Santa Rosa Island (California)

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Santa Rosa Island
Native name:
Isla de Santa Rosa (Spanish)
Wi'ma (Cruzeño)
Santa Rosa Island by Sentinel-2.jpg
Sentinel-2 satellite image
Californian Channel Islands map en.png
Santa Rosa Island near the top left
LocationNorth Pacific Ocean
Coordinates33°58′N 120°06′W / 33.967°N 120.100°W / 33.967; -120.100Coordinates: 33°58′N 120°06′W / 33.967°N 120.100°W / 33.967; -120.100
Area83.12 sq mi (215.3 km2)
Area rank2nd largest of the Channel Islands
Highest elevation1,589 ft (484.3 m)
Highest pointSoledad Peak
United States
CountySanta Barbara
National ParkChannel Islands
Population2 (2000)
Pop. density0.024/sq mi (0.0093/km2)
Additional information
Time zone
Santa Rosa Island
Orcas near Santa Rosa Island

Santa Rosa Island (Spanish: Isla de Santa Rosa; Chumash: Wi'ma)[1] is the second largest of the Channel Islands of California at 53,195 acres (215.27 km2 or 83.118 sq mi). Santa Rosa is located about 26 miles (42 km) off the coast of Santa Barbara, California in Santa Barbara County and is part of Channel Islands National Park.[2]

The Chumash, a Native American people lived on the Channel Islands at the time of European contact.

The remains of a 13,000-year-old Arlington Springs Man, possibly the oldest human remains in the Americas, were discovered on the island in 1959.

Santa Rosa Island is home to the rare Torrey Pine, a species of pine tree that exists only in two locations around the world.


The terrain consists of rolling hills, deep canyons, and a coastal lagoon. Highest peak is Vail Peak, at 1,589 feet (484 m).

During the last ice age, the four northern Channel Islands, including Santa Rosa Island, were conjoined into Santa Rosae, a single island that was only five miles (8 km) off the coast.


Early history[edit]

The ancestors of the Chumash Indians lived on Santa Rosa for many thousands of years, establishing numerous village sites along the coast and in the interior. Recent research has documented the presence of maritime Paleocoastal peoples on the island at least 12,000 years ago.[3]

The Chumash called the driftwood that washed up on the sandy beaches by the channel currents wimal. The logs were used to build tomols (plank canoes).

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's crew visited the island after his death, and found three Chumash villages, containing a total of 40-50 people. They called their island Wima, but George Vancouver listed it as Santa Rosa on his 1792 chart. He reported that this name appeared on a Spanish chart in his possession.[4] Franciscan missionaries baptized a large number in 1822 and most were removed to their Mission Santa Barbara and Mission San Buenaventura by the late 1820s.[5]: 55–56 

Land grants[edit]

George Nidever hunted sea otters for their pelts in the late 1830s and 1840s, under a license granted by the Mexican government to William Dana.[5]: 57 

Governor Manuel Micheltorena made a Mexican land grant of the island of Santa Rosa to brothers José Antonio Carrillo and Carlos Antonio Carrillo in 1843. They gave the island to Carlos' daughters, Manuela Carrillo de Jones and Francisca Carrillo de Thompson. Their husbands, John Coffin Jones (1796–1861) and Alpheus Basil Thompson (1795–1869), entered into a partnership to manage the island.

In 1852, the Channel Islands were ceded to the United States by Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending the Mexican–American War. Also in 1852, a claim was filed with the Public Land Commission,[6] but the grant was not patented to Manuela Carrillo de Jones and Francisca Carrillo de Thompson until 1871,[7] though a district court confirmed clear title in 1856. Then, the Thompson-Jones partnership started to come apart in 1857. By 1870, the More brothers, consisting of Thomas Wallace (T.W.), Alexander (A.P.), and Henry had bought out all of the interests, and A.P. and Henry became joint owners of the island. They transformed the island into a large sheep ranch, with headquarters at Bechers Bay.[5]: 58–63 

20th century[edit]

The More family sold the island to Walter L. Vail and John V. Vickers in 1902. The Vail and Vickers Company transformed the sheep ranch into a cattle fattening operation.[5]: 67–90 

The United States Army leased 46 acres for a radar post during WW II, and erected 16 buildings for 75 men, between Jan. and Aug. 1943. The site was abandoned after the end of the war. The United States Air Force built a 200-man, early-warning radar site in 1952 during the Cold War. At the same time, the United States Navy built a communication station on 4.5 acres on Navy Hill, to track missiles launched from Point Mugu NAS. The Air Force cancelled its lease in 1963.[5]: 93–95 

Standard Oil Company obtained an exploration lease in 1932, but came up empty. Richfield Oil Company in 1938, and Superior Oil Company in 1947 were equally unsuccessful. In 1971 Mobil Oil Corporation obtained a lease and drilled six unsuccessful wells, plugging and abandoning the last one in 1975.[5]

National park[edit]

In 1980, Santa Rosa Island was included within Channel Islands National Park over the objections of Vail & Vickers, which then successfully lobbied to have the legislation stipulate that purchase of their land would be the highest priority of the Channel Islands National Park. Vail & Vickers sold the island in 1986 for nearly $30 million. Subsequently, the National Park Service issued a series of five-year renewable special use permits.[8] Threatened lawsuits in 1996 resulted in a settlement agreement, which included the end of all hunting and ranching operations, such that only one steer remained by 1998. Vail's 25 year use and occupancy agreement ended in December 2011.[5]: 96–97 

In 2006 U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA) introduced a provision into the annual defense policy bill that would allow disabled veterans to continue hunting elk on the island past 2011, without the consent of Vail & Vickers or the National Park Service. The provision stayed in the bill and was signed into law by President George W. Bush. This legislation was repealed by the next Congress as part of the FY 2007 Omnibus appropriations bill,[9] also signed into law by President George W. Bush.


Munchkin dudleya, an endemic plant species

Recreational activities on Santa Rosa Island include kayaking, camping and hiking. A private boat charter company offers a number of trips to the island year round, and camping reservations can be made through Channel Islands National Park offices in Ventura, California. A year-round charter flight service is available from Camarillo Airport for hikers and campers to Santa Rosa Island.

CSUCI Research Station[edit]

In November 2012 the National Park Service (NPS) issued a permit to California State University, Channel Islands (CSUCI) to operate a field research station on Santa Rosa Island. The mission of the CSUCI Santa Rosa Island Research Station (SRIRS) is "to encourage and advance the interdisciplinary knowledge and stewardship of our natural and cultural resources through long-term research, inquiry-based education, and public outreach. (...) (and) to react energetically, adeptly, and successfully to our changing natural and human landscapes."[10]

Ecology and climate[edit]

Torrey pine grove on Santa Rosa island. View towards Santa Cruz Island.

A variety of the Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana var. insularis) grows on the island. The population of this endangered species is estimated at approximately 1000 trees. The island oak (Quercus tomentella) is native to the island.

Flightless geese, giant mice and pygmy mammoths are extinct, while the island fox, spotted skunk, and munchkin dudleya (Dudleya gnoma)[11] (one of the six endemic plant species on the island) still live there. The island is home to one of only three known populations of Hoffman's rockcress.[12]

Its surrounding waters serve as an invaluable nursery for the sea life that feeds larger marine mammals and seabirds. Great white sharks are fairly common in the northern Channel Islands (especially San Miguel and Santa Rosa) and feed on the abundant marine mammals.

The rare endemic lichen Caloplaca obamae, discovered in 2007 and described by Kerry Knudsen in 2009, commemorates United States President Barack Obama.

Santa Rosa Island has a warm-summer Mediterranean climate (Csb in the Köppen climate classification).

Climate data for Santa Rosa Island, California, 1991-2020 averages, extremes 1990-present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 87
Average high °F (°C) 59.3
Daily mean °F (°C) 53.6
Average low °F (°C) 48.0
Record low °F (°C) 34
Average precipitation inches (mm) 1.87
Source 1: NOAA[13]
Source 2: WRCC (precipitation)[14]


The remains of pygmy mammoths (Mammuthus exilis), which appear to have gone extinct about 13,000 years ago, have been excavated on the island.[15][16]

Archaeologist Phil Orr of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History was the founder of research on the prehistory of Santa Rosa Island. After conducting 25 years of field research here, he published the results of his work in 1968.[17]

In 1959, Orr discovered the remains of 13,000-year-old Arlington Springs Man, the oldest reliably dated human remains in the Americas, on the island. The remains were found in an arroyo 37 feet below the existing ground surface. They were carefully preserved, and were finally analyzed in 1987, when radiocarbon dating methods were improved, by scientists Don Morris and John Johnson.[18]

Back 13,000 years ago, the site of the discovery would have been an interior island location, several miles from where the coast then existed.[18]

The archaeologically sensitive areas of the island were listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places in 2022.[19]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chumash Place Names".
  2. ^ "Santa Rosa Island - Channel Islands National Park (U.S. National Park Service)".
  3. ^ Erlandson, J.M., T.C. Rick, T.J. Braje, M. Casperson, B. Culleton, B. Fulfrost, T. Garcia, D. Guthrie, N. Jew, D. Kennett, M.L. Moss, L.. Reeder, C. Skinner, J. Watts, & L. Willis. 2011. Paleoindian seafaring, maritime technologies, and coastal foraging on California’s Channel Islands. Science 441:1181-1185.
  4. ^ Vancouver, George (1798). A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean, and Round the World: In which the Coast of North-west America Has Been Carefully Examined and Accurately Surveyed : Undertaken by His Majesty's Command, Principally with a View to Ascertain the Existence of Any Navigable Communication Between the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans, and Performed in the Years 1790, 1791, 1792, 1793, 1794, and 1795, in the Discovery Sloop of War, and Armed Tender Chatham, Under the Command of Captain George Vancouver : in Three Volumes. Vol. 2. G.G. and J. Robinson ... and J. Edwards. p. 448.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Chiles, Frederic (2015). California's Channel Islands. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 90. ISBN 9780806146874.
  6. ^ United States. District Court (California : Southern District) Land Case 56 SD
  7. ^ Report of the Surveyor General 1844 - 1886 Archived 2013-03-20 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Faulkner, Kate (21 November 2017). "Bringing Santa Rosa Island into Channel Islands National Park: The written documents 1979–1987". Western North American Naturalist. 78 (4).
  9. ^ "National Park Budget Increase, Channel Islands Protections in Omnibus". National Parks Conservation Association. 2007-12-18. Archived from the original on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2010-06-14.
  10. ^ Carlson, Cheri (August 13, 2014) "Research takes off at Santa Rosa Island field station" Archived 2014-08-16 at the Wayback Machine Ventura County Star
  11. ^ The Nature Conservancy: D. gnoma
  12. ^ Center for Plant Conservation: Boechera hoffmannii Archived 2009-04-25 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "NOWData - NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved June 15, 2021.
  14. ^ "Santa Rosa Island California". Western Regional Climate Center. Retrieved June 15, 2021.
  15. ^ Carlson, Cheri (October 2, 2013) "Fossil found on Santa Rosa Island may reveal new information on pygmy mammoths" Ventura County Star
  16. ^ Rocha, Veronica (16 September 2016). "Well-preserved mammoth skull unearthed on Channel Islands puzzles scientists". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  17. ^ Phil C Orr, Prehistory of Santa Rosa Island. Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 1968.
  18. ^ a b Arlington Springs Man. Channel Islands Film, 2016
  19. ^ "Weekly listing". National Park Service.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]