Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Island National Park is close to the California mainland, yet worlds apart. It encompasses five remarkable islands, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara, and their ocean environment, preserving and protecting a wealth of natural and cultural resources. Isolation over thousands of years has created unique animals, plants, and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth and helped preserve a place where visitors can experience coastal southern California as it once was.

Concessionaires offer ferries and flights or you can use a private boat to get to the islands. Island Packers has been the only boat service for as long as this has been a national park, and I rode with them to Anapaca Island, 12 miles of the mainland.  The rugged coast of the island requires some deft boatmanship to back up to the dock in a tiny inlet, and when waves are too fierce, no passengers can be dropped off or picked up. After landing, you then have to climb 157 stairs to reach the island's top.

Anacapa Island is five miles in length (737 acres) and is composed of three islets, East, Middle, and West, with the last two set aside for wildlife.  In fact, West Anacapa is the country's largest rookery for brown pelicans during breeding season. About two miles of trails are available on East Anapaca as well as a campground.  There is no water on the island, so bring plenty, and there are no services as far as restaurants.  Four pit toilets are available, and you must carry all your own trash off the island.

For over 10,000 years, the Chumash people, who lived on the larger islands, stopped at Anacapa on their way to the mainland. They called the island "Anapakh" or "mirage" because it was ever-changing. In the summer fog or afternoon heat, the island seems to change is shape. Also, this was dry season and much of the vegetation was brown, but Kathy, our naturalist/volunteer guide explained how during the rainy season, many of the plants are lush green and blossoming, another change.

The farthest point west on East Anacapa is inspiration point, and from here you are looking at Middle and West Anapaca in the distance, islands so steep and rocky they are far more suited to wildlife habitation than by humans...

A shipwreck in 1837 instigated the eventual construction of a light beacon in 1912 and finally this 1937 lighthouse, with a foghorn added later...

Over 150 species of flora are on the island and over 69 species of birds have been documented. Western Gulls have covered the island with their white droppings which is not so affectionately called "Anacapa snow."  The raucous cacophony of California sea lions and seals can be heard from most places on the island since they favor the rocky shores for breeding and living.

Twenty percent of the island is covered by a succulent green-leaved, red-flowered plant called iceplant.  But it is an invasive that negatively affects the fragile ecosystem of plants and animals, so a large contingent of dedicated volunteers are diligently removing the invasive iceplant and replacing it with native plants grown locally in this facility from seeds collected on the island...

As you arrive at or leave Anacapa, the signature feature of Channel Islands National Park, the famous Arch Rock, is unmistakeable...

During the summer, park rangers scuba dive in East Anacapa's Landing Cove with a video camera, and visitors watch on monitors on the dock and back at the mainland visitor center, and the divers even answer questions while underwater. Also, archived video of dives is available on the Channel Island NP webpage.
(I just watched an episode and it is very informative and presents a wealth of information on the underwater  kelp forest and the creatures dependent upon it.)

The park includes not just the five islands, but also a mile around each island. Furthermore, the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary extends six miles from the shore of each island, protecting over 2000 species of plants and animals, 145 of which are found nowhere else on Earth!

Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara Islands are reputed to be just as wonderful as  Anapaca, and each has unique characteristics to distinguish it from the others. I've been told that any of the islands would be a good choice for exploration.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gosh do these pics bring back fun memories spent on one of the islands (don't remember which one). Sheree and I were the only ones on the island, it was spring time as there were large patches of yellow flowers around, we could look down over the cliffs to the roaring sea and watch the seals and walrus lounging. I lived near Camerillo just south of the 101 coast line. Spent a lot of time in Ventura and Santa Barbara. Soak in the beauty, but then I guess you already did ! see ya El