009 he thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail with his dog, Lexi. When he's not backpacking, kayaking, mountain biking, scuba diving, swimming, stand-up paddling or jumping from really tall cliffs into deep blue water, he's leading REI Adventures' new-for-2012 Channel Islands Adventure weekend trip.

Channel Islands guide, Garrett, educates guests of wildlife during a tourHere are Garrett's top 10 reasons why you should come visit this remarkably unique and remote island chain only 60 miles from Los Angeles.

1. No cars: Channel Islands is one of the few national parks in America that you cannot drive your car into. You can't even hop on a shuttle bus to tour the landscape; you have to explore by boat, foot or kayak. The island chain rests up to 40 miles away from the mainland, and it offers a pleasant retreat from smog and the drone of the freeway.

Hiking in the Channel Islands2. The "North American Galapagos Islands": More than 150 endemic or unique species of plants and animals exist on the Channel Islands. On Santa Cruz Island alone, 23 terrestrial animals are of a unique Channel Islands-specific subspecies. One of these is the Santa Cruz Island fox, an adorable kitten-size creature that has plenty of curiosity and can usually be found checking the campgrounds for food scraps.

3. Be one of the few: Channel Islands National Park is unique in having a management plan that limits the number of people that can visit each island on a daily basis. Preservation and protection of the park's resources are of a greater importance than visitation, so a visit to any of the islands is a relatively exclusive experience.

Exploring sea caves by kayak in the Channel Islands4. Sea caves: Santa Cruz and Anacapa islands boast a combined 200+ explorable sea caves over 30 miles of coastline. On the west end of Santa Cruz Island is Painted Cave, named for the beautiful algae growth on the ceiling of the cave formed from the drips of a freshwater aquifer. It is one of the world's longest sea caves,  winding more than 1,200 feet into the darkness. In my 10 years of guiding, I have entered sea caves in the Channel Islands more than 7,000 times with clients. Many of these clients have been to amazing destinations around the world, and I am often told that exploring these sea caves by kayak tops most people's list of incredible things they've experienced.

Seals at Channel Islands5. Healthy, active oceans: Channel Islands National Park extends one nautical mile from land out to the sea surrounding each island. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary extends 5 miles past the national park boundary. In 2002, 11 marine reserves were set aside to protect maritime habitats and the species that depend on these habitats. As a result, the Channel Islands are an amazing place to view marine mammals and birds. I have been kayak guiding on these protected waters since they were designated as a marine reserve, and I can testify that wildlife encounters here are much more prevalent than in the surrounding unprotected areas.

6. Largest and oldest mammals on Earth: On a trip to kayak into Painted Cave in 2011, we came across several humpback whales breaching halfway out of the water, which was an impressive show. Minutes later we spotted 4 blue whales. I was standing on the deck of the Condor Express watching blue whales tail fluke on one side of the boat and humpbacks leaping from the water on the other side. Spectacular! The Santa Barbara Channel is a regular host to the blue whale, the world's largest living mammal. Pulling up alongside these 100-foot-long whales in a 70-foot boat is truly an unforgettable experience.

7. Best sunset in California: In my opinion, the sunset at Potato Harbor at East Santa Cruz Island is arguably the best place anywhere to watch the day come to a close. I'll let the picture below testify to the beauty possible at this remote lookout. Photo courtesy of John Fischer Photography.

Channel Islands sunset 

8. Island time: If rest and relaxation are your motives for an outdoor vacation, head to the Channel Islands. You won't be able to use your cell phone or computer here. When you're hungry, you eat. When you're tired, you nap. It's true, when you arrive at a remote island in the middle of the sea, time ceases to matter.

Kayaking the Channel Islands9. Water sport adventure paradise: If you like playing on the "Big Blue" (read: ocean) then the Channel Islands is an adventure paradise. Kayak, stand-up paddle, surf, dive, snorkel, speardive, swim and sail the waters surrounding each island. If you haven't been to the islands before, it is best to hire a guide to show you around to maximize your experience.

10. Every visit is unique: Since the National Park Service took over the management of the Channel Islands, much has occurred to restore the island to the amazing place it was prior to the past 200 years of ranching. Almost all nonnative terrestrial animals have been removed which has helped the vegetation and restoration of native plants. With each year the island continues to undergo a transformation back to its natural state. Come now and again in several years and explore an even more pristine Channel Islands.

Have you been to the Channel Islands? What was your experience like?

Check out REI's Channel Islands adventure tour for more details on the trip Garrett helps lead. Read more information on the Channel Islands from the National Park Service

Posted on at 2:43 PM

Tagged: Hiking, REI Adventures, Travel, channel islands and kayaking

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Just take a look at his story and see his photos (warning: you may get hooked on Thailand) displayed below:My name is Paul Lebel, and my job is to film and produce multimedia content for REI

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