Saturday, July 5, 2014

Santa Rosa Island

Sedgwick Reserve sent docents to Santa Rosa Island on a day trip. The double-hulled Island Adventure took us by way of the south side of Santa Cruz Island where we avoided the higher seas to the north. I watched the dolphins surfing the bow wave and making rainbow arcs at the stern. As we passed the East End of Santa Cruz we watched Anacapa Island fade into the distance. Island Packers took us from the continent to cross the channel to one of the most seen and least visited national parks. Nearly everyone who visits Ventura or Santa Barbara Counties’ coast has seen the islands, often without knowledge about the park and marine sanctuary status.

Reading left to right, Santa Rosa is the third island I see from my deck above Santa Barbara. At home I’ve tried, wistfully, to make each island the top of the curled hump in the back of a sea monster that has Anacapa as its head. In the summer Santa Rosa with the others are often obscured by fog, like this morning. Last night Mount Diablo (or Devil's Peak) on Santa Cruz stood along a short and dark blue ridge above the flat white fog-sea stretching above the Pacific. Even though the islands look close at hand from our coast, they are exotic as we sail along their volcanic, metamorphic and sandstone cliffs and short beaches. The glowing electronic chart plots our way along the named landmarks as Captain Dave calls out geological features on the audio system. Few structures are evident and the occasional dirt roads disappear rapidly into the hills. Birds and pinnipeds are the evident wildlife visible from the boat. Guillemots, many gulls and the recovered from endangered status, brown pelican fly the coast. We failed in spotting whales that frequent the waters, but saw sea lions, common dolphins and a few seals in our day trip.

Long before the national park, some of the earliest people to North America lived here. At least the remains at Santa Rosa are older than almost any place else. The most recent estimates indicate an overlap between those people and the island pygmy mammoths of almost 1000 years. I found it interesting to consider sharing an island with pygmy mammoths and struggled to make sense of the interaction between man and beast. The mammoths, grew smaller, to seven feet tall and almost 2000 pounds, larger than a modern moose, full of protein and potential danger. (

I chose the botany tour with Sarah, the park ranger from the park. Hiking out through Cherry Canyon, we were fortunate to see several blooming species despite the current drought. Island
Buckwheat punctuated the hillsides in red drifts and red notes against the sandstone clefts, though treble or bass it was hard to tell. The Island paintbrush bloomed creamy yellow, along with bright yellow from the pea family and blue bush lupine and red again from Indian pinks and red monkey flower.
Greens brightened noticeably in the riparian zone with the creek side willows and cottonwoods.

Paul Collins spotted a black beaked magpie, which I missed, but many of us saw the two Channel Islands Flycatchers late in the day. Island
adaptation is as interesting on the Channel Islands as the Galapagos. I once heard a Ranger say, “If it was bigger than a bread box it could become smaller and if smaller already it's more likely to become bigger.” Deer mice are bigger,
mammoths got smaller and jays got larger. One has to consider the differences in competition and the available resources over time and through climate changes to begin explaining how this happened. I wondered about the survival of the gopher snake in a country with no gophers and assumed other rodents must fit the bill.

Home to the ranchers, the white clapboard house under the windswept Monterey Cyprus stands out on the flat plane above the pier. Sam Spaulding confirmed how quiet he found the island while he worked here for the former ranch owners before Santa Rosa became a national park.
Probably the wind and wave sounds were little different 13,000 years ago when the first resident chased the pygmy mammoth and shelled the mussels and the clams.

After a time too short for exploration, we headed back along the north coast of Santa Cruz where the captain guided the Island Adventurer deep into the Painted Cave to enjoy the geologic formations and colors close up from the water. The soporific waves and thrumming diesel seemed to liquefy Anacapa as it faded into our backwash off the stern and I’m wondering how the grilled mammoth tasted.

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1 comment:

half sane, maybe said...

...Island Packers took us the continient to cross... What's with this? Missed spelled word, too. I'm so confused, which probably is my "normal" state. Nice pictures. Didn't know about the pygmy mammoths. I bet they do NOT taste like chicken. Well done.