Channel Islands: one of California’s most remote national parks
Channel Islands National Park provides a glimpse of what California was like with rugged terrain isolating various plants and animals not found anywhere else on earth.
CHANNEL ISLANDS BEACH, California – Just 18 miles off the coast of Ventura, protected by wind, sea and fog, are five islands that provide a glimpse of what the Californian landscape was like. These islands are part of a protected marine sanctuary called Channel Islands National Park.
It would be difficult to visit all five islands in one trip, but if you want to experience the largest and most diverse, you might want to take a tour of Santa Cruz Island with Catherine French, a park veteran since 20 years.
“The island was created by volcanic activity, but we don’t have any volcanoes here,” French said.
A mountainous island formed atop a massive fault line; Santa Cruz Island was never actually part of mainland California. Its rugged terrain has isolated nearly 60 different plants and animals not found anywhere else on earth, including the devious and fearless fox of Santa Cruz Island. Just a warning, if you do decide to visit, keep an eye out for your food or the fox might run away with it.
“People are always amazed at how calm foxes are with humans. This is because they were brought up around humans. These humans were indeed indigenous peoples, ”French said.
The natives of whom the French speaks were the Chumash communities and they lived on the island for over 13,000 years until Spanish explorers exposed them to diseases.
“In 1806 there was a great measles epidemic,” French said.
The surviving members of the Chumash tribe were moved to mainland California and soon after, ranchers and herders moved to the island.
“The longest ranch period was from 1848 to 1998.”
Overgrazing and the introduction of invasive species are straining the island’s natural plants and animals. As agriculture became less profitable, farms and equipment were abandoned along with some livestock such as pigs.
“With the pigs and everything, it was 5,500 animals competing with our little foxes for food.”
After the National Park Service took over the Channel Islands, they removed the pigs and began extensive rehabilitation and protection efforts.
Today, the island is showing great signs of recovery. Even the surrounding water has been protected, helping to create a large kelp forest that provides habitat for all manner of marine life, including birds that nest on oddly colored white rocks.
“Well, we like to call it white snow. People say “really? And I say ‘No. It’s guano – leftovers from what the birds ate.
Rocky outcrops covered in dung actually pump a lot of nutrients into the ocean. Approaching is not recommended, but you can take kayaks all over the island to see the caves and marine life nearby. Or you can hike the many trails to discover the ever-changing rocky cliffs that are constantly being eroded by the ocean.
“So a lot of things are falling day by day,” French said.
Protected from the wind, the sea, the fog and now the National Park Service, the Channel Islands are truly one of those places in California where visitors can experience the natural changes in the landscape and the life that depends on it.
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