s I’ve mentioned in the last two posts, there’s a plethora of reasons to visit Santa Cruz Island. First, there’s the best hike in Southern California, from Scorpion Ranch to Smugglers Cove. Second, there’s all sorts of strange ruins on the island, like an oil well. And, in case you need one more reason, there’s a tranquil grove of olive trees and even more abandoned buildings near Smugglers Cove. The reason for this? Well, for starters, as you may have gathered, Santa Cruz Island wasn’t always part of the National Park System. Indeed, even today, large swaths of the island aren’t even National Park property –they’re owned by the Nature Conservancy. What this means is that the island is a bit more interesting than other more established units of other National Parks like say, the Grand Canyon. While certain aspects of the impacts of human habitation have been cleaned up, like the wild pigs, other aspects remain.
The prime example is the olive grove that sits directly off the Smugglers Road trail about .1 miles away from Smugglers Cove. Olive Trees, while beautiful, are by no means native to the island; and were planted over a hundred years ago in order to harvest the fruit for commercial purposes. Today, the groves of trees are still standing outside Smugglers Cove in their orderly, neat rows, waiting for a non-existent harvest. While I’m not usually one to celebrate invasive species in National Parks, in this case I’ll make an exception. There’s something about these old trees waiting on the shore of a now-empty island that stimulates one’s imagination while hiking. On a hot, summer day it’s easy to imagine that you have left California, and are hiking one of the Mediterranean islands near Spain; or are in an empty part of the Iberian Peninsula. However, if the scenery doesn’t remind you of Europe, there’s plenty of other ideas that could sprout in your imagination as you pass through the grove. And, even if you don’t imagine anything as the wind whispers to you as it passes through the branches of the grove, the grove is a great spot to sit on either your decent or ascent from Smugglers Cove, as it provides some much needed shade on the hike from Scorpion Ranch to Smugglers Cove.
While perhaps not as scenic as the olive trees, the Smugglers Ranch buildings are also mostly intact, and are .2 miles away from Smugglers Cove down a well signed trail that leads you through a small Eucalyptus grove. Again, like the oil well, if you have the time and inclination, these are some great additions to the Scorpion Ranch to Smugglers Cove hike, and even more reasons why this hike is the best in all of Southern California.