"The Trip With Many Pauses"


Catalina - Day Two (Tuesday, March 28th, 2006): "And on the left is the road we would have been taking..."

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Dawn on Catalina Tuesday dawned grey and misty - and with a cruise ship pulling up to stop just outside the harbor. It had actually rained a fair amount over the night, but as we got up and headed for the "bus" down the hill, the rain had stopped - though it still looked like it really, really wanted to.

Our day in Avalon began by eating at Joes...again. The Big Trip of the day was supposed to be the Inland Motor Tour, which runs from Avalon, up, over, and across the island's backcountry (which, given the small size of Avalon compared to the size of the island, is most of the place), stopping at the historic Wrigley Arabian horse ranch, "El Rancho Escondido," before finally ending up on the "Pacific" side of the island at "Little Harbor."

Then coming back, of course.

Anywho, we finished up at Joes and headed over to the tour parking lot, a whole (tiny, Avalon-sized) block away. That's when we learned there was a problem.

The Route of Day Three, to the Airport in the Sky As I'd said, it had rained a lot last night. When we got there, we were informed that it had rained enough that the road for the trip was now too muddy for the bus.

Disappointment all around. This tour was one of the reasons I wanted to come back to Catalina for a more than one day stay. It leaves early enough that it's hard to catch it most days if you're arriving from the mainland.

The women in the booth told us that, while the full Inland Motor Tour was off for the day, we could still take the shorter Skyline Drive tour. It follows the same route at the Inland, but only as far as the "Airport in the Sky" - Catalina's airstrip...er...airport - which is perched, basically, on top of a mountain.

Well, I've been on that trip before, but Dee Dee hadn't, and it was a nice trip even if it is only a third the length of the Inland, so we said "yes" and got on board that bus.

Leaving Avalon A full-sized bus driving through Catalina's winding streets is...interesting enough - heck, the "taxi" SUV's seem to fill the whole road - but as it climbed up the hillside and passed the Zane Grey it then curves onto "Stagecoach Road" for the trip to the airport.

The road is named that because - surprise, surprise - it was originally built for stagecoaches back in the late 1800's and marginally improved since then...

...okay, they've paved since then, but that's about it.

The road winds along cliff-faces, ridge-lines, and canyon floors as it slowly climbs from sea-level Avalon to the sixteen-hundred feet altitude of the airstrip. It starts out as two one-way roads, but soon they merge and - as the tour-guide says - "If you can tell the difference between the one-way and two-way sections of the road, let me know - I'd like to be able to point it out on future trips."

Looking down at the ocean Dee Dee didn't...enjoy some of the more precipitous sections of the road. There are tight curves (especially for a bus!) that look out over near-vertical slopes that don't end until they hit the ocean below. Brief stops right on the edge so that people could get pictures were particularly hard on her.

Still, the scenery was nice, the views nicer, as we slowly approached the "Airport in the Sky." What we didn't see - but had expected to - were any buffalo.

In 1924, fourteen buffalo were turned loose on Catalina island for use in filming the motion picture, "The Vanishing American." After the filming was completed, it was agreed that they could stay and freely roam the island4 where they actually did quite well.

So well, in fact, that by the 70's, they were culling the herd to keep the numbers down. Unfortunately, the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy which manages them (and most of the island outside of Avalon) has decided that - tourist draw or no - since they're not native, they don't really belong on the island.

The green mountains According to our tourguide, they wanted to get rid of all of them and even paid for a study that they hoped would prove the island couldn't support many/any. Unfortunately for them, what the study proved was that the island could support about four-hundred of them. So, in a burst of logic, they "compromised" between the four-hundred the study said were okay and the zero they wanted and set the number of buffalo at one-fifty...

...yeah, it doesn't seem very "compromisy" to me either.

Anywho, the practical upshot of this is that with nearly seventy-five square miles to roam in - and only one road to look for them from - it's now actually pretty rare for tourists to see the famous Catalina Island buffalo. And, certainly, we weren't one of those rarities.

As the bus approached the airstrip and we hung a right, our tour-guide pointed at the road to the left and said "that's the road we would have taken on the Inland Motor Tour."

The terminalDee Dee strolling in back of the terminal


The bus drove up to the small, mission-style terminal and stopped. We got off.

The road to the airportThe road we couldn't take


Most annoying part of the Skyline Tour is that - once you reach the "Airport in the Sky" - you only have about twenty minutes to look around the terminal building...or get a snack...or check out the small nature center built around the terminal...

The old hangerTime to get back on the bus!
Back down the roadHeading for Avalon


...none of these activities take very long, you understand, but basically, you have to pick one, because that's all the time you have before you have to get back on the bus. And you don't want to miss the bus - if you thought the taxi back to your hotel was expensive, boy!

The old hangerTime to get back on the bus!
Back down the roadHeading for Avalon


Soon it was back on the bus for the return drive to Avalon. Rain!Still no buffalo - but it did try to rain on us a little. The bus stopped briefly at the Chime Tower5 - which is actually just up the road about fifty feet from the Zane Grey - so we could get pictures of it and Avalon below, then we wound back down into Avalon itself and finally ended up back at the tour parking lot.

Well, the tour was nice - but it was about two-hours shorter than the one we'd planned. So we needed something to do. Fortunately, right next to the tour's parking lot was Golf Gardens: Catalina's 18-Hole Award Winning Miniature Golf Course - and Dee Dee's never one to turn down a game of mini-golf.

Dee Dee sets up a shot......She shoots...
...but there's a cat in the way......I mean, seriously in the way!


We had fun. It is a nice course and even the on/off light drizzle didn't...well...dampen the fun. Because of the rain, we had the course mostly to ourselves, so we took our time. Finally we reached the 18th Hole - to find it completely blocked with cat...

...he moved, eventually.

After golf, we wandered the town a bit and then - deciding that while last night's picnic-in-the-room was nice, it wasn't going out to dinner - strolled over to Armstrong's Fish Market & Seafood Restaurant for an early dinner.

Waiting for the taxi Armstrong'sArmstrong's sits right on the harbor. In fact, it sits right where the old terminal for the "Great White Steamship" was (both the terminal and the pier that the ship tied up at are long gone). So you have an excellent view of the harbor from pretty much everywhere in the restaurant.

We got there at just a smidge before four, but the waitress was nice enough to give us the "lunch" price (they change over to the dinner menu at 3:45) as she said "you just missed it." I had the shrimp scampi and Dee Dee the salmon and both were excellent - and reasonable, even if you don't catch the lunch menu price.

If the place wasn't an hour boat-trip away, we'd probably go there quite often. As it stands, well, it'll definitely be on any future "trip to Catalina" itinerary of ours.

Finishing up dinner, we went over and - after a few minute wait - caught the "taxi" up to our hotel. Once there we just chilled in the room reading and watching a couple of DVDs (the rooms may not have TVs, but the laptop I brought certainly had a DVD player!) before going to sleep.


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