"Channel Islands National Park--A Unique California Treasure"

Most unusual is one very good way to describe Channel Islands National Park. It is one of the most inaccessible parks and for that reason one of the least visited. The reasons are simple: miles of ocean separate them from the California coast but it is this same isolation that is one of their principal appeals.

This isolation from the encroachments of our society has preserved them and protected their natural resources and much of the bird and marine life of a vast region.

Like most of our national parks a good place to start is the Channel Islands Park Visitor Center located at 1901 Spinnaker Drive in Ventura. This and the Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center located at 113 Harbor Way in Santa Barbara are the only places you can reach by automobile.

If you wish to visit any of the five islands that make up the Park then you must either use a commercial boat or airplane. These five islands are San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and Anacapa.

The Island that does get the most visitors is Anacapa since it is the closest to the Mainland located 12 miles on the other side of the Santa Barbara Channel from the Channel Islands Harbor at Oxnard.

If you want to visit any of these five Islands then you must know something of Island Packers which is the authorized transportation company with boats leaving daily from both Channel Islands Harbor and Ventura Harbor. Also Truth Aquatics from Santa Barbara at 301 West Cabrillo Blvd. Air transportation is only available to Santa Rosa Island which does have a dirt landing strip.

In business since 1968 Island Packers offers half day, full day and multi day tours to all the Islands year round.

On our recent trip to Anacapa Island we boarded Island Packers' 40 foot "Sunfish" at Channel Islands Harbor and arrived at Anacapa just about an hour later with time out en route to enjoy encounters with pods and pods of Dolphins who delight in riding the wake of vessels like so many surfers.

Our ship had Holly Lohuis on board as naturalist who explained how to recognize the various types of Dolphins and their closely knit pods where they spend almost their entire life.

On arrival at Anacapa we were greeted by Park Ranger Tom Dore who explained the rules that prevail on all the Islands which is "you carry out whatever you bring in".

The Channel Islands Park allows only low impact visitation. There are no lodges, resorts, restaurants to be found in this Park. On Anacapa you must even bring your own water since the Island does not have a natural fresh water source.

Anacapa is actually made up of three islets, only one of which open to visitors. And landing on East Anacapa Island requires people in good physical condition since, first there is a steel-rung ladder from the boat to the dock, and then 154 steps to climb from the boat landing dock to the plateau where the picnic area, visitor center and nature trailheads are located.

The Island is five miles long and only 1/4 mile wide. Two hikes are available on well made trails. One often guided by a Park Ranger covers one and one half miles and offers views and an opportunity to observe both the bird life and the seals and sea lions that make up the Island's population.

Anacapa also has the last permanent lighthouse to build on the west coast. Completed in 1932 it continues to operate to the present time. Once manned by the Coast Guard it is now completely automated.

Our visit started with munching our box lunch at the picnic area and then following Ranger Tom Dore as he pointed out the nesting sites of the western gull. In winter tens of thousands of these gulls mate, nest and raise their young here.

West Anacapa is home to the largest breeding colony of California brown pelicans, once an endangered species and still fully protected. Our hike also provided wonderful photo opportunities as well as views of the coves where California sea lions and harbor seals lounge and breed.

Anacapa is very popular with scuba divers offering a view of a rich and bountiful marine life and one of the best kelp forests on the west coast. It is also a popular destination for private yachts and sail boats and the day of our visit they could be seen in every direction. All five Islands are surrounded by a Marine Sanctuary.

Backpackers do come to Anacapa and there is a small campground. There is no water and picnic tables and pit toilets are the only amenities.

Santa Cruz Island which we have also visited is much more friendly for visitors. The landing at Scorpion Anchorage is easy and accessible (in good weather) from a small boat and at one time was the site of a commercial sheep ranch. Now it is the site of a Park campground. Compared to Anacapa the plant life is lush and there are many fresh water sources since Chumash Indians lived there for centuries and then were followed by ranches for sheep and cattle.. It is also a longer boat trip from Ventura harbor.

However Island Packers has a new ship, the double hull Catamaran, "Islander" that will take visitors to Anacapa in one half hour and one hour to Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz is the largest of all the Channel Islands with 96 square miles and has much to offer the visitor. It is endemic home to the Santa Cruz Scrub Jay, the only place in the world where it is found as well as eight plant species.

Santa Cruz Island is divided with the Nature Conservancy controlling the western portion and the Park Service the Isthmus and Eastern part.

On our trip which was for the day we hiked up Scorpion Canyon which included some forest and then to higher grasslands in the interior. It is a completely different experience from Anacapa.

Over 96 square miles in size it has the tallest peak of the Island chain with Diablo Peak at 2,450 feet and 77 miles of coast line cliffs, sea caves and sandy beaches.

Since the Island is divided between National Park and the Nature Conservancy trips to that end of the island must have Conservancy permits and one day boat trips are offered from Santa Barbara Harbor.

Boat trips are available to all of the five islands, either for one day or for multi days if one is backpacking. For information about Island Packers call 805 382-1779 or log on at www.islandpackers.com.

For Channel Islands National Park information log on at www.nps.gov/chis/. The Nature Conservancy is located at 213 Sterns Wharf in Santa Barbara, telephone 805 962-9111.

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Last Update:11/15/01

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