Monday, March 18, 2013

Catalina Island - Zippy Ziplines & Wallowing Buffalo

For Tori's birthday, we went to Catalina Island for a three day weekend getaway. Friday morning, we caught the 9 am ferry out of Newport Beach, the Catalina Flyer. The trip across the channel took about an hour after passing the harbor breakwater. As we approached Avalon, the Casino was clearly visible under the morning mist clinging to the hills surrounding the tiny town. Checking into our room at the Hermosa Hotel on Metropole Street, we walked past the Casino for our noon Zip Line Eco Tour over at Descanso Beach. After our weighing in (235 lbs. max), our zip line guide, Matt and our two Brakemen, Nash and Christian fitted us out with our harnesses and individual trolleys for the two hour tour.

After learning the basic zip line positions, our guides drove our group up to the top of Descanso Canyon where the last of the mist was burning off and the yellow flowers of the invasive Flax Leaf Broom shone in the sun. Raven pairs circled overhead as we prepared to take our turns down the first zip line, a short 501 foot line to ease everyone into the experience. To make it across, we needed to build up speed in the cannonball position and then watch for our brakeman's signal to drop our legs into the starfish to slow down. The last one across the first line, I was able to finally spot the most impressive of the tour's five zip lines. The second was the longest and highest at 1,045 feet long and 300 feet high. With the slight droop at the center of the long line, we needed to maintain our highest speed to make it up the incline at the end. Even though she stayed in the cannonball all the way across, the lightest girl in our group didn't make it and rolled back down to the center of the line. Nash had to send out the sand bag to retrieve her hanging high above the canyon floor.

The third line was the fastest, with speeds up to 45 mph across the 702 feet for the heaviest of us. As we descended the canyon from station to station, Matt described for us the environment of Catalina Island. He also said that we were now experienced enough to abandon the cannonball and starfish positions and could play around, letting go with a hand, twisting around into backwards, or waving our legs as we descended the forth line. Over 200 lbs, Nash was able to reach out and touch the leaves of the trees that the 892 foot line passed through. I took a video as I went down, stopping just short of the landing platform. I was able to catch the line Nash tossed me before I rolled back out toward the middle. Our last line was 531 feet and it ended right above Descanso Beach, a total course length of 3,761 feet. There was a camera at the end of the line, so they told us to style like crazy. It was very fun!

After dropping off our Ball and Chain, the metal trolleys we carried for the two hour tour, we walked back along the path to Avalon under a bright blue sky for a light lunch at El Galleon along the harbor front. All over town, there were numerous people dressed up in the attire of the 30's and 40's. At first I thought that there was a swing dancing event going on this weekend at the Casino, but we found out that they were there for a themed wedding. They even traveled in costume, boarding our ferry with old-fashioned luggage. With the adrenaline wearing off from our zip line adventure, we took a nap back at our hotel before heading out to dinner at Steve's Steakhouse. We had a great table right near one of the circular windows overlooking the harbor.

For breakfast on Saturday, we headed over to Original Jack's Cookhouse where we just beat the fresh crowds arriving with the morning ferries. The sun began to come out as we walked over to the Casino to check out the museum. It was very informative as learned about the native inhabitants and the timeline of Avalon from the late 19th century to the Wrigley Family's involvement in developing the island. As a spring training site for the Chicago Cubs, a training ground for the military in World War II and a popular spot for vacationing Hollywood stars in the past, Catalina has a rich history. Further out on the Casino's jetty, we watched the scuba divers entering the freezing clear water in their dry suits. Next time I come back to the island, I am definitely going diving.

Heading over to the Green Pleasure Pier jutting out at the center of Avalon Harbor, we boarded the Moonstone, one of Catalina's iconic Glass Bottom Boats. As we cruised out of the harbor, we watched the sandy bottom turn into the kelp forest of Lovers Cove, filled with Opaleye and bright orange Garibaldi. We were able to watch a diving cormorant swimming under our boat in search of fish and our guide pointed out the large numbers of Calico Bass, a very tasty sport fish forbidden from commercial fishing. As our boat headed back to the harbor, large numbers of juvenile sea lions swam alongside while countless strings of Cormorants flew past, gliding just above the water.

After our boat ride, we stopped at Luau Larry's to get Wiki Wacked, receiving hats with our strong drinks. Still a little buzzed from our Wiki Wackers, we watched a parade of boats decorated for St. Patrick's Day to sober up before renting a golf cart, Avalon's main mode of transportation. Since it was near the end of the day, we had only an hour left to circle the town. The cart chugged up and down the steep hills for great views even as the clouds were returning. After dropping of the cart, we headed over to Mi Casita's for Tori's birthday dinner. Very good Mexican food!

We woke to clear blue skies on Sunday morning, perfect for our morning tour out into the Catalina Island Conservancy. After breakfast at Sally's Waffle House, we boarded the Skyline Drive tour that drives out to the airport in the middle of the 21 mile long island. Our driver, Cindy, told us all about the flora and fauna and kept us entertained with cheesy jokes. We kept our eyes out for buffalo, spotting a bison herd on a distant hill where they looked like a patch of brown bushes. The conservancy land supports a herd of 150 which they control with birth control, transporting any extra to the plains of North Dakota. When we arrived at the Airport in the Sky, we bought some of their famous Killer Cookies.

While we spotted another bison herd in the distance on our way back from the airport, we lucked out near the end. Two male buffalo were close by on either side of the road, one grazing by the town's water reservoir and the other hanging out in the shade of a tree. Just as we started to drive off, he ambled over to a spot of exposed dirt and collapsed. Raising a cloud of dust, he rolled around on his back, kicking his legs in the air as he wallowed to cool off. Our zip line guide, Matt, had described this behavior to us on Friday and it was great to experience this impressive sight first hand.

Back in town, we ordered ice cream at Big Olaf's while we waited for our afternoon ferry back to Newport Beach. I haven't had one of their waffle cones since the shop in Leucadia closed when I was a teenager. Boarding the ferry, there was a long line but we were able to grab some seats inside. Because it was a full boat, people had to crowd onto the exposed upper deck where a strong wind picked up as the catamaran speed across the channel. Good thing for them that it was a sunny day. With hardly any traffic on the way home, we made it back to Carlsbad by eight. It was a great weekend!

Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour Videos

Tori flying down the 1st line of the zip line course.

POV of me zooming through the trees on the 4th zip line.

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