Catalina Island is nearly 60 square miles – more than 18 from Land's End on the west tip to Jewfish Point on the east, and 7 miles across at its widest. It is owned and run mainly by the Catalina Island Conservancy (thanks Leslie for your comment below re Wrigley family ownership). Portions are leased out for recreation, boat mooring fields, and camps. A portion of the revenue from these goes to to the state of California in lieu of property taxes. This creates an interesting environment – a benevolent and apparently well run autocracy.
Water is precious on the island
The town of Two Harbours, off which we are currently anchored, is a company town run by one of the leasees who maintain 100's of mooring buoys in dozens of harbours, a general store, restaurant, snack bar, and dive concession. Only employees of the Santa Catalina Island Company may live in the sprawling and eclectic enclave of houses that lie between Isthmus and Catalina harbours. The small town atmosphere (only 200 people live here) means that everyone waves at you when they walk or drive past.
View back toward Catalina harbour from Silver Peak Trail
Hiking to Silver Peak
We are anchored under Catalina Head with mountains all around and cacti growing down to the water. Because we are outside the moorings, it is nearly a mile row to the jetty. When you land, a broad red dirt road lined with Eucalyptus runs across the peninsula to Two Harbours. Rani remarked it reminded her of Australia. Old VW vans, pickups, and jeeps repose at the head of the jetty and as we walk into town, we pass a high school bus that makes the 1.5 hour trip to Avalon each school day.
Looking at the west end of the island on the way to Little Harbour
The island has a unique flora and fauna, including bison and a type of silvery fox. We saw one of the foxes on our fist hike up to Silver peak the day after we arrived. A very bouncy little fellow who hopped away from us over prickly pears and Toyon bushes. From day one, I was keen on seeing a buffalo. These animals roam the island, a remnant of ranching operations early in the 20th century.A thrilling video of our hike to Silver Peak and a good shot of buffalo dung can be seen here.
Bison dung - a big one!
And a bison hoof print - note quarter for scale
On our first hike, we found considerable bison spoor and tracks. The photos above show a particularly fine specimen of the former and a hoof print with a quarter to provide scale. A sailor anchored nearby told us he had seen a buffalo in the early morning grazing near the jetty. However the beasts proved elusive until yesterday.
Parson's Landing - a walk-in campground
We were on a hike to Little harbour to go snorkeling when Rani grabbed my arm and gestured at what looked like a large shaggy brown bush. The buffalo was a couple of hundred yards off the trail resting in a patch of tall grasses. As we approached, it lumbered to its feet and ambled very slowly past us and along a well worn track back toward the resevoir that sits on the hill overlooking Two Harbours.
Prickly pear with unusual hand-shaped fruit cluster
A bison - finally!
We were elated with our sighting but even happier when on the return trip we spied 4 bison on a ridge quite close to the place of our first encounter. We were careful this time to approach slowly and keep a reasonable distance (see sign below for why this is a good idea). The buffalo is not a very animated creature and the ones we watched were either sitting or swishing away the swarms of flies that must be very unpleasant in the intense heat. We felt sorry for the creatures with their thick pelts. Click here for a video of Chris and the bison.
More bison - we saw 5 in total
Swimming at Little Harbour after a hot 3 hour hike - a nice interlude on our bison quest.