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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Maher

Adventure to Ben Weston Beach

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

Blog Island Secrets

Monday October 26th 2020 Adventure to the Interior of the Island

We saw the interior of the island earlier this week, on Monday October 26, 2020. Luckily, we were happy and healthy despite the pandemic and craziness of 2020. We did not get any poison oak, bitten by snakes or trampled by Bison. It was a successful adventure into the interior of the island. The wind was blowing from the east instead of to the west. It was the perfect day for an adventure to the west side because on that day, a huge windstorm hit Avalon. All the dives and water sports were cancelled. Oddly we planned this adventure two weeks ago and we were going to part of the island where the conditions would be exceptionally favorable for diving and hiking.

We took a taxi to Eagles Nest Lodge, an old resting stop for stagecoaches during the late 19th century and walked down to Ben Weston Canyon trail to the beach. The PIMU Catalina Island Archaeological Project took us to Eagles Nest Lodge to practice entry-level archaeological excavations. All archaeology has long since stopped on the island since the early 20th century. The Catalina Conservancy protects burial sites of the ancestors of the Gabrielino/Tongva, the decedents of the Tongva who called their people living on Catalina the Pimu’gnans, also known as “Pimu’vetem,” translated as the “powerful ones” because they were considered to have supernatural abilities to bend trees and calm the oceans.

Desiree Martinez (Gabrielino/Tongva and President of the Cogstone Resource Management), a co-producer of the PIMU Catalina Archaeological Field School and Project describes the Pimu’gnans in a recent webinar that was held on Monday October 12th entitled “Curator’s Choice Mystical Romantism.” Dr. Wendy Teeter (Curator of Archaeology at the Fowler Museum) and Karimah Kennedy Richardson (Associate Curator of the Autry Museum of the American West), also both co-producers of the PIMU Field School and Project were speaking during the webinar.

It was an interesting talk focused on explaining the goals of the PIMU Project and debunking the myths and legends of the Pimu’gnans and the history of the Catalina Island. They debunk legends of fantastic beasts and unexplained phenomena on Catalina Island. Stories of Nephilim, giants, hollow earth portals, ancient aliens and white Indians have obscured the actual 10,000 plus year history of the Tongva people on Pimug’gna as the call it on Catalina. Panelists will share some of their favorite experiences on and historical documents about Catalina Island and will unpack the implications of its legends.

The Pimu’gnans were known to have practiced the ingestion of Datura wrightii or Jimson Weed that can be found throughout the island. It is this hallucinogen/delirium that is extremely toxic but considered sacred to the Natives and as far as Chile and all throughout the American Southwest. It is a low growing plant with a prominent white flower surrounded by seed pods with spikes. Many cultures all over the world viewed Datura genus as sacred. The Datura genus grows all over the world, especially in China, India, Southern America and South East Asia.

Monday morning was overcast with dark clouds turning red during sunrise in Avalon. The night before was the first time it had rained and our apartment wall in the kitchen had started to leak water around the fridge and near the sink. It did not bother us since we were both focused on packing and getting ready to leave at 7am. Although I woke up at 4am because I was extremely excited and pumped about our adventure to Eagles Nest Lodge and Ben Weston Beach. Finally, after almost 3 months since we first arrived at Catalina, we were taking a taxi to the interior to explore. A round trip price to the west side by taxi is about 300 dollars. Less expensive shuttles that range (around 20 dollars each way) are available that take you into the interior provided by the Catalina Conservancy, but the shuttle would not take us directly to Eagles Nest and we wanted to hike all day out there.

Our Taxi ride to Eagles Nest was exhilarating. I felt so satisfied to be journeying into the interior and healthy. I have been researching about the history of the island and its ancient inhabitants ever since the PIMU Catalina Island Archaeological Field School in 2013 that Chad and I had participated in for one month in July. We passed a Bison sitting near the familiar Laura Stein Camp Site, about 6 miles from Avalon off Airport Road. We camped there for the first week of the field school. The Taxi then continued on Middle Ranch Road that wound its way west through the canyon past the reservoir, and horse stables and finally to Eagles Nest Lodge.

It was at Eagles Nest Lodge that the PIMU field school had us practice archaeological digs and entry level field work. To see it after seven years was amazing and smaller than what I remembered. As soon as the taxi left, I was jumping up and down and recorded everything. Chad was amazed to be back there as well. I had been researching the history of the island and its inhabitants ever since the field school in 2013 so we were looking at our surroundings with wise new eyes.

It was about 8 o’clock when we arrived at Eagles Nest Lodge. The Lodge was gated off and dwindling to pieces. It looked no different from when we first saw it except for the absence of archaeological test units.

Eagles Nest used to be stagecoach stop built in 1896. According to Claude Brooks (the Santa Catalina Island Company president between 1977-1984) said, “Eagle’s Nest took its name from a pair of Bald Eagles who made their home in a tree near the building.”

Back then, Eagles Nest Lodge was a part of the stagecoach road that traversed the interior and coast of Catalina. Horses were maintained at the lodge that also provided overnight stays. Around 1910 the Lodge discontinued until to opened up again in1934. It then closed again during WWII in 1939. The same building, about 124 years old, can be seen today looking like it is on the brink of collapsing.

Bison poop was all around, so we had to be careful of startling them or approaching them because there had been several mauling incidences in the past. We also had to be wary of snakes and poison oak that grew abundantly around the Manzanita Groves. After we took many pictures of Eagles Nest Lodge and reminisced about old times during the field school, we continued forward, and I noticed the dried-up stream to our left that originated from Thompson Reservoir next to Middle Ranch. We continued to see Bison pies along the road.

The hike was easy as we continued along Middle Ranch Road because it was cleared from all bushes and wide enough for two cars to pass each other. Then my eyes began to zigzag all over the place. I was trying to soak up the terrain as much as I could with my brain. I looked at the huge rock formations along the canyon sides to Ben Weston Canyon Trail because I was pondering about the potential places of hidden archaeological sites described by Charles Holder. Soon we made our way to the turnout of Middle Ranch Road that was in front of Ben Weston Canyon Trail, the trail that led to Ben Weston beach that followed the dried up creek bed with only small pools of water gathering in various places. I noticed great big pieces of white quartz scattered about the canyon sides and some of the boulders looked like they were made from a white granite.

When we began Ben Weston Canyon Trail, we noticed the change in plant life. The environment went from being very arid and dry with low growing brush to tall grasses and coastal salt flat succulent communities and freshwater march and aquatic communities. (A Flora of Santa Catalina Island, California by Robert F Thorne 1967 file:///C:/Users/Stephanie/Downloads/c9700d00172aa0d46c18237ef9a68eedd988.pdf ) The environment was cooler because it was shaded by small trees thriving from the little stream that was once a flowing over 100 years ago. We saw many bison poop pies. We made loud sounds periodically to warn the Bison of our presence so not to startle them. We were also watching for snakes because the narrow trail was overgrown and with much poison oak. The canyon surrounding us had interesting rock structures and lots of solid granite and quartz outcroppings. Water erosion could be seen along the sides of the canyon with inaccessible areas with cactus and thick bushes making me wonder what was this area like 400 years ago?

Finally, we could see where the trail opening into the area that once formed a lagoon before the stream went into beach. It was awesome to hear the ocean waves again. The scenery was impressive. Since Ben Weston ground point of view is unavailable online it was a beautiful surprise to see how the beach was connected to two canyons. Ben Weston Canyon Trail led down the left canyon when looking away from the beach. The bottom of the right canyon may have a trail like Ben Weston Canyon trail, but it looked treacherous.

We reached the Ben Weston Beach at about noon. The beach is a big area, and no one was around except us. We wondered around enjoying the smell of the ocean and the privacy. The water was calm with only small waves. Flying fish could be seen jumping out of the water by the Indian Head dive spot. It was interesting to see that a large portion of the beach is roped off by the conservancy with signs saying, “please protect this sensitive area.” It must be because “coastal dune grassland is severely limited due to the relatively few sandy beaches with very small dune areas that are heavily trampled by human traffic. The best dune areas are at Little and Shark Harbors and Ben Weston Beach” (taken from “A Flora of Santa Catalina Island, California” by Robert F. Thorne)

We took a rest under the shade of a man-made structure/awning with concrete picnic tables at the northern end of the beach or left of the beach when looking away from the ocean. We ate lunch and took pictures as we enjoyed listening to music and talking about our adventure. Ben Weston Canyon Trail was challenging and took longer to get to the beach than we had expected even though the trail is only about a mile. The trail was challenging because of the risk of running into Bison, which is why we had to walk slow, and trying to avoid snakes and poison oak.

The taxi was supposed to pick us up at 5pm so we decided it was best to leave Ben Weston at 1 pm to make sure that we make it back in time at Eagles Nest Lodge when the taxi arrives, which was about three miles away from where we were. After feeling satisfied with our time at Ben Weston beach we made our way back up Ben Weston Canyon trail to Middle Ranch Road. We made mental notes of where we wanted to explore along the trail next time, we decided to go out there. Thank god we did not see any Bison during our journey.

Luckily when we made it back to Middle Ranch Road at about 2 o’clock, we were greeted by some of Chad’s co-workers who had a vehicle and permit to traverse the roads in the interior. It is rare for people to obtain a vehicle on Catalina because you must get on a 26-year waiting period before you can own one on the island. We cancelled our return taxi and took a ride with them. They told us that Avalon was still being pounded by heavy wind and rain and Cotton Wood, Shark and Little Harbor (the next beaches north of Ben Weston) was shielded from the windstorm and the conditions were perfect. It was the perfect day to be out driving and explore the interior, especially the west side.

They showed us the waterfall hidden in a mouth of a small canyon behind Cotton wood beach that was mentioned in Charles Holder’s book “The Isle of Summer 1901” on page 33 with is a picture of exactly what it looks like from 119 years ago. The Conservancy had recently put fish in the small pond formed by the waterfall. Cotton wood beach is the next beach over from Ben Weston and after Cotton Wood is Shark harbor and then Little harbor.

We parked at Little Harbor and enjoyed the calm and peaceful sunny afternoon while Avalon and the east side was getting hit by heavy wind. No one was around except for few people walking around under the palm trees of the camp site of Little Harbor. It is a beautiful campsite with flat ground, many palm trees, and exceptionally clean porta-potties. It was such as perfect day to go on this adventure, it felt like fate, or like destiny. There was one Catamaran parked in Little Harbor Bay and it floated gently above the glistening water as the sun shone high in the sky.

Then we followed the road El Rancho Escondido to the Airport. It was an amazing scenic drive. After three months of staying around Avalon it was refreshing to see some of the interior with the help of our friends. I felt on top of the world as the truck climbed higher and higher in elevation to the airport. The chapparal landscape of the Catalina mountains was beautiful, we spotted a few Bison on our drive up to the Airport and lots of amazing rock outcropping. There is so much to explore in the interior that it is overwhelming.

The Airport was just how I remembered it in 2013. There was a huge Hangar with a sign that read “Welcome to Catalina Island, Airport in the Sky.” The Airport is a big open space with little jets parked around the perimeter along with a few vehicles. It was approaching 4 o’clock and the airport’s little café and gift shop called DC3 Gifts and Grill was about to close so we quickly ordered their buffalo burgers with cheese and bacon. It is delicious. It is a tourist must have. You must try their burger if you ever find yourself at the Catalina Airport in the Sky. The patty is juicy, and the bacon is crispy. The cookies that they make by scratch are also delicious. I ordered the chocolate chip and peanut butter cookie. It was soft and slightly most with hearty chunks of semi-sweet chocolate.

After our gourmet meal I took many pictures of the friendly black cat who roamed around the vicinity and the many ravens that flew overhead. There is also a well-known soapstone quarry, another archaeological site many visitors inspect next to the airport that is easy to find if you just ask someone working at the gift shop. During the field school in 2013 they had shown us the site and explained the ways the Natives would carve out the bowls and how it would create the bowl-shaped scaring on the soapstone outcropping.

Soapstone pottery was an important exchange item on the island and the discovery of these quarries was a major archaeological revelation because it explained the soapstone bowls found in other locations in California and in Oregon. There are many other quarries surrounding the island. Charles Holder mentions these quarries and other archaeological site in his book “The isle of Summer” and “The Channel Islands.” There are some near Pebbly Beach, Potts Valley, Empire landing, and one by Emerald Bay. Charles Holder explains where to find different archaeological sites in his books but be wary that it is forbidden by the Catalina Conservancy to vandalize or destroy sites like these.

What is different about the airport from when we first visited it in 2013, was the side panels of the Information Center by the huge mural of a map of Catalina Island in front of the Café and Gift Shop. The panels of the Information Center had new paintings of the Native Americans and other historical figures that made a huge impact such as Charles Holder who founded the Tuna Club in 1898 and others like the Spanish explorers and Wrigley. The panels showed information about the plant life and the wildlife on land and the ocean. It also informed about the preservations projects the Catalina Conservancy conducts to preserve the wildlife on the island. The Conservancy was established in 1972 by the Wrigley and Offield family as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration and protection of the island.

The Sun began to get low overhead at about 5pm and we took Airport Road back to Avalon which winds around treacherous precipices that overlook the ocean. The view on the ride back was awe-inspiring and you can get better understanding of the geological terrain of the island as opposed to just staying in Avalon. The stunning rock formations, mountains and canyons are great backdrops for selfies. Many serious hikers are drawn to the landscape and walk the Trans-Catalina trail.

Coming back to Avalon was uncanny. The windstorm had died down when we arrived, and we could see visible damage caused by the windstorm that hit. On Descanso beach a huge ship crashed on the far side of beach near the rocks after the mooring had broken. It spilled much gasoline and debris into the water that was continually being picked up by the ocean patrol. There were other many dingy and rafts overturned in the bay of Avalon. Normally there are little to no waves hitting the bay of Avalon, but the windstorm created huge haves that pounded the walkways of Crescent Avenue. Chad’s co-workers were bringing in many wood boards and garbage that found its way into the ocean days later

The next day was a perfect calm sunny day in Avalon but much smoke could be seen coming in from fires breaking out in Southern California caused by the windstorm. Salt stained Crescent Avenue and the beach was littered with huge rocks the washed up from the shores and other pieces of garbage. When walking with Chad the next day to Casino Point, I felt at peace with myself because I had finally accomplished going to the interior. With the pandemic happening in the middle of February, we were lucky to have been healthy and happy. I was afraid that I would not have been able to make it to the interior without getting sick first from traveling and working.

Overall, my experience on Monday was amazing. It was one of the best days of my life. I am happy and satisfied and enjoying one of the most gorgeous places on this planet. I am enjoying this new feeling of fulfillment and illumination after having explored the interior of this magical island of perennial summer.

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