Santa Barbara is not only known for its beautiful Spanish and Mexican architecture. Nature plays a big role in the city’s history as well. As a matter of fact, the very first Earth Day was in Santa Barbara after a huge and tragic oil spill in 1969. From the botanical garden to the Gaviota State Park, the city has something for every nature lover. However, there is a gem just off the coastline which is home to such a diversity of flora and fauna that it can easily and deservedly be compared to the Galapagos Islands or the Caribbean. What place is that you may be wondering? The Channel Islands National Park. If you’ve never been there, you don’t know what you are missing.
What is it?
Hikers who have climbed the mountains along Santa Barbara’s coastline have surely seen the park. 11 miles off the shore you will find five beautiful islands. Santa Barbara. Santa Cruz. Santa Rosa. Anacapa. San Miguel. Together they make up the Channel Islands National Park and one of the must visit destinations for nature enthusiasts.
A little history
The islands were not always separated. As much as 180,000 there was only 1 island, Santarosae. It was only until about 2,000 years ago that it was split up into what it is today thanks to the forces of nature. It is the site of the oldest evidence of human existence in the Americas.
The islands were the settlements of two well-known cultures, the Tongva and the Chumash. The first inhabited mainly the Southern Islands but were not as prominent as their northern neighbors. Santa Barbarians are no strangers to the word Chumash. The Chumash’s ability to work with their hands practically made Santa Barbara what it is today. They were not mainland people. They lived on the islands, mainly the Northern ones. Their society grew in large part because of the rich resources the islands gave them. Nuts, berries, a variety of edible plants. Additionally, Mother Nature blessed the Chumash with fish and sea mammals which they could hunt. Chumash remains can still be seen around the Northern islands. Chumash craftsmanship is renowned throughout Santa Barbara’s history. One of the biggest demonstrations of skill was the tomol. A redwood plank canoe which allowed the island inhabitants to travel safely and comfortably between the islands to conduct trade and stock up on supplies.
50 years after Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo made it to the Santa Barbara Channel by way of Mexico. That would be the first contact between the natives and the Europeans. The Chumash fell to the same fate that other indigenous people thanks to European colonization. While they befriended the foreigners, the Chumash were infected by the diseases brought on by the settlers and slowly the native’s numbers started to diminish. As the Europeans took over the islands, the Chumash way of life was altered. Everything from their economy to how they fed of the land changed. It was only a matter of time for the once thriving island culture to move to the mainland.
Excessive and unheralded hunting almost ended with the islands’ marine wildlife population. Sea otter and seal population suffered the greatest, they were almost eradicated. It took six years for Santa Barbara and Anacapa islands to be the first to be given national monument status after a consideration process which began in 1938. President Truman established that one nautical mile from the island outward also be deemed a protected area in 1949. March 5, 1980. That was the day Channel Island National Park came to be. The islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and the parts of Santa Cruz that were not under Navy property were added to the protected space. After that, life began to flourish once again in the islands. Thanks to conservation efforts, the Islands are now home to more than 2,000 different flora and fauna species and 145 are endemic to the place.
One more thing that helps protect the islands is how limited transportation is to the place. You can only get there through a commercial flight or a boat trip from the mainland. No driving means less people and ensures that those who do take the trip will take care of the islands as if it were their own. Visitors are offered a wide range of activities to make sure they get the most out of their visit. Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island will treat your eyes to one of the most spectacular ocean views you will ever witness. The same island and Santa Cruz are the perfect places to get some snorkeling, diving and kayaking done for those who want to experience Channel Islands’ wildlife first hand. San Miguel Island is home to more than 30,000 seals and getting there is a journey worth making.