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For the Portuguese island, see São Miguel Islandmarker.
Map of Channel Islands
Aerial view of San Miguel
San Miguel Island is the westernmost of California's Channel Islandsmarker and the sixth-largest of the eight at , including offshore islands and rocks. Prince Island, off the northeastern coast, measures in area. The island, at its farthest extent, is long and wide. San Miguel Island, together with numerous small islets around it, is defined by the United States Census Bureau as Block 3010, Block Group 3, Census Tract 29.10 of Santa Barbara County, Californiamarker. The island is uninhabited. Highest peak is San Miguel Hill, at .

San Miguel is part of Channel Islands National Parkmarker and lies within Santa Barbara Countymarker. Almost all of the island (8,960 acres) has also been designated as an archeological district on the National Register of Historic Places. This westernmost island receives northwesterly winds and severe weather from the open ocean. The cold and nutrient-rich water surrounding the island is home to a diverse array of sea life that is not found on the southern islands.

Submerged rocks make the nearly coastline a mariner's nightmare.

History

Archaeological research has shown that San Miguel was first settled by humans at least 12,000 years ago. Because the northern Channel Islands have not been connected to the adjacent mainland in recent geological history, the Paleoindians who first settled the island clearly had boats and other maritime technologies. Rough seas and risky landings did not daunt the Chumash who lived there in later times, nor did they deter the first European explorer, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, in 1542—it is also rumored to be his burial place (there is a monument there in his honor). Ranchers raised sheep from 1850 to 1948. One of the longest homesteaded Ranchers were the Lesters. A family of four that parted their way from the island during Pearl Harbor due to the dangers the war posed on them. The detailed information was written and published in a book called "The Legendary King of San Miguel Island," by Elizabeth Sherman Lester. Later, the United States Navy used the island for a bombing range.

Park Service operations

San Miguel Island Ranger Station
The National Park Service maintains two airstrips, a ranger station and a research station on the island. The Island is normally staffed by a ranger who enforces park laws, while also providing interpretive services for public visitors. The island also hosts scientists that study pinnipeds and manage the Island Fox captive breeding program that is conducted on the island. Volunteer interpretive rangers often fill in for regularly paid rangers due to budget deficits within the park. Park employees and researchers are flown to the island by Channel Islands Aviation.

Weather

San Miguel Island does not receive protection from the open ocean as the other Channel Islands. Most of the time a strong northwest wind blows across the island. These winds typically exceed and can surpass . When strong high pressure is over the mainland, the winds often cease.

Heavy fog is common on the island. On warmer days the fog will burn off only to have the strong northwest wind blow in additional fog from the open ocean. On foggy days the temperature will rarely exceed .

Tourism

Hiking down to Cuyler Harbor from the campground
Normally fewer than 200 public visitors set foot on San Miguel during a given year.

Visitors are transported by boat to the Island by the Park concessionaire, Island Packers. http:www.sailchannelislands Sail Channel Islands also offers 3-5 day trips from Ventura that circumnavigate the island in the calmer fall months. Eight-foot seas are not uncommon in the Pacificmarker between Santa Rosa Islandmarker and San Miguel Island.

Rough seas often result in cancellation of excursions. No more than 30 visitors are permitted on the island at any given time and sometimes fewer than ten campers make the voyage. The National Park Service advises campers to carry an extra day's food and water in the event the pickup needs to be delayed due to bad weather.

Landing

There is no pier on San Miguel island so all public visitors arrive on the island by skiff at Cuyler Harbor. Landing on the island can be an exciting experience as the surf can swamp the landing boat. During ideal weather visitors are put ashore directly in front of the trail that leads into the interior of the island. When the swell is high, visitors might be placed on the beach to the east or west depending upon conditions.

Camping facilities

San Miguel Island Campground.
San Miguel Island includes a campground with 10 sites. Each campsite includes a picnic table, wind break and an animal-proof box. The campground includes one pit toilet. Fires are prohibited due to the high winds and the inability to extinguish them. Sturdy tents are recommended as the wind can exceed , even during the summer. It is recommended that campers tie their tents to the wind break to keep them from blowing away when not being slept in.

Hiking

With the exception of the trail leading to the campground and ranger station, hiking is restricted to ranger-led outings. Many visitors participate in the round trip hike to Point Bennett to view the thousands of seal and sea lions that reside at the west end of the island during spring and summer. Another popular hike is to the Island's caliche forest. (Caliche is a kind of hardened calcium deposit.)

Water activities

Visitors to the island are restricted to ocean access at Cuyler Harbor. This landing is well protected from the strong ocean swell that is driven from the northwest. Cuyler has a sandy beach and visitors will often find themselves sharing the beach with elephant seals. The water is generally below 60 °F (16 °C), making it cold without a wetsuit. During low tides the harbor offers a tide pool area at the east end of the beach. Sea kayaking is not recommended for the novice as high winds can develop without notice.


Fauna

According to the Los Angeles Times, "Great white sharks haunt the waters around San Miguel Island, where they feast on seals and sea lions." A diver named James Robinson is believed to have been killed by a shark off Harris Point in 1994.

References




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