When we got back to shore, my colorful new backpack had been unzipped by island foxes, or Urocyon littoralis if you’re scientific. Using their tiny teeth, they pulled towels and water toys out looking for food, sunblock, or anything they could snack on. The joke was on them though — I left all of our food back on the mainland. Back at the grocery store. Back where I forgot to buy food for everyone on this camping trip to eat. Ha-haw! Take that, you cute snack-sized foxes. Take that joke and eat it!
The island fox, or snack fox if you will, is native to the Channel Islands. Most national parks have big hot geysers, giant waterfalls, thousand-year-old trees, and other majestic things like mountains. The Channel Islands National Park has snack foxes. All day long they roam the beach and campgrounds looking for cute bite-sized trouble to get into.
The snack fox was standing on the edge of extinction not long ago when their numbers dropped below 100. Even though they are snack-sized, they are the largest native animal on the islands. The only critters bigger than them were the bald eagles who prefer to snack on fish, not foxes. When the island’s bald eagle populations died off due to DDT chemical insecticides, the fox-snacking golden eagle moved in. The golden eagle snacked so hard on the foxes that the foxes were added to the endangered species list in 2004. But hey, cheer up! Hard-working biologists and volunteers cleaned up the DDT, relocated the golden eagles, and reintroduced the bald eagles, restoring the ecological balance of things. By 2016 the snack fox numbers rose back up thanks to a captive breeding program. They became the fastest critter to be added and removed from the endangered species list.
Today’s snack foxes are just listed as “near threatened,” but I think their legal status should be “damn cute.” Every trail we wandered had a snack fox running along it just teasing you like a sidewalk cat who wants to be picked up. While I got water from the campground spigot, a snack fox licked from the puddle. I could not resist reaching down and petting its soft fur. Sorry, national park rangers. I’m sure it’s illegal to touch them, but I swear we didn’t feed them. We didn’t have any food.
The friends on this trip have all lived in California for most of our lives, but none of us have been to these islands. It’s crazy to think that a national park is so close to Los Angeles. I think most Californians overlook it because you can’t drive to it. We took an hour-long boat ride from Ventura, stopping only to gaze at dolphins and blue whales jumping out of the water. We also stopped to pick up mylar balloons.
Our campsite was only $15 and we reserved it a week before pitching our tents. Most Southern Californian car campers have to book campsites months in advance and pay up to $60 a night for a site that’s more of an RV parking lot than a camp.
We hiked and explored the dusty trails snaking their way out of camp and up to epic lookouts. We smelled flowers and climbed trees. We had all kinds of dumb fun. Using collapsible ORU kayaks, Renee and Sera towed me, Julie, and Alex around the bay in a fun train of floaties. My floaty was the size of a toilet seat, so I had to swim along to be the caboose. A sea lion popped up and snarled like a protective dog. I stopped being the caboose and swam the fawk out of the ocean.
Water slapped the brown agates on the beach till they were wet and shiny. The rocks reminded me of those root beer bottle gummy candies. I skipped rocks shaped like perfect York peppermint patties. The vivid California poppies reminded me of that orange crunchy stuff inside a Butterfingers candy bar. Everything in nature can be compared to some kind of candy when you’re hungry enough.
Later on, the Island Packers ferry boat docked and unloaded fresh faces to the island. I smooth-talked my way to the galley and bought all the food I could carry in my tiny hands. Stumbling back down the beach to my hungry friends, I juggled granola bars, bruised bananas, oranges, and candy bars. We snacked hard like snack foxes.