Saturday, March 2, 2013

Catalina Island

Somewhere along the line the woodworker was on a ship that went to Catalina Island.  He never did go ashore there at that time, but has always wanted to go back and see the place.  Since we were already in southern California it seemed a good time to fulfill his wish.

We drove from Fontana to Long Beach to catch the Catalina Jet to take us the 26 miles over to the island.  I was afraid I'd be seasick since it has happened before, but the sun was bright, the wind was small and the journey was uneventful.

Here we are leaving Long Beach on the Catalina Jet Express. 

As we left the harbor, we went past the Queen Mary.

We went up to the top deck so we could see everything, so we got a little bit sunburned.  We passed the prettiest little island.  At first I thought it must be someone's private little tropical paradise there near Long Beach Harbor, but in reality, it was all just an elaborate disguise for an oil well.

It took just over an hour to get to Avalon, the main town on Catalina Island, with a population of about 4000 in a square mile.  The streets in Avalon are pretty small. Only 800 cars are allowed on the island.  You have to get a permit to have a car, so you first have to put your name on a waiting list which different sources said were either 18 or 35 years to wait to be able to have a car there.  Some very, very small cars are exempt so we saw Mini Coopers and little Japanese micro cars.  For the most part people just drive golf carts everywhere.  One of the hotels fixed their golf cart up to be quite fancy.

After checking into our hotel, the Casa Mariquita,  we walked over to see a large, round, 12 story high building called The Casino.  In the basement of the Casino was a museum telling the history of the island.  Here you can see the Casino across Avalon Harbor.

We were most interested in seeing what happened to the island during World War II.  It was used as a place to train OSS and Special Forces groups for the military and also had anti-aircraft facilities.  There were also rooms telling about the many movies that have been filmed there as well as stories of movie stars and other famous people who went there to play.  The original movie of Mutiny on the Bounty was filmed on Catalina Island.  Movie star, Natalie Wood died there.  In 1919, William Wrigley of chewing gum fame, bought the entire island.  Since he also owned the Chicago Cubs, they had their spring training camp on the island for many years.  NConservancy.

We walked around town quite a bit, but when we wanted to go see the botanical gardens, it was too far for the time we had, so we rented a golf cart.

It was off season, so the rental place was happy to give us a few discounts....for being a veteran, for having a birthday or probably any other reason he could think of.  The first place we went was to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden.  William Wrigley was originally buried there but has since been moved.  He really liked the island and did many philanthropic things there, including  encouraging and funding a business which made clay pottery and clay tiles which decorate many parts of Avalon.  His memorial as there as well as a garden meant to showcase many plants native to the area.  Eventually almost all of the island was given to the Catalina Island Conservancy.  The memorial at the botanic garden is in his honor and includes some of the tiles that were made on the island.  The garden contains desert plants including some that are only found on the island.

Old man cactus

Cactus garden

Red hot poker flower

From the Wrigley memorial we could see the ocean in the distance.

Here are some of the tiles made on the island.

After a tour of town via golf cart, we decided to join a larger tour of the island as individual travel with personal vehicles is prohibited on most of the island.  We were told we'd be traveling via Flexible bus.  Sure enough a 1952 Flexible bus was exactly what pulled up to pick us up.

The island is actually quite rugged.  The highest we went was just over 1600 feet I think, but since we climbed that far from sea level it was high enough to have nice views of the island as well as the southern California coast from Malibu to San Diego.  We also could see San Nicholas Island off in the distance which is where Island of the Blue Dolphins took place.

This is a sea level view of Avalon harbor.

These two pictures are taken from much higher up.  We could see someone surfing by the little beach.

We even saw some of the bison which live on the island.

At one of the highest points of the island they had bulldozed three mountain tops to make runways for the little airport which was called the Airport in the Sky.  It isn't really suitable for larger planes at all.

In some ways Avalon reminded us of small town life in Alaska.  It is somewhat isolated, so everything must be brought in by a weekly barge.  With a total island population of about 4000, everyone who lives there knows everyone else.  Prices are high.  Gas in California seems to be running about $4.15 to $4.35 a gallon.  On Catalina it was $6.95 a gallon.  Of course, since everyone pretty much runs golf carts around a very small area, they tend to fill up about once a month.  There are two schools on the island.  The big school is in Avalon with about 600 students in grades K-12.  The school at Two Harbors goes up to 5th grade.  After 6th grade the kids are taken by bus to Avalon for school.  Sometimes the 4th and 5th graders choose to also go by bus to Avalon in order to attend the big school.   This year there are 4 students in the Two Harbors school.  It is the only one room school in the Long Beach Unified School District.

Water is a problem for the island.  There is not enough.  There is apparently a de-salinization plant for some of their water.  They use salt water for flushing toilets and things like that.  Agriculture is not much of an option there due to lack of water. 

There is also a 12 bed hospital on the island.  One of the ladies we met told us that they no longer deliver babies on the island.  I assume from that remark that women must relocate to the mainland the last few weeks of pregnancy.  Apparently a woman who goes into labor while still on the island is taken by helicopter to the mainland at a cost of $3000.

After Alaska vocabulary such as going 'Outside' or to the 'lower 48', we assumed the islanders must have some term they used for the mainland.  When we asked they knew exactly what we meant and said they go 'over town'.

On our way back to Avalon our bus passed the zip line area where some folks were preparing to go down the series of 5 zip lines.  As soon as our bus parked, we grabbed our backpacks and took off quickly to catch our ferry back to Long Beach.

It was quite a change to get back just in time to join the rush hour traffic.

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