June 2017 Diving Catalina Island, CA

Visiting California was the last stop on my whirlwind spring adventures.  After being in Jackson for two days and driving to Big Sky for a few days I was on a flight out of Bozeman, MT. 

Flying into Palm Springs airport and spending the next few days catching up with my friend was amazing.  The best day of my trip to California was diving near the northeast coast of Catalina Island.  

We left Palm Springs at about 3:00 AM and arrived at the pier in San Pedro around 6:30 AM.  Once on The Magician, we readied our equipment and signed all the legal forms, standard boat procedures.  The boat ride to Catalina Island was about two hours, one of which I tried unsuccessfully to nap.  The other hour was spent meeting new people and eating a delicious feast for breakfast. 

As we moored up to the first dive site everyone was putting on his or her gear.  I myself was wearing a Sharkskin Climate Control Top and Sharkskin Paddling Pants underneath a 7mm Henderson wetsuit.  I had to adjust my weight belt for all the extra neoprene.  In addition to the added exposure suit, I was trying out a new Zeagle Zena BCD.  Upon entry, I realized just how much colder the water was, 17C or 63F, from my usual tropical water diving, 28C or 82F. 

The step off of the boat caused my body to go into a natural reaction of hyperventilation.  I quickly opened my wetsuit to let in more chilly water to allow the neoprene to do its job and warm the waters inside the suit.  As I waited for everyone to enter the water I tried unsuccessfully to slow my breath.  As the group was descending I was not only fighting hyperventilation but a cold headache too.  Ouch!!  This new environment and new equipment quickly became a hindrance.  I had to slow my decent from the groups, concentrate on slowing my breathing and focus on the other divers instead of the icy molecules of my brain.  It was 13C or 55F at the bottom of our descent.  I know most scuba instructors will probably never admit difficult situations but I have to say that it happens to all levels of divers.  Engaging a normal breathing pattern calmed me and helped my body relax in the frigid water, which in turn acclimated a short while later and my frozen headache subsided.  I didn’t think California diving would be a challenge to me.  I know now to spend a few extra minutes at the surface to acclimate before I descend.  I also recognize for myself, the need of a hood when diving anything below 20C or 68F.   

Now, once I was breathing naturally and my popsicle head thawed, this beautiful kelp world opened up to me.  According to local divers on the boat, this is the first year in a long time the kelp has been abundant here.  The cause of the copious amounts of kelp is that the water temperatures had stayed cooler which allowed for them to thrive.  Kelp in all its glory is like this fantasy maze that you have to slowly and carefully pick your way through.  My fin strap snagged a few times but it was easy to stop and untangle especially with a helpful dive buddy.  I was happy to see such a picturesque ecosystem and I was able to appreciate a few new sea creatures to add to my list.  

There was a bat ray that was so cute because his face looks like he is smiling at you.  He wasn't very interested in us though and swam off after just a minute or two.  There were tons of Garibaldi, these are part of the damselfish family and are bright orange in color.  On our ride back to the California coast we spotted and spent a few moments with an Elephant Seal, they can reach up to 3 or 4,000 kilograms, that’s up to 8,800 pounds!  His nose was like a short version of an elephant's.  I later read his short trunk is used for very loud roaring noises, and the chambers inside act similar to a rebreather, to collect moisture from exhalations.  Both of these functions are important during the mating season.  It was so cool to see something so different.  I loved California diving and next time I will be better prepared.

The days following diving were spent mostly around a pool and celebrating yet another birthday!  I left my friend and our pool days quite sadly.  I returned to Bozeman then Big Sky for just a night and said farewell to everyone on my way back to Jackson Wyoming to start the summer season.

 

Girabaldi Damselfish
Kelp, Girabaldi, Diver
Kelp Forest

April 2017 Hawaii

I never realized how much I wanted to travel until I started doing it.  This last spring I explored many things.  I love the beauty of nature and being in Hawaii in April was by far one of the more stunning places.  It was so amazing to see a young volcanic island with such a diverse array of flora and fauna.

We stayed on the Big Island of Hawaii and explored the volcanoes, had a submarine tour and visited many beaches for snorkeling and surfing.  Hawaii is gorgeous and I can't wait to explore other islands in this incredible archipelago. 

We flew into Kona, which is on the west coast of the Big Island.  We stayed at a timeshare in the Waikoloa Resort, a thirty-minute drive north from Kona airport.  This resort, in particular, had it’s own golf courses, shopping centers, and grocery store.  Everything you need is on site.  We stayed in a two-bedroom apartment.  It was very nice and right on the ground level close to the communal barbecue and hot tub for that complex.  The only downfall of this particular room and on this particular level is that the residents above us decided every night to throw food down to the feral cats.  How Rude!  

Anyway, over the next few days, we checked out some snorkeling beaches and signed my nephew up for surfing.  He went for two days with Kona Mike's Surf Adventures and had so much fun.  I highly recommend this company everyone was very enthusiastic, professional, and safe.  Snorkeling was good pretty much everywhere we went.  My sister, however, loved Kahalu'u Beach Park.  This spot was convenient because the surfers were off to the right practicing and to the left was an easy entry snorkeling area.  It was full of beautiful fish and corals.  This area was great for snorkelers because of its gradual depth change.  Once out of the water there were places to shower off and buy food and refreshments.    

I originally came to Hawaii with grandiose dreams of scuba diving, but the universe had other plans.  I had a bad sinus infection most of the trip and equalizing was not going to happen.  So we did the next best thing and everyone was able to participate!  We signed up for the Atlantis Submarine Tour in Kona.  This tour was so much fun and so easy for everyone.  The submarine had two rows of bench seats facing either side of the submarine.   There were many windows, perfect for everyone to get a good view.   We went about 100 feet deep and toured around about 25 acres of coral reef and saw all sorts of sea creatures.  We also saw a wreck.  I would never substitute this for scuba diving.  However, if you have a member of your group that doesn't want to dive this is a great alternative.

Now, for those of you who love jewelry beware!  Sharing the same office space as Atlantis Submarines was Maui Divers Jewelry.  They had beautiful black coral pieces set in gold and silver.  They also had you fish for an oyster and find your special pearl.  The ladies working the counter were very friendly and very good at their jobs.  

The last day of our trip, in retrospect, wasn’t planned very well.  The Big Island has five volcanoes two of which are active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea.  The best way to see the island and its volcanoes are by helicopter.  There are many helicopter company locations around the island so you can easily book and leave from close to where you are staying.  We missed our chance on the helicopter tour because we decided too late and the bookings were full. Since we couldn’t do the helicopter tour, we took a long scenic drive.  Our first stop was in Hilo, which is very green and lush, compared to the Kona side, which is rougher with lots of volcanic rock.  We then dipped south toward the Kilauea volcano in Volcanoes National Park. When entering the park you can stop at Kilauea Visitor Center for information and history.  They also have a little theatre that shows videos of different eruptions and lava flows throughout the years.  After our stop at the visitor center, we rushed to a few observation areas.  I loved being able to actually see the crater of the volcano, the layers from the old lava lakes, and even the steam coming out of an active vent.  Kilauea volcano is such a different and amazing landscape from other places I’ve been.  The Volcanoes National Park is fairly large and definitely a full day or two days trip if you really want to hike and explore all the observation areas and different ecosystems.  Our visit was short and sweet as our flight was that night and we had to get back to Kona.  With so many things to do and so little time, I was off on another adventure.  I can’t wait to come back and explore more.

   

lava ecosystem
Submarine Tour

Submarine Tour

Volcanoes National Park