Something in our salty blood draws us to the sea; something in our imagination beckons us to islands. Channel Islands National Park encompasses both: almost two hundred square miles of ocean and five remarkable islands.
Each of the islands is a fascinating world unto itself, fragrant with flowers and sagebrush and musical with birdsong, wind, and the murmuring sea. They are miniature versions of the California that many visitors may have thought was lost long ago, surrounded by some of the most pristine and wildlife-rich waters in the eastern Pacific.
In 1980, Congress established this national park to include not only the islands but the full nautical mile of ocean surrounding each of them in order to protect the nationally significant natural, scenic, wildlife, marine, ecological, archaeological, cultural, and scientific values of the Channel Islands. Along with the rich diversity of plants and animals protected within its boundaries, the park conserves archeological sites from almost twelve thousand years of human presence on the islands.
Visitors also rediscover less tangible qualities here: natural quiet, the darkness of the night sky, and a peacefulness rarely found on the nearby coast. Even the air of the islands is refreshingly clean; lichens that shrivel in the polluted air of the mainland grow in lush profusion here.
People often say that southern California has no change of seasons, but year-round visits to the Channel Islands prove just the opposite. Away from the insulating factors of climate-controlled buildings and irrigated gardens, the seasons of southern California are much more obvious. They conform to the Mediterranean climate pattern of dry summers and wet winters, with temperatures ranging from the nineties in July to the low thirties in midwinter.
Winter is the green and growing season on the Channel Islands, because it is when the jet stream shifts south to blow rainstorms from the Pacific over southern California. The date of winter’s arrival varies, but native Chumash people chose to call November “the month when rain keeps us indoors.” More rain falls in the north and west than in the south, and for a longer period of time (winter is much wetter and weeks longer on San Miguel than on Santa Barbara Island). The rains quickly bring plants out of their drought-induced dormancy to cloak the islands in long green grasses dotted with wildflowers and stands of brilliant yellow coreopsis busily pollinated by butterflies and other insects…