The Channel Islands: Echoes of the Past,Treasures of the Present...
Southern California’s stunning coastline boasts high rising cliffs dotted with jagged rocks, elephant seal birthing sites, mighty sea breezes, beautiful lighthouses, and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. This same coastline hosts a series of eight islands extending outward from San Diego and upwards towards Ventura and Santa Barbara. Three of these eight islands, San Clemente, Santa Catalina, and San Nicolas are part of this channel, but only five of them will eventually comprise the Channel Islands National Park.
Franklin D. Roosevelt appoints National Monument
In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed islands Anacapa and Santa Barbara as a National Monument, an area in which marine animals and nesting sea birds could find safe haven, as well as to protect plant life. In 1980, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, along with Anacapa and Santa Barbara, comprised what would become The Channel Islands National Park. In a zone called the Santa Barbara Channel, they rise majestically from the deep waters, enticing in their beauty, challenging any skeptic who would dare say they are no match for the exotic islands of Hawaii or other exotic locations. The Channel Islands have an eloquence that is uniquely theirs. Do not overlook these regal landmasses. Their beauty, history, and marine life, shielded from pollution, are only a few factors that encompass their relevance.
Welcome to the Channel Islands
These distinct islands,“Anyapakh ” (Anacapa), “Limuw” or “Michumash” (Santa Cruz), “Wi’ma” (Santa Rosa), “Tuqan” (San Miguel), and Santa Barbara, lay claim to coves of emerald waters, rugged mountains, historical sea caves, trails, and host over 2,000 additional species of flora and fauna. The islands span more than 249,000 acres, with archeological evidence that traces back to prehistoric habitation; there is an expansive history that dates back thousands of years, revisiting the heritage of Chumash dwellers, mining and ranching, and various shipping industries - commercial, lumber, fishing, and lighthouse keeping.
Anyapakh - Anacapa
Anyapakh (Anacapa) lies approximately 11 miles off the southern California coast and comprises approximately 700 acres. 538 acres are kept under National Park Service; 162 acres, lighthouse reservation, U.S. Coast Guard. Anacapa is primarily made of three separate islets, East, Middle, and West Anacapa, almost joined together by sandpits during a low tide. The East and Middle sections are flat, compared to the West. The West comprises a height of 930 feet on the area called Summit Peak. This area, set with high cliffs, is perfect for nesting sea birds. California sea lions, elephant seals, and otters.
Anacapa hosts the largest brown pelican rookery in the United States. California sea lions, elephant seals, and otters rest here, as well. Anacapa’s Arch Rock is a landmark of the island. Shaped by the wind and waves, this 40 foot reaches upward, steadfast in stature, and is the trademark of the Channel Islands. Another popular landmark is Inspiration Point.
On December 2, 1853, a steamer, the Winfield Scott, was making its way to Panama from San Francisco carrying many passengers who had been gold mining and had found their fortunes. Under heavy fog, the Winfield Scott ran aground. The passengers panicked and everyone was more or less out for themselves - and their newly acquired fortunes in gold. All managed to make it safely to shore in lifeboats, but the ship yielded to the cold, wretched sea, a victim of the foggy mist. The ship's remains still lie submerged, north of Anacapa Island.
After the shipwreck, President Franklin Pierce issued an executive order to build a lighthouse on Anacapa; however, under the advisement of the U.S. Coast Guard, construction was canceled because the Coast Guard saw no conceivable way to put a lighthouse on the island. Instead, in 1874, a lighthouse was erected at Port Hueneme, the closest inland point to Anacapa.
Years later, the lighthouse board commenced with plans to set a beacon on Anacapa. Trying to avoid a costly venture, they erected a 50 foot skeletal tower on which they added an acetylene lens lantern. It would be unmanned, was lit for the first time on March 11, 1912, and was maintained twice a year.
It would take another shipwreck, and this time, the disaster occurred under the light, causing damages to the steamer, the Liebre, of $40,000. Finally, the American Association of Master, Mates and Pilots, called for further action. Nine-tenths of all the shipping vessels passed through the channel were vulnerable, so they called for a proper structure to be placed upon the island. Finally, a lighthouse was allocated for the island, requiring construction in two phases, and finalized in the spring of 1930. A third-order Fresnel lens was shipped in from England, and displayed on March 25, 1932.
Under Sea Experience at Anacapa Island...
Michumash - Santa Cruz
The Rainbow Bridge
On Santa Cruz Island’s highest formation, there was once a sacred site to the native Chumash people. In the future, it would be named Mount Diablo. The Spanish conquistadors decided that they should offer up all the Chumash sacred sites to the devil. Long before that, however, the Chumash believed that the origin of man evolved from their island, watched over by Nushuz, the goddess of earth.
It all began with a little vine, the Achile Cote vine, which Nushuz is said to have risen from. This bright green vine bore small, white flowers and a pod that resembled a porcupine. Inside the pod were small seeds said to have resembled human placenta. This vine, the legend proclaims, was a creation of Nushuz, and all the Chumash derived from it.
At the sacred site, later named Mount Diablo, this vine flourished, and with it, the population of the Chumash spanned the island of Santa Cruz - at the time, called Michumash. The more the Chumash thrived, population continued to grow until it was beyond their power to contain it, and it began to disturb the peace of Nushuz, who decided to spread them across the world. In doing so, she created a rainbow bridge that spanned the distance to an area presently called Carpinteria. In this vicinity, stood a tall mountain called Chismahoo, meaning The Place of Touching, for it was here that the rainbow reached its end.
The Chumash were to transport themselves across this bridge to their new destinations, and under the advisement of their goddess, were not to look down at the ocean due to the extreme danger of falling. It was not until the near end of their journey that some of the Chumash, frightened, did look down, and it was there they met their fate, falling from the safety of the bridge, through the haze of the fog, and into the depths of the ocean. But, as they fell, Nushuz transformed them into dolphins, sacred symbols of the Chumash.
The fallen Chumash have been immortalized through Chumash paintings and carvings, and stories.
The largest island, Santa Cruz, is the most rugged, and is comprised of 62,000 acres. It is 21 miles long, has an average of 5 miles in width, and claims 65 miles of shoreline. Its highest point, closest to the center, extends more than 2,400 feet in elevation, and many peaks reach a height of above 1,700 feet. The Stanton family owns approximately 55,000 acres; the Gherini family owns the rest. 64 acres are leased by the Department of Defense for training maneuvers. The highest point of the island reaches a height of 2,434 feet at the area called Mount Diablo. It is made up of two parallel mountain ranges surrounding an interior valley, with its north coast steep and rugged. Its south, pristine side boasts several beaches and coves. Among its many sea caves, its most renowned is the Painted Cave, with an entrance that is 160 feet high. It is one of the world’s largest known sea caves: 1,215 feet in length.
The Painted Cave, Santa Cruz Island
Wi’ma - Santa Rosa
Santa Rosa Island is flat on the north and marked by a steep mountain ridge that reaches a height of 1,589 feet, and is comprised of 55,000 acres, is approximately 15 miles long, and has a maxiumum width of 10 miles. Grass covers much terrain, added with sparse shrubs and chapparal, oaks, and two species of the Bishop pine, pinus muricata, also found on Santa Cruz island. It is under provisions of Vail estate, and a portion is leased by the Air Force. A 45 mile shore line commences to beautiful beaches and sand dunes up to 400 feet In height along the western shore.
Kelp (seaweed) is prevalent around the coastal waters of Santa Rosa which supports the needs of large marine animals and provides a refuge of sorts for sea otters.
The small Island Fox is a native species, while tule elk, Kaibab deer, and Siberian snow deer have been transported there in past years.
Vail and Vickers Ranch uses most of Santa Rosa for grazing livestock, and Johnsons Lee, on the south side of the island, holds a small military center.
Tuqan - San Miguel
Pristine beach, San Miguel
San Miguel, the furthest of the islands to the coast, is approximately 26 miles out, and has a modest acreage of 14,000. It is under administration of the Department of the U.S. Navy. It is comprised of hills, with the highest reaching an elevation of 831 feet above sea level. Over a span of hundreds of years, an abundance of sheep grazed the land leaving bare sand dunes and small patches of chapparal. In more recent years, flora has been making a comeback. The beauty of San Miguel boasts 24 miles of pristine sandy beaches, sandy cliffs, fascinating sea caves, and sparse fresh water springs.
Archeologists have found evidence pointing to approximately 50 ancient village sites on San Miguel, other adjoining small islands, and the mainlands, during the past 5,000 years - or more. Nearby Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History states that there are elements of fossil elephants on San Miguel. Cuyler Harbor is reported to be the burial place of Spanish explorer and conquistador, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.
One of the largest colonies of sea elephants dwells on San Miguel, and sea otters and fur seals, rare in California seas, make stops at San Miguel on few occasions. A distinct species of fox called the San Miguel fox (the Island Fox) also dwells on San Miguel.
Coreopsis, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara is the southernmost and easternmost of the Channel Islands, and also the smallest. It is comprised of 640 acres, of which 582 are under provisions of the National Park Service, with 57 acres Lighthouse reservation, U.S. Coast Guard. Santa Barbara's largest diameter is one and a quarter miles, and the island is flanked by vertical cliffs that range from only a few feet to more than 500 feet in height. It has rocky bays and small, sandy beaches where marine animals and sea birds take refuge.
Santa Barbara is rich with numerous sea caves, rocky bridges, and majestic rock pillars. In flora, it claims the largest strand of the giant coreopsis still remaining in the world. When in full bloom, the bright yellow wildflowers are visible to ships at a distance of 10 or more miles at sea.
Weather on the Islands
Weather comes from the northwest and traverses down the Santa Barbara channels to the islands, bringing wind. The winds are unpredictable. Southeasterly storms arrive in the winter months, with the outmost islands especially vulnerable to the most severe storms. The Channel Island temperatures average around 60 degrees, with average high around 67 degrees and average low around 52.
The Channel Islands had been isolated from the mainland for approximately half a million years. According to The Channel Islands, Exploring National Islands National Park, California, the plants and animals of the islands have “evolved distinctive characteristics unknown elsewhere.” According to George F. Carter, of Johns Hopkins University, men were boiling dwarf mammoths off a small island off the coast of California. He states that if this is actual fact, then this places man in the area approximately 20,000 years earlier than archeologists had earlier ascertained. He further states that during that last ice age, these dwarf mammoths roamed Santa Rosa Island, which was actually part of the mainland at the time. If indeed, men were there, they were likely eating these dwarf mammoths. Carter, on a trip to Santa Rosa, discovered charred mammoth bones in ancient fire sites. The technology used, Radiocarbon dating, recorded the age of the bones to be 29,650 years old.
The Channel Islands National Park website provides excellent, In-depth detail about archeologic findings and scientific studies.
Numerous ships met their doom in the mighty chambers of the Pacific seas. Documented accounts point to bad weather as the primary villain. According to archeologist Don P. Morris, and James Lima of Troy State University, the California current moves south along the California coast, bringing cold water to the channel, and Northwest winds often form large seas resulting from the presence of the Pacific high pressure area offshore, causing a flow toward low pressure areas offshore. The Santa Barbara Channel can become volatile, and results in unpredictable weather, particularly, fog. Even when the fog subsides during the day, it frequently returns at night, mainly due to the California current sweeping down the coast, bringing cool, deep water to the surface, where, when the air is warmer, it causes a condensing of moisture, thereby, creating fog.
Wrecked and grounded vessels:
- Goldenhorn, Sept 12, 1892
- Crown of England, November 6, 1894
- Anubis, July 20, 1908
- Pectan, January 21, 1914
- Aggie, May 3, 1915
- Liebre, Febraruy 28, 1921
- Cuba, September 8, 1923
- Beulah, 1933
- Aristocratis, December 1, 1945
- Patria, June 21, 1954
- Chickasaw, February 7, 1962
View Live WebCam of Channel Islands
I would like to visit the Channel Islands...
The Channel Islands National Park /Visitor Center Information
Two Hubs offering further tourist information on The Channel Islands...
- channel islands national park--more than a park
An introduction to each of the islands off of the southern california shoreline near Santa Barbara. Gives ideas and details about the place if you are thinking about a different sort of vacation for your family.
- Visit Southern California's Channel Islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, San Miguel & Sa
Escape to the solitude offered by the Channel Islands barely an hour's boat ride from the California coast across the Santa Barbara Channel. Fun opportunities such as whale watching, camping, boating, kayaking, swimming with dolphins, and hiking abou
Friends of the Lighthouse.com
Archive.org, public domain archives: Channel Islands,National Park, A Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary; Chumash Folklore, Oh, Ranger.com; Open Source; Channel Islands National Park. Service.gov.
- Island Packers Cruises | Cruising the California Channel Islands for Education, Recreation and Resea
Cruising the California Channel Islands for Education, Recreation and Research Since 1968.