The park consists of about 250,000 acres, half of which are under the ocean, and include the islands of Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa. Even though the islands seem tantalizingly close to the densely populated, southern California coast, their isolation has left them relatively undeveloped, making them an exciting place for visitors to explore.
Archeological and cultural resources span a period of more than 10,000 years. First were the seafaring Indians; then the explorers, fur traders, adventurers, and settlers, lastly came the scientists and sightseers of today. 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.
The explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo entered the Santa Barbara Channel, in 1542. Cabrillo, commanding an expedition in the service of Spain, was the first European to land on the islands. Subsequent explorers included Sebastian Vizcaino, 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, which was almost hunted to extinction. 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.
Channel Islands National Park is home to a wide variety of nationally and internationally significant natural and cultural resources. More than 2,000 species of plants and animals can be found within the park, with 145 of these species unique to the islands and found nowhere else in the world. Marine life ranges from microscopic plankton to the endangered blue whale.
Anacapa Island consists of about 700 acres of land and lies 11 miles southwest of Oxnard and 14 miles off the coast from Ventura. It features three small inlets, inaccessible from each other except by boat. 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. West Anacapa's slopes are the primary West Coast nesting site for the brown pelican. To protect the pelican rookery, West Anacapa's Research Natural Area has been closed to the public.
San Miguel is about eight miles long and four miles wide, and has 9,325 acres of land. It is primarily a plateau about 500 feet in elevation, with two 800-foot rounded hills that emerge from its wild, windswept landscape.
San Miguel boasts outstanding natural and cultural features. 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 island's fragile treasures include more than 500 relatively undisturbed archeological sites, some dating back as far as 11,000 years.
Cabrillo is believed to have wintered and died at Cuyler Harbor, in 1543. Located 55 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.
Santa Barbara Island lies far south of the other park islands. Smaller, about one square mile, and triangular, with 639 acres of land, 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 Vizcaino, who arrived here in December 1602. 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. California sea lions and, in winter, elephant seals breed here.
Santa Cruz Island is about 24 miles long is 19 miles from Ventura. Its land area is 60,645 acres and is the largest of the Channel Islands. At 2,470 feet, the highest of the Channel Islands mountains is found here. Santa Cruz Island has 77 miles of varied coastline, with steep cliffs, gigantic sea caves, coves, and sandy beaches. To biologists, Santa Cruz is specifically significant for its diversity of habitat, greater than any other of the Channel Islands.
The second largest island is Santa Rosa. Nearly 15 miles long and 10 miles wide, it has 52,794 acres of land. Harbor and elephant seals breed on the island's sandy beaches. On the eastern tip of the island, a unique costal marsh is among the most extensive freshwater habitats found on any of 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 and include several associated with early human presence in North America. Chumash Indian villages and camps of early explorers and fun hunters are evident.
More than 195 bird species are found on Santa Rosa, as well. Other terrestrial animals include the gopher snake, deer mouse, and two species of lizard. The island fox also may be frequently seen. The endemic spotted skunk--found only on Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands--is rarely observed. Among the islands extinct terrestrial mammals is the pygmy mammoth.