This holiday week sure went fast! I worked Monday then had Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after off work, which was very nice. I even managed to get some gifts wrapped before the 24th, a new record for me, as usually I'm spending Christmas Eve with paper, scissors, and ribbon.
The large printed bags at the base of the tree in green and red have been recycled yearly for at least 10 years! It has become a family joke that I carefully remove the staples and fold them up for another year each Christmas. We had no children in the house on Christmas morning for the first time ever--Erica was house/dog sitting for someone and of course our married daughter Elaine and our son Nick don't live here. Our present opening was delayed a bit but by noon we were all gathered and enjoying spending time together and opening our gifts. Later we all met up again at my parents' house where 26 of us dined on filet Mignon, potatoes, salad, and homemade bread, followed by a large number of homemade candies, cookies, and pies. Yum!
Saturday there was a special trip planned--one my sister Kathy has done nearly every year she's come to California but I have never done--a whale watching trip. We drove up to Santa Barbara to catch the Condor Express, taking our two nieces and nephew plus Kathy's daughter, who flew in on Friday. It was a gorgeous day weather wise as we set out for the Channel Islands, 11 miles from the coast.
Leaving the Santa Barbara Harbor.
Stearn's Wharf, Santa Barbara, and the Santa Ynez Mountains in the background.
These are California Gray Whales, which are baleen whales, on their yearly migration to breeding grounds in Baja Mexico. There were at least three whales, and up to five. We followed them along the island for some time, getting lots of chances for good photos as they came up every 3-5 minutes from feeding dives.
A final parting tail fin shot was our goodbye. I took dozens of photos :) Then we turned back west and learned more about the Channel Islands. These islands were never part of the mainland, having been formed volcanically, and about 20 million years ago they were much further south, somewhere near San Diego. Because they were formed independent of the mainland, they have endemic flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world.
The Chumash Indians inhabited these islands for thousands of years. They called this Painted Cave due to colorful walls formed naturally from the volcanic makeup leaching out. It is one of the largest sea caves known in the world--over 1200 feet in length. The naturalist on the boat pointed out the right turn the cave makes and said there is a beach inside where sea lions like to rest at times. Kayakers can enter the cave.
Taking a photo on a bobbing boat is difficult but I did get this halfway decent shot of a what the naturalist called a periwinkle, though I could not find any further information on-line about it. Not finding any further whales or other wildlife on the far end of the island, and encountering a lot of choppy waves and wind, we turned back towards the Santa Barbara Channel on the hunt for more whales and sea life, but nothing was sighted for about half an hour. Just as my sister was lamenting that we had yet to see any dolphins, the captain announced we were approaching a huge pod.
These small common dolphins (about 5' long) are very very fast and hard to catch with the camera, but you can see splashes far out in the photo, indicating hundreds of dolphins. We passed through the pod, then turned and caught up with them again. The estimate was 500+ dolphins.
It was a really fun experience watching them leap and play about the boat. They were practically at our feet. Two little girls next to me kept reaching out their hands through the railing to feel the spray :)
Sleek and speedy! As it was getting late, the captain reluctantly let the dolphins outpace us and then he turned toward the coastline again. Not minutes later, the captain again stopped the boat for an additional sighting of gray whales. These two juvenile males were very cagey, however, and I did not get any photos of them. The last sight of them was a beautiful tail fluke which raised "Oohhhs" all over the boat :) We were over half an hour late getting back to the harbor but no one cared. It was a great time! Many thanks to my brother Ted and my sister in law Laura for giving us this gift!