The potentially highest-valued real estate in California is off the market. There are eight islands off the coast of Southern California that remain undeveloped, with 76 percent protected by the Nature Conservancy, and make up the underrated Channel Islands National Park.

Meanwhile, beautiful views, clean air, camping, hiking, dolphins and whales are true delight for photographers. Certainly, California’s Channel Islands National Park offers a lot to visitors.

View of Santa Cruz Island from a boat.
Santa Cruz Island is one of the islands in Channel Islands National Park. Photo by John Abrenilla.

Designated as a national park in 1938, their remoteness means that the islands are one of the least visited national parks in California. Boat and air are the only ways to the islands. Consequently, weather also plays a big factor in the ability to get there.

Channel Islands’ dolphins and whales

According to the National Park Service, over one million common dolphins reside between the Ventura Harbor and the Channel Islands. These dolphins swim alongside boats headed to the islands each day, breaching the water to get a glimpse. While hunting, common dolphins dive 900 feet and hold their breath for eight minutes. Their preferred habitat is the Southern California waters, as a result of its subtropical climate.

Dolphins breach water off the Channel Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
Dolphins enjoy the subtropical waters around California’s Santa Cruz Island. Photo by John Abrenilla.

Additionally, grey whales also migrate through the Channel Islands from Alaska to Baja, California. Their patterns for migration were predictable and made them an easy target for fisherman. Consequently, whales were heavily hunted in the mid-1800s and the early 1900s for their blubber.

In 1853, a sea otter hunter discovered a Native American woman living on San Nicolas Island and brought her back to the mainland. According to the Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, the woman built a structure from a Whale’s rib cage and left behind artifacts that indicated she descended from Euro-Americans and native Alaskans. As a result, her story inspired the book Island of the Blue Dolphin, written by Scott O’Dell.

History of the Santa Cruz Island

The name of the Santa Cruz Islands, a popular destination for tourists, derives from a priest’s cross left behind on the island. This particular island is said to have had 10,000 years of American Indian habitation. The National Park Service invested in its conservancy by introducing native plants and animals and removing non-native species. Fortunately, the effort brought back the bald eagle and the island fox, along with other native species.

High cliffs on Santa Cruz Island offers visitors a spectacular view of the ocean and nearby Santa Rosa Island.
Santa Cruz Island features dramatic cliff sides. Photo by John Abrenilla.

In the 1800s and 1900s, wineries, saddle shops, and a chapel existed here. Much of the old farming equipment and original structures remain on this island and display as artifacts. Prisoners shunned to this island in the 1930s are likely responsible for leaving these items.

However, the rusted farm equipment is an excellent opportunity to experiment with getting the abandoned aesthetic that viewers highly enjoy.

Rusted Caterpillar farming equipment from the 1930s displayed as an artifact on Santa Cruz.
Prisoners left old farming equipment to rust after leaving the island. Photo by John Abrenilla.

Additionally, Mexico took control of California and sent prisoners to Santa Barbara, and then sent the worst of the worst — 31 in all — to Santa Cruz Island. However, these prisoners did not stay long and eventually escaped back to the mainland.

Anacapa Island is park’s highlight

View of Anacapa Island and lighthouse from the boat. Anacapa Arch sits in the foreground.
A light house sits atop Anacapa Island, which is part of the Channel Islands National Park. Photo by John Abrenilla.

The most stunning of the islands is Anacapa. Their formation came from a volcano and over the years the its diameter slimmed. During the late 1920s, Raymond LeDreau, who lived in seclusion for 30 years and left in his eighties.

LeDreau was a resident fisherman and specialized in catching lobster. As a result, visitors, friends and merchants would drop off supplies in return for lobster, according to the National Park Service.

Arch Rock, located just off Anacapa Island, frames a small rock formation in the distance.
Anacapa Arch Rock is a popular photography destination due to social media. Photo by John Abrenilla.

The Arch Rock at the Anacapa Islands is a popular destination for tourists and it’s easy to see why. Kayakers pass through the Arch Rock and social media made it a popular photography destination. For this particular photo, it was important to use environmental framing and the rule of thirds. As a result, timing became important in order to frame the distant rock within the arch.

Overall, the Channel Islands National Park is an excellent place to visit. From a photographer’s standpoint, it’s preferable to bring a couple zoom lenses to capture all of the wildlife and scenery. The island fox, grey whale, and common dolphin were all within distance of a 200mm lens.

In conclusion, visiting the island is highly recommended, given the National Park Service preservation efforts. In addition, despite the Channel Island’s history with settlers, and today’s tourists, the land still feels untouched.

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