Sitting off Southern California’s populated coast, the Channel Islands are an inverted oasis of spectacularly natural beauty. The eight Channel Islands offer wilderness treasures ready for exploring most of the year.
The relative isolation from the mainland makes these islands and offshore rocks sanctuaries for birds, plants and marine mammals, and they provide a rich habitat for migrating fauna. Many rare and endemic species have evolved here or survived as a result of their seclusion.
The islands came into being after millions of years of geological activity and now are the exposed peaks of a submerged mountain range. They’re one of the last untouched, undeveloped areas of the world, extending off the California coast for about 160 miles from Point Conception in the north to San Diego in the south. Five of the islands make up the Channel Islands National Park: Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Miguel and Santa Rosa. Santa Catalina farther south isn’t in the park, but is a jewel in the chain.
In the summer, expect morning fog to burn off and lead to warm afternoons and pleasant evenings. The fog cycle doesn’t break until the ocean temperatures warm up as the summer progresses. Winter and spring can be sunny, but chilly in between storms. The ocean is rougher during this part of the year, and generally, conditions aren’t suitable for diving and kayaking, but you can still get lucky. Spring is the only time you can see green grass and vegetation on the islands.
Two types of photographic opportunities exist in the islands: topside and underwater. If you’re going on land to seek out wildlife and vistas, a telephoto zoom lens will keep you prepared to catch a Channel Islands fox on the run or a soaring bald eagle. Catalina is well-known for its resident herd of buffalo, also called bison. It’s advised to keep your distance from the big beasts unless you can run faster than 30 mph. A polarizer filter is recommended, as you’ll likely encounter bright skies and glare off the ocean’s surface.
Underwater photography offers different opportunities altogether. The ocean’s kelp forests and its rocky reefs are home to a variety of marine creatures. The famous golden flash of the ubiquitous garibaldi fish is a favorite among underwater shooters since its bright orange color is a wonderful contrast to the blue water and green kelp. Giant black sea bass and swimming sea lions require a wide-angle lens since they often will come right up to you. The macro life is just as interesting, with rainbow-colored nudibranchs (sea slugs), brilliantly colored fish, purple sea urchins and much more.
Summer and especially fall are magical times to be out in the islands. Both sunrise and sunset afford stunning views. Keep an eye out during the day as birds fly by, whales swim, sea lions play and the kelp sways at the surface. March and April are the best times for photographing wildflowers and vegetation. The grasses turn golden quickly as the summer heat dries them out. There usually are boaters, kayakers and divers to add human interest to your photographs. You can capture a few of these shots on a day trip, but staying a few days is the best way to experience the Channel Islands.
Contact: Channel Islands National Park, www.nps.gov/chis/.
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