Two Harbor's West End Hummer Tour
Catalina Island's history is rich with provocative tales of natives and ranchers, soldiers and pirates. Exploring the island's "West End" is a magical journey back in time and beyond - the weathered fence posts, the smugglers coves, the Indian kitchens, all well painted details to the backdrop of the ageless land and the surrounding sea. Indigenous flora litter the red clay hillsides. Eagles, foxes, and an occasional deer grace the visitor with their presence. So what could be better than a nature hike through this picture-perfect landscape? How about a rip-roaring safari slash thrill-ride in Two Harbors own customized 4-wheel drive "Hummer" vehicle?
Until three years ago, the only way by land to venture into this unspoiled territory was with a biking/hiking permit from the Catalina Island Conservancy. Even residential vehicles were not allowed past the West End's gate. Now, thanks to the ingenuity of the Two Harbors management and the cooperation of the Conservancy, there is a hold-on-to-your-seats alternative to hiking up hill all the way - the High Adventure "Hummer" Tour. And lucky me - I got to go.
Janice, an expert driver and informative guide, was prepping the Hummer (nicknamed Myrtle?) as I and the other passengers arrived. All Hummer drivers receive special training to handle the powerful machine. Although it looks like something from my son's GI Joe collection, this jamming vehicle is definitely not a toy!
Cooler strapped securely to the back and passengers settled in their comfortable seats, we took off from the "downtown" area. Our guide pointed out a rock formation (the first of many) called the Pregnant Indian Princess; raised our restoration awareness with explanations of the white sea bass pens below; and gave us a brief history lesson about Cat Harbor before we even took the first turn. When she stopped at the gate, I started snapping photos of the hills rolling out before me. "This is nothing," she said with a smile. "Just wait."
The only way I can describe this awesome trip is as a cross between an educational eco-tour and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. I very quickly learned that I would have to remember all that I was seeing by taking lots of pictures - there was no way this journalist could take notes on such a bouncy road! Five minutes into the rise I was slapping on some extra sun-screen (a picture of one red arm and one redder thigh in my head) totally exhilarated. As we zipped up Silver Peak Trail, known quite fittingly as the spine of the West End, my fear of heights was easily (well, for the most part) forgotten - my attention fully engaged by the steep sloping hills on both sides tumbling into the sea, creating points and rocks and beaches and bays.
Soon we reached Silver Peak - the highest point on the West End at an elevation of 1802 feet. A few steps (maybe 50) up the hill and I earned bragging rights to say I had "hiked" to Silver Peak - not really a lie when you think about it. Once again a spectacular view - on this exceptionally clear day we could see the Channel Islands all the way to San Nicolas.
Back down from the top of the world, we started along the rocky road (now I know where the ice-cream gets its name) once again. A sharp right turn and a friendly "hang on" from our driver was the only clue that we would in the next moment be plummeting down Boushay Trail. The road dropped away like that first big hill of a roller coaster - my behind left the seat and I blessed the belt that was keeping me safe - wu-whoo! we shouted, and if I didn't feel the need to hold on so tightly I would have been waving my hands in the air. Sweet.
After the flurry of Boushay, the rest of the ride seemed like cake (and icing) - we stopped for the best panoramic views, investigating peaks and vales and shorelines and coves, until at last we reached the beach and settled down to snack and play in the surf. Janice and the other passengers were excellent company, and if they are reading this I'd like to say hello and thank-you for a lovely (if somewhat dusty) day. I enjoyed a peaceful moment by the water, feeling a bit like a kid, removed from everything, the sand squishing between my toes and the gentle white surf running up to catch me. When it was time to go, we packed up (taking great care not to leave any trash behind) and headed back along West End Road to the relative civilization waiting for us at Isthmus Cove.
There are two different Hummer tours offered by Two Harbors- the first a four-hour tour that goes along Silver Peak Trail, down to Starlight Beach, then over to Parson's Landing for lunch (which is provided along with water and soft drinks) to Emerald Bay and back to Two Harbors (@ 20 miles.) This tour leaves at 9AM and cost only $79.00. What a deal!
The second tour is two hours long, and takes you along Silver Peak and down through Boushay Canyon (wu-whoo! I say) to Emerald Bay and back to Two Harbors (@12 miles.) With a snack provided, this is another excellent deal at $49.00 per person. The Hummer leaves Two Harbors at 2PM.
They are also offering a special called Ridge Run - approximately 1½ hours in length; for $29 the Hummer will bring you to the hilltop above the Banning House (a twenty minute ride). And back down again, of course. Light snacks are provided, and you can bring your own beverage - they'll bring the ice!
Of ultimate importance if taking one of these trips is planning. First, if you are not staying in Two Harbors (I would for at least a night if I were you!), you need to make arrangements to get there, by boat or bus. You also need to make reservations for the High Adventure Tour- space is limited and to prepare properly, the staff needs to know you are coming. They can be flexible depending on their schedule, call (310) 510-4205 to make reservations.
Before visiting the area, I was just excited about the opportunity to see the West End (without working up a sweat, to be completely honest!) When I returned to Avalon from my High Adventure - barefoot, dusty and grinning like a child just back from an amusement park - I suggested to each and every one of my friends (and I suggest as well to you) that the "Hummer" tour is a must. There is no better way to see the magic that Catalina has to offer.