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Magically Wonderful: Exploring & Kayaking the Sea Caves of Anacapa Island

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There was a few of us who decided to get as close as we could to Arch Rock, one of the symbols of Channel Islands National Park. The waves were breaking dangerously under the 40-foot gateway, but from a couple hundred yards away, it was still a spectacle to watch. Paddling back to the dock at Anacapa Island, I got ahead of our kayking group, but I didn't know how far ahead I was until I heard breathing behind me. And it didn't sound human.

I turn my head and -- whoa! -- spot a sea lion right there. As soon as we meet eyes, he dives back underwater. Well, that was a nice surprise, I think, as I continue to paddle. The breathing happens again, I turn my head, he dives underwater. This happens a few more times and is becomes humorous and somewhat endearing, sort of like playing peek-a-boo with a little kid. So I decide to stop and turn my kayak around to paddle backwards, hoping to catch him surface in full view. This sea lion, apparently too smart for me, somehow figures it out (or gets lucky) and pops up behind me. Damn!

Anacapa is the second smallest in the eight-island Channel Islands chain off the coast of Southern California. As one of the five islands in the namesake national park, it's also one of the most visited. About 14 miles off the coast of Oxnard, about one hour's drive from Los Angeles, the volcanic rock jutting out of the ocean is often known for being a major seabird rookery and spot to see rare Giant Coreopsis flowers. But hundreds of feet below the sheer cliffs is whole other world.