The Channel Islands

The Channel Islands, a chain of eight islands lying just off California's southern coast (counting the three islands of Anacapa as one), appear quite close on clear days. Five of the eight islands and their surrounding one nautical mile of ocean, with its kelp forests comprise Channel Islands National Park.

In 1980, Congress designated Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands and 125,000 acres of submerged lands as a national park because they possess unique natural and cultural resources. The park provided habitat for marine life ranging from microscopic plankton to the Earth's largest creatures, the blue whale.

Seafaring Indians plied the Santa Barbara Channel in swift, seaworthy canoes called "tomols". The Chumash or "island people" had villages on the northern islands and traded with the mainland Indians. The Gabrielino people lived on the southern island of Santa Barbara. 1542 found the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo entering the Santa Barbara Channel. Cabrillo, commanding an expedition in service of Spain, was the first European to land on the islands. While on his northbound odyssey of exploration, Cabrillo wintered on an island he called San Lucas (San Miguel or possibly Santa Rosa Island). He died as a result of a fall on that island and may have been buried on one of the Channel Islands, but his grave has never been found. Subsequent explorers included Sebastian Vizacaino, Gaspar de Portola and English Captain George Vancouver, who in 1793, fixed the present names of the islands on nautical charts. Beginning in late 1700s and into the 1800s, Russian, British and American fur traders searched the islands' coves and shorelines for sea otter. The otter was almost hunted to extinction. The hunters then turned toward the seals and sea lions. Several of these species faced extinction as well. In the early 1800s, the Chumash and Gabrielino people were removed from the islands and settled in mainland missions. Hunters, settlers and ranchers soon came to the islands. By the mid-1800s, except for fishermen, ranching became the economic mainstay. In the early 1900s, the US Lighthouse Service (later the US Cost Guard) began its stay on Anacapa Island. The US Navy took control over the Island of San Miguel just before World War II.

In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the islands of Anacapa and Santa Barbara a national monument. On March 05, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed into law a bill abolishing Channel Islands National Monument. He then raised the status of these islands, with the addition of the waters surrounding Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa to that of a national park. This area was augmented by the designation of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary later that year. The sanctuary boundaries stretched six miles offshore, encircling Santa Barbara and the four northern islands, including their interconnecting channels. Today, Channel Islands National Park is part of the International Man and the Biosphere program to conserve genetic diversity and an environmental baseline for research and monitoring throughout the world.

Visitors to the park may enjoy a variety of recreational opportunities, such as SCUBA diving, snorkeling, swimming, bird watching, kayaking, whale watching, and sailing. On the islands, one may camp, hike, picnic, and explore tidepools, isolated beaches, and rugged canyons. Park naturalists conduct interpretive hikes on the islands throughout the year.

Annual visitation to the park's mainland visitor center is 120,000. Visitation to the islands and waters is low, with about 30,000 visitors traveling to the islands, and another 60,000 who go only into park waters. Although most visitation occurs in the summer, migrating gray whales and spectacular wildflower displays attract visitors in the winter and spring. Autumn is an excellent time to travel to the park, as well as for diving, as the days are usually sunny, with minimal winds and clear ocean water.

The Mainland Visitor Center features a museum, living tidepool exhibit, three-dimensional models of all the park islands, interactive touch-screen exhibit, a tower with telescopes for viewing the islands, picnic area overlooking the Ventura Harbor, a bookstore, and an outdoor native plant garden. Visitors will enjoy the 25-minute park movie, "A Treasure in the Sea", throughout the day in the auditorium. Every Saturday and Sunday park rangers present free interpretive programs on the natural and cultural resources of the park. Throughout the week, other programs and school visits may be scheduled by calling the visitor center. All facilities are fully accessible.

Every weekend several scheduled programs are offered. Programs include Tidepool Talk at 11:00 am and Recreating at Channel Islands National Park at 2:00 PM. At 3:00 PM, rangers offer programs that look in depth at a variety of topics about the park. Programs are free to the public.

Anacapa Island

Anacapa Island (699 acres) lies 11 miles southwest of Oxnard and 14 miles off the coast from Ventura. Almost five miles long, its total land area is about one square miles. Anacapa is composed of three small islets inaccessible from each other except by boat. For much of the year the island vegetation looks brown. With winter rains, the plants emerge from summer's dormancy and turn green. Sea mammals are often seen around Anacapa's shores. January through March is gray whale watch season, and migrating whales can be seen swimming along their 10,000-mile migration route. Western gulls, cormorants, black oystercatchers, and endangered California brown pelicans may be seen year round. West Anacapa's slopes are the primary West Coast nesting sites for the brown pelican. To protect the pelican rookery, West Anacapa's is a Research Natural Area closed to the public. Except at Frenchy's Cove, no landings are permitted on West Anacapa without written permission from the park superintendent.

Anacapa is the only Channel Island to retain its American Indian name, derived from the Chumash word, "Eneepah", meaning island of deception or mirage. Ocean waves have eroded the perimeter of the island, creating steep sea cliffs towering hundreds of feet in height and exposing the volcanic origins of air pockets, lava tubes, and sea caves. At the East End of Anacapa a natural bridge has formed in the ocean. Forty-foot high Arch Rock is a trademark of Anacapa and Channel Islands National Park. The facilities on Anacapa overlook the northern channel.

San Miguel Island

San Miguel Island (9,325 acres). Wind and weather sweep across the North Pacific to batter the shores of the westernmost of all the islands. This creates a harsh and profoundly beautiful environment. San Miguel is about eight miles long and four miles wide. It is primarily a plateau about 500 feet in elevation, to two 800 foot rounded hills emerge from its wild, windswept landscape.

San Miguel boast outstanding natural and cultural features. Some of the Channel Islands' best examples of caliche are found here. One of the most spectacular wildlife displays in the park is viewing the thousands of seals and sea lions that breed on its isolated shores. The Channel Islands' largest land mammal, the island fox, can be seen on San Miguel. The island's fragile treasures include more than 500 relatively undisturbed archeological sites, some dating back as far as 11,000 years. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, european discoverer of California, is believed to have wintered and died at Cuyler Harbor in 1543. Although his grave has never been found, a monument overlooking Cuyler Harbor was erected in 1937 to commemorate his northern voyage of exploration.


In the 1850s, Captain George Nidever brought sheep, cattle and horses to San Miguel. An adobe he built may be the earliest structure on any of the Channel Islands. Its remains are barely visible today. In 1930, Herbert and Elizabeth Lester became the island's caretakers. The family left the island in 1942 after the suicide of Herbert Lester, who had become known as the "King of San Miguel." From the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s the island was used as a bombing range. Staying on the trail is particularly important because live ordnance is still occasionally uncovered by shifting sands

San Miguel has a primitive campground, miles of hiking trails and beaches, and offers Ranger-led hikes, marine-mammal observation, beach exploration, and bird watching. Fifty-five miles off the coast from Ventura, San Miguel Island is the farthest west of the Channel Islands. Because of its location in the open ocean, it is subject to high winds and lots of fog. We do not recommend visiting in anything but the most settled weather conditions, and only with special permission.  The island is a tableland of lush grasses and wildflowers, with 27 miles of jagged, rocky coastline dotted with sandy white beaches. The westernmost of these beaches, Point Bennett, is the only place in the world where up to six different species of pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) can be found.

San Miguel is famous worldwide for its pinniped show. In the winter, as many as 20,000 individual seals and sea lions can be seen at one time on Point Bennett, where they breed and where the pups are born.

San Nicholas Island

San Nicolas Island is also known as the "Island of the Blue Dolphins", since the publication of the popular children's book by that name. Though a fictionalized account, the book is historically based, on the life of Juana Maria, a Nicoleno woman who lived alone on the island for eighteen years, in the 19th century.

San Nicolas Island lies sixty miles off coastal Ventura County in the Pacific Ocean. Island bio-geography, in concert with time, has allowed many unique plants and animals to evolve on San Nicolas Island. Many endangered, protected and sensitive species also find refuge on the island, due to its relative isolation and strict DOD access restrictions. Biological research and volunteer projects are occasionally permitted, to enhance knowledge or aid management of natural resources.

Like San Clemente Island, San Nicolas Island is owned by the US Navy and closed to the public.

Santa Barbara Island

Santa Barbara Island (639 acres) lies far south of the other park islands. Smaller, about one square mile, and triangular, its steep cliffs rise to a marine terrace topped by two peaks. The highest point, Signal Peak, is 635 feet in elevation.

Santa Barbara Island was named by Sebastian Vizcaina, who arrived here on 04 December 1602. This date is known as Santa Barbara's Day. Because of the lack of fresh water, Native Americans did not reside on the island, but they stopped off on journeys to other islands. Not until the 20th century was Santa Barbara Island settled to any extent. During the 1920s, farming, grazing, intentional burning by island residents and the introduction of rabbits severely damaged the native vegetation. During World War II the U.S. Navy used the island as an early warning outpost. Through non-native grasses including oats, barley, and brome dominate the landscape, with protection and encouragement the native vegetation is recovering. With the rabbits now removed, stands of giant coreopsis thrive. In places this sunflower grows up to ten feet tall. In the spring, gold fields blanket the island with tiny, bright yellow flowers.

California sea lions and, in winter, elephant seals breed here. Bird watching is superb. Western gulls, xantus murrelets and brown pelicans nest on the island plateaus and cliffs. Land birds, including barn owls, American kestrels, horned tarks and meadowlarks nest here. Although not commonly seen, the island deer mouse and the island night lizard, a threatened species, live on the island.

Santa Barbara Island offers 5.5 miles of trails to explore. A good place to start is the Canyon View self-guiding nature trail near the ranger station and campground. A trail booklet explains the island's interesting features. A park ranger stationed on the island interprets its features and enforces rules and regulations. There is no telephone, but in emergencies the ranger has radio communications with park headquarters.

There is an abundance of wildlife on Santa Barbara, primarily sea birds and marine mammals. This is a good area to view the underwater life, in the warmer waters of this southernmost island in the park. Snorkeling in the Landing Cove, visitors can see bright sea stars, spiny sea urchins, and brilliant orange garibaldi. Spring rains bring out the flowering plants, such as the tree sunflower, the endemic Santa Barbara Island live forever, shrubby buckwheat, sea blite, and an annual poppy. There is a visitor contact station/museum on the island, with exhibits, dioramas, and murals of the natural and cultural resources.

Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island is one of 8 Santa Barbara Channel Islands stretching along the So. California coast. Catalina itself has a 120-million-year geological history. Early paleontologists assumed it was once attached to the mainland, but recent studies and more modern scientific methods have proven otherwise. Catalina, only 19 miles from the mainland at its closest point, sits on the Pacific tectonic plate, while most of California and the rest of the U.S. are on the North American plate. Plate movements and volcanic eruptions are mostly responsible for the formation of Catalina Island (though this is not consistently true of the other Channel Islands). The 2 most common types of Island rock are the result of this formation process: igneous (volcanic) and metamorphic (sedimentary rock that has changed under pressure, heat or chemical action). The Indians of the mainland used a descriptive phrase when they spoke of Catalina Island: Wexajmomte asunga wow-"mountain ranges that rise from the sea." Most of the Island consists of mountains interspersed with meadows and valleys. Black Jack at 2006 feet and Mt. Orizaba at 2097 feet are the two highest peaks. Some of the coastal cliffs fall abruptly to the sea leaving not even a path's space along the ocean, while in other areas the hills slope gently to sandy beaches below. The 21-mile-long Island lies in an E-W direction. On the western (or windward) side, the Pacific crashes against the tall rugged coast. Off the eastern (or lee) coast that faces the California mainland, the sea is calm and placid. The widest point on Catalina is at Long Point directly across from China Point on the windward side (approximately 7.5 miles). The E and W sides of the Island have a natural cleavage at Two Harbors-a half-mile wide isthmus 6 miles from the W end, which is the narrowest point. A deep, undersea ledge girdles the landmass of the Island, fostering a rich habitat for marine life. Catalina's steep canyon walls create a temperature and climate that have much to do with sustaining types of vegetation that are unique to the Island. water: Although surrounded by water, the drinkable kind has always been a problem for Catalina. In the early days the Indians and then the first settlers relied for their water needs mostly on the few natural springs scattered over the Island, and the few streams which still run to the sea after a good wet year. Today, the utility company maintains a dam, reservoir and pipeline to accommodate the Island's freshwater needs.

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People have been living on Santa Catalina Island for at least 7,000 years. Archaeologists excavating on a limited scale at Little Harbor on the seaward side of the Island for the past 40 years keep coming up with earlier and earlier dates. They find evidence of increasingly complex material cultures with a strong maritime adaptation. These earlier groups of peoples exploited the rich resources of the sea--from abalone and other mollusks, to small and large fish, and marine mammals such as sea lions.

The semi-arid Island offered limited plant resources, so the Islanders traded sea products and, in later years, steatite for their other needs. The Islanders made the 20-mile voyage to the mainland (and to the other Channel Islands) in well-crafted plank canoes. Steatite (an easily carvable rock that does not crack when put in the fire) from Santa Catalina has been found in both mainland and Island sites throughout Southern California.

Over the millennia, as peoples migrated through California, different groups of Native Americans would have made their homes on the Island. For several thousand years before European contact, the Los Angeles basin and the Southern Channel Islands (Santa Catalina, San Clemente, and San Nicholas) appear to have been inhabited by peoples of linguistic affinity--the Takic branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Various areas would have had their own dialects (more or less mutually unintelligible) of the same language family and would have shared other cultural traits.

Spanish Discovery - The Pimungans of Santa Catalina Island paddled out to greet the Spanish galleon that bore the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo to their shores on October 7, 1542. Just 50 years after Columbus first sailed into the Western Hemisphere, the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) had authorized an expedition up the coast of California in search of a passage to the Far East. The Pimungans were invited aboard ship and gifts were exchanged. It is not known which cove the Spanish ship anchored in. Cabrillo, of course, claimed the Island for the King of Spain. The visit was duly noted in the ship's log and the Island was given the name San Salvador, after Cabrillo's ship. Cabrillo sailed on up the coast after about half a day.

Except for the possible occasional sighting of the yearly Manila Galleon sailing down the coast on its return to New Spain from The Philippines, the Pimungans were left in peace until 1602. On November 24, the eve of St. Catherine's Day, the ship of the second Spanish explorer, Sebastian Viscaino, sighted the Island. Viscaino renamed it Santa Catalina in honor of Saint Catherine. His party stayed a day or two longer than Cabrillo and explored a bit on foot before sailing on. An Augustinian friar with the expedition said the first Catholic Mass on Santa Catalina. Relations with the Pimungans were amicable, although the Islanders became distressed when the sailors shot some Ravens, which held a special place in their world.

Yankee and English merchant ships soon began to appear as well, having sailed all the way around The Horn of South America laden with manufactured goods. They knew that the government of New Spain did not keep the California outposts well supplied and that the Friars and townspeople would often trade leather and tallow and even otter pelts for manufactured items although it was against the law.

When New Spain revolted from its mother country and became Mexico in 1820, California became a province in the new country. The Mexican government allowed trade with foreigners but levied a tariff on all goods imported into the country. (As there was no property or income tax at the time, this was their primary means of raising revenue for running the government.) However, the Mexican government still did not have enough ships to patrol the California coast.

Otter Hunters - The Pimungans began to feel the Spanish influence shortly after a series of Missions were built along the coast, starting in 1769, when Spain began to fear the encroachment by the Russians and English. No mission was built on the Island itself, but the Pimungans began to have other visitors. A staunch believer in the prevailing Mercantilist Theory, Spain did not allow its colonies to trade with foreigners. However, sea otter were plentiful around the Channel Islands and Russian and American sea otter hunters were eager to obtain their pelts, which brought high prices in China. By 1805, Russian, American, and Aleut otter hunters began appearing in Island waters in defiance of the Spanish government. The Spaniards did not have enough ships to patrol their territory, so the hunters were able to camp undetected and hunt.

Smugglers - Smugglers would put part of their cargoes ashore at Santa Catalina and then appear at the customs port to pay duty on the remaining cargo. They would then receive permission to trade up and down the coast--which they did, coming back to Catalina to replenish their stock with undeclared goods. Several smugglers blatantly set up warehouses on the Island and were admonished and fined by the Mexican authorities. The trade was still leather and tallow (and otter skins while the supply lasted) for manufactured goods. The leather and tallow was taken back to the East Coast or England to be turned into manufactured goods and perhaps journey around The Horn again.. By this time, the surviving Pimungans had left the island.

Mexican Land Grant - Santa Catalina Island was awarded by Mexican Governor Pio Pico to Thomas Robbins as a land grant in 1846, just four days before the United States invaded California. Robbins was a naturalized Mexican citizen who had been living in California for about 20 years and had performed various services for the government, mainly as a ship captain. Paying for services with land was customary, but ownership was provisional. To maintain his title, the grantee had to use the land. Robbins established a small rancho on the Island, but sold it in 1850 to Jose Maria Covarrubias, just two years after California became a part of the United States as the result of the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo.


Many people mistakenly believe that Catalina is a tropical island. Though the sun does shine an average of 267 days a year, its climate is in fact similar to the So. California coast. Thanks to cooling marine breezes, Catalina is generally moister and cooler in the summer months. In the winter, with help from the warm Japanese current, it's generally a few degrees milder. In the summer, the average temperature ranges from 70 to 76 degrees F. Variable in the winter, the temperature ranges from 49-63 degrees F depending on what the rains bring. The average rainfall is 14 inches per year, but the extremes can be great. Some years (as on the main land), there's as much as 30 inches of rain, while the drought years of 1977 and 1978 brought virtually none. The average water temperature in the winter is 56-59 F, in the summer 67-70. The winter months almost always bring a northeastern (Santa Ana) storm or two. These Santa Ana conditions can turn the calm Pacific into a raging sea. Its high winds are infrequent but dangerous; sometimes reaching 50 knots, they occur Nov.-March. Fog can be expected in all seasons, but in winter it covers a wider area and lasts longer. In May and June, Catalina hosts the fog till about noon. What many visitors consider Catalina's biggest attraction is the lack of smog. This is due to westerly winds and the Island's distance from the mainland.


Catalina's climate and steep canyons have much to do with the vegetation characteristic to the Island. Though the plant life is similar to the mainland, its resident species are slightly different. Some plant life that thrives on the Island today existed on the mainland 20,000 years ago, but as the mainland became drier many of those plants died out. Of approximately 600 species of plants on Catalina, 396 are native. trees: Early accounts by miners and settlers mention an abundance of pine trees. Yet, the pines introduced in re cent years haven't thrived on Catalina because of the frequent dry years.


BUFFALO: In 1924 when William Farnum, a Western moviemaker, was filming Zane Grey's "The Vanishing American," 14 head of buffalo were brought to the Island for the film. Rounding up the buffalo afterward was much too difficult, so in the end they were left to roam. By 1934 the herd had increased to 19; then 30, as additional buffalo were brought from Colorado to supplement the herd. Today's population is held to 400-500-the ideal number for the ecosystem. When the herd gets too large, buffalo are culled; the carcasses are sent to the mainland to be butchered and frozen, then shipped back as expensive hamburger-buffalo chili and burgers are sold at the Airport-In-The-Sky. When an old bull is challenged by a younger one a fierce battle generally follows. In most cases the old bull is run out of the herd. Considered a rogue, he thereafter roams the hills alone. When a bull finds an entry into Avalon it always causes unusual excitement. Early one morning in 1978 the town woke to see a rogue wandering down the beach in Avalon. Before anyone could do anything, he had trotted up Sumner St. and darted his way onto the Pitch and Putt golf course adjoining Avalon's elementary school. The whole affair soon turned into a noisy roundup with cheering children and a police car chasing the running bull back and forth the length of the golf course, trying to guide him through an opening in the brick wall that borders the area. The worn-out beast finally allowed the police to guide him through the gate, and he quickly fled toward the peaceful environment of the Interior. There is fencing at every entry into Avalon from the Interior and a large metal bump gate for cars. Ordinarily, this keeps the animals in the hills and out of town but as noted above there are exceptions.

DEER: Although anthropologist Kroeber briefly mentions deer in his 1925 "Handbook of Indians of California," many historians date the introduction of deer to Catalina in 1930, when 18 mule deer were brought to the Island for refuge by the California Fish and Game Commission. They too have adapted to the environment, multiplying to the point where deer hunts must be organized periodically to keep the population down. In years of little rain the deer come into town to feast on rose buds and other garden delicacies. During one severe drought the deer did exceptional damage. To avert total devastation, the animals were trapped in huge cages, shipped to the mainland and set free in a wild area where ample forage was available.

GOATS: The hills of Catalina Island are lined with a network of narrow paths. These are mostly goat trails. Since goat bones have not been found in the Indian kitchen middens, it's been assumed that they arrived after the Spanish era. Some historians claim Spanish explorers brought goats to insure a supply of meat for their travels. Naturalists now disagree with that idea, but another hasn't been suggested. Today the goats number in the thousands. Their coats vary from white to brown to black or a mixture of all three; the most common is the shaggy black goat. Some billies have large horn-spreads measuring three feet and more. These ornery animals command the sheerest cliffs, and frequently climb down to the water's edge to lick salt from the ocean-sprayed rocks. You're sure to spot Catalina goats in the interior. Sometimes a whole herd will be scattered across the brow of a hill-dark dots against the golden grass. Often they'll be grazing along with a herd of buffalo.

WILD BOAR: The wild boar (pig) was introduced to Catalina in the mid-1920s to hold down the rattlesnake population. These huge pigs are mean, and have multiplied into the thousands. Though generally anxious to escape a human confrontation, they will almost always fight to protect their young. They occasionally come into Avalon and damage the golf course by digging up the greens, but for the most part they stay in the backcountry to run loose on the roughly 42,000 acres at their disposal. To keep the herds down, boar and goat hunts are organized through the Cove and Camp Agency at Two Harbors (see "Hunting" in "Outdoor Recreation").

RED FOX: The small red fox, native to the Island, is seldom seen by the casual observer. However, it has been said that on a summer evening if you study the shoreline where the flying-fish boat flashes its lights toward shore, you'll see fish that mistakenly follow the light beam to land on the rocky beach, stranded. They don't remain long. Another small creature is also watching and waiting for just this opportunity for a fresh seafood meal.

SEA LIONS: Herds of this "circus seal," so intelligent and easily trained, range the California waters and are protected by law from hunters; some specimens five for as long as 35 years. Ranging in color from tan or gray to almost black, the California sea lion cow may be more than 6 feet long and weigh over 300 lbs., while the bulls can grow to 9 feet and 1000 pounds. A large male usually has a prominent crest on its forehead. These enormous bulls battle for favorite locations for their breeding harems, even while the cows are still birthing. Pups are usually born in June, though some are born as early as May and as late as July. The pups then have the summer - a gentle season of mild weather-and an abundant supply of fish to encourage their rapid growth. The sea lions return to the place of their birth to mate each year in late spring or early summer. At one time hundreds flocked back to Catalina; they still do, but not in the same numbers. On San Miguel, another Channel Island, thousands return each year, and its shores are jammed with bellowing caterwauling hordes. Naturalists are studying the Catalina area for reasons why the seal population has decreased so radically. If you have any interest in the habits of these intelligent, inquisitive pinipeds ("fin-footed" ones), the ideal way to observe their habits is from a boat. Watching them lolling on the rocks in the summer sun or gently nudging their pups into the water for a swimming lesson is well worth the time.

Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island (60,645 acres) - Largest and most diverse of the islands within the park, Santa Cruz Island is about 24 miles long and it's eastern tip is is 16 miles from Channel Islands Harbor. Its land area is about 96 square miles. The central valley's north slope is a rugged ridge; the south slope is an older, more weathered ridge. At 2,470 feet, the highest of the Channel Islands mountains is found here. Santa Cruz Island's 77 mile varied coastline has steep cliffs, gigantic sea caves, inviting coves and sandy beaches. The shoreline cliffs, beaches, offshore rocks, and tidepools provide important breeding habitat for colonies of nesting sea birds and diverse plants and animals. The varied topography and ample freshwater support a remarkable array of flora and fauna--more than 600 plant species, 140 land bird species, and a small, distinctive group of other land animals.

Click here for some cruising info

Of the 85 plant species native to the Channel Islands, nine occur only on Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz Island ironwood, the island oak, the island fox, scrub jay and other distinctive plant and animal species have adapted to the island's unique environment. To biologists, Santa Cruz is specifically significant for its diversity of habitat, greater than any other of the Channel Islands.

Chumash Indians inhabited Santa Cruz Island for more that 6,000 years. When Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo arrived in 1542, as many as 2,000 Chumash Indians probably lived here.

Ranching began on the island in 1839, with a Mexican land grant to Andres Castillero, and continued to the early 1980s.

In 1988 the Nature Conservancy acquired the western 90 percent of the island. Landing permits are required to go ashore there. The National Park Service owns the eastern 10%, where visitors may observe wildlife, hike, camp and explore the newest addition to the park. Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the Channel Islands. It is an island of great scenic beauty with diverse land forms--two rugged mountain ranges, deep canyons, a wide central valley, year-round springs and streams, giant sea caves, 77 miles of craggy coastline cliffs, pristine tidepools and expansive beaches.

Over 650 species of plants and trees are on the island, growing in marshes, grasslands, chaparral, and pine forests. Eight of the plants are endemic--found nowhere else. The island fox is also found on Santa Cruz, as well as over 140 land bird species, marine mammals, and tidepool critters. The largest and deepest known sea cave in the world, Painted Cave, is on Santa Cruz. Evidence of human occupation can be seen in Chumash Indian sites up through Spanish exploration and ranching days.

Santa Rosa Island

Santa Rosa Island (52,794 acres) - The second largest island is Santa Rosa. Nearly 15 miles long and 10 miles wide, its 84 square miles exhibit remarkable contrasts. Cliffs on the northeastern shore rival those of Santa Cruz Island. High mountains with deeply cut canyons give way to gentle rolling hills and flat marine terraces. Vast grasslands blanket about 85 percent of the island, yet columnar volcanic formations, extensive fossil beds, and highly colored hill slopes are visible. Rocky terraces on the west end provide superb habitat for intertidal organisms. Harbor and elephant seals breed on the island's sandy beaches. On the eastern tip of the island, a unique coastal marsh is among the most extensive freshwater habitats found on any of the Channel Islands. The entire island is surrounded by expanses of kelp beds. Consequently, its surrounding waters serve as an invaluable nursery for the sea life that feeds larger marine mammals and the sea birds that breed along the coastal shores and offshore rocks of all the Channel Islands.


Beneath Santa Rosa's non-native grasslands are the remains of a rich cultural heritage. More than 600 archeological sites have been mapped. These include several associated with early human presence in North America. Chumash Indian villages and camps of early explorers and fur hunters are evident.

In the 1840s and 1850s, Santa Rosa was a cattle rancheria. After the cattle industry of old Spanish California collapsed in the 1860s, sheep were brought to Santa Rosa and soon became its economic mainstay. Sheep grazing continued into the early 1900s, but when the island was sold to Vail & Vickers Company in 1902, the sheep were removed and cattle reintroduced. Though the impacts of introduced grains, insects, sheep, pigs, deer, elk and cattle were severe, examples of Santa Rosa's native plant communities survive. These tend to be restricted to rocky canyons and upper slopes. Native plants include the tree poppy, island manzanita, and endemic sage. Native Island Oaks grow on protected slopes, and two groves of Torrey pine are visible near Becher's Bay.

More than 195 bird species are found on Santa Rosa. With its extensive grasslands, the island supports large populations of European starlings, horned-larks, meadowlarks, house finches and song sparrows. Shore birds and waterfowl favor the brackish habitat found on Santa Rosa's eastern tip. This marsh and the island's running streams provide habitat for tree frogs and Pacific slender salamanders.

Other terrestrial animals include the gopher snake, deer mouse, and two species of lizard. The island fox may be frequently seen. The endemic spotted skunk--found only on Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands--is only rarely observed. Among the islands extinct terrestrial mammals is the pygmy mammoth. In 1994 a nearly complete pygmy mammoth skeleton was excavated from a dune.

High mountains with deeply cut canyons give way to gentle rolling hills and flat marine terraces. Vast grasslands blanket about 85 percent of the island, yet columnar volcanic formations, extensive fossil beds, and highly colored hill slopes are visible. Rocky terraces on the west end provide superb habitat for intertidal organisms. Harbor and elephant seals breed on the island's sandy beaches. On the eastern tip of the island, a unique coastal marsh is among the most extensive freshwater habitats found on any of the Channel Islands. The entire island is surrounded by expanses of kelp beds. Consequently, its surrounding waters serve as an invaluable nursery for the sea life that feeds larger marine mammals and the sea birds that breed along the coastal shores and offshore rocks of all the Channel Islands.

Santa Rosa has several rare plants, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. It also is home to the endemic island fox and the spotted skunk. The sandy beaches and cliffs are breeding and resting areas for sea birds and seals and sea lions. Archeological and paleontological sites are abundant on the island. In 1994, the world's most complete skeleton of a pygmy mammoth, a dwarf species related to the Columbian mammoths, was excavated on Santa Rosa. Today, paleontologists continue to discover more sites with the remains of these Pleistocene-era animals.