limuw is the Chumash word for Santa Cruz Island. It means 'in the ocean' or deriving from muwu which means 'ocean, or any large body of water.'
Please see "Ethnographic Island Place Names" below for more information on island place names.
According to legend, Santa Cruz Island was named for a priest's staff accidentally left on the island during the Portola expedition of 1769. A Chumash Indian found the cross-tipped stave and returned it to the priest. The Spaniards were so impressed that they called this island of friendly people "La Isla de Santa Cruz," the Island of the Sacred Cross. Today the protection and preservation of Santa Cruz Island is divided between The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. The Nature Conservancy owns and manages the western 76 percent of the island, while the eastern 24 percent is owned and managed by the National Park Service.
In its vastness and variety of flora, fauna, and geology, Santa Cruz Island resembles a miniature California. At over 96 square miles in size and the largest island in California, Santa Cruz contains two rugged mountain ranges; the highest peaks on the islands (rising above 2,000 feet); a large central valley/fault system; deep canyons with year-round springs and streams; and 77 miles of craggy coastline cliffs, giant sea caves, pristine tidepools, and expansive beaches. One of the largest and deepest sea caves in the world, Painted Cave, is found on the northwest coastline of Santa Cruz. Named because of its colorful rock types, lichens, and algae, Painted Cave is nearly a quarter mile long and 100 feet wide, with an entrance ceiling of 160 feet and a waterfall over the entrance in the spring.
These varied landforms support more than 600 plant species in 10 different plant communities, from marshes and grasslands to chaparral and pine forests. There are 140 landbird and 11 land mammal species; three amphibian and five reptile species; large colonies of nesting seabirds, breeding seals, and sea lions; and other diverse marine animals and plants. Owing to millions of years of isolation, many distinctive plant and animals species have adapted to the island's unique environment, including the island scrub-jay and eight plant species found only on Santa Cruz and nowhere else in the world.
The island is also rich in cultural history with over 10,000 years of American Indian habitation and over 150 years of European exploration and ranching. Santa Cruz Island, known by the Chumash people as Limuw (translates to "in the sea"), was home to a ten villages that housed over 1,200 people. Many of these islanders mined extensive chert deposits for making tools and produced "shell-bead money," used as a major trade item by tribes throughout California. The largest village on the island as well as on the northern Channel Islands, Swaxil, occupied the area of Scorpion Ranch at the time of Spanish contact (1542). Large plank canoes, called tomols, provided transportation between the islands and mainland. Remnants of Chumash civilization can still be seen in thousands of shell middens on the island.
Remnants of the ranching era also can be seen throughout the landscape of the island. Adobe ranch houses, barns, blacksmith and saddle shops, wineries, and a chapel all attest to the many uses of Santa Cruz in the 1800s and 1900s.
The National Park Service, along with The Nature Conservancy, has made great efforts to preserve and protect these island resources, including stabilization of cultural sites, rehabilitation of historic buildings, removal of nonnative plants and animals, the recovery island foxes, reestablishment of bald eagles, and restoration of island wetlands. All of these efforts have made Santa Cruz Island one of the best places to experience the nationally significant natural and cultural heritage of coastal southern California.
- Located in Santa Barbara County.
- Twenty miles from Ventura.
- Santa Cruz is California's largest island, almost three times the size of Manhattan. Approximately 24 miles long and up to six miles wide; 96 square miles; 62,000 acres; 77-mile shoreline.
- Average rainfall-20 inches. Temperature range-20Â° F to 100Â° F.
- Diablo Peak (Devil's Peak) is the tallest peak on the Channel Islands at 2,450 ft.
- Painted Cave is one of the largest known sea caves in the world.
- Santa Cruz has the greatest number of plant and animal species of all the Channel Islands, including over 60 endemic, or unique, species.
- The island scrub-jay is only found on Santa Cruz Island.
- In spring 2006 Santa Cruz Island was home to the first bald eagle chick to hatch unaided by humans on the Channel Islands in over 50 years.
Things to Do
Santa Cruz Island is the perfect place for a one-day trip and short or long overnight camping trips. This is the easiest island to get to, has the best weather, and offers the most recreational activities. As with all the Channel Islands, visiting Santa Cruz Island is an exercise in preparation and self-reliance. Since there are no services on the islands, there are no remedies for poor planning once you have arrived.
Island Packers offers trips year round. Travel time is one hour. Trips are either to Scorpion Anchorage or Prisoners Harbor. Landing is via a pier at both locations.
Goods and Services
Channel Islands Adventure Company, the authorized kayak guide and outfitting concession in the Scorpion Anchorage area, operates guided sea kayak tours, limited convenience item sales (no food items), snorkel equipment rentals, and guided snorkel tours at Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island only. There are no other goods, services, or accommodations (lodging) available on the island. Visitors must bring all their own food and supplies. Public phones are not available.
There is water available at Scorpion Anchorage. However, there is no water at Prisoners Harbor so visitors must bring all their water with them.
At Scorpion Anchorage, picnic tables are available at the beach and near the ranch area. At Prisoners Harbor, tables are located near the beach.
A visitor center is located in the historic Scorpion ranch house. There are no other visitor centers on the island. The visitor center includes an orientation area that helps visitors plan a safe trip on the island and a variety of interactive exhibits that describe the island's tremendous biodiversity, rich cultural history, and current resource issues.
On days that the concessionaire boats run to Scorpion Anchorage and Prisoners Harbor, guided hikes may be offered by national park volunteers or concessionaire naturalists. If they are not available to lead hikes, self-guided interpretive trail booklets are available. Hikes generally begin 30 minutes after the Island Packers boats arrive on the island.
Several trails and roads traverse eastern Santa Cruz Island, providing visitors with spectacular hiking opportunities. These trails and roads range from the maintained, relatively flat, signed trails of Scorpion Valley to the unmaintained, rugged, mountainous paths of the MontaÃ±on area. While visitors may explore the national park property on Santa Cruz Island, no hiking is allowed beyond the national park boundary onto The Nature Conservancy property. The boundary is the property line (marked by a fence line) between Prisoners Harbor and Valley Anchorage.
Primitive camping is available at the Scorpion Ranch Campground (31 sites; $15 per night per site; reservations required). Water, picnic table, food storage box, and pit toilet are provided. Shade is available. Distance from landing is a flat one-half mile. This is the most family friendly campground on the islands. Backcountry camping is available year round at the Del Norte campsite near Prisoners Harbor. This is currently the only backcountry campground on the island.
The mixed sand and cobblestone Scorpion Beach is a world-class destination for swimming, diving, snorkeling, and kayaking because of easy beach access, clear ocean waters, nearby camping, year-round Island Packers boat transportation, extensive kelp forests, and a spectacular shoreline with sea caves to explore. However, there are no lifeguards on the island. For snorkeling and diving, the easiest kelp beds to access are the ones near the pier and those to the eastern end of of the bay. Beach access is also available at Prisoners Harbor and by hiking over to Smugglers Cove, but the snorkeling is not as good at these locations. Kayaking east towards Scorpion Rock or west towards Cavern Point provides great wildlife viewing and sea caves. Kayaking from Prisoners Harbor is also very scenic.
For the authorized kayak guide and outfitting concession in the Scorpion Anchorage area on Santa Cruz Island visit: Channel Islands Adventure Company. For kayak guide and outfitting services in other areas of Santa Cruz Island (excluding Scorpion area), visit the Visitor Services List.
Several locations on Santa Cruz Island offer good surfing. Generally, the north shore is best during the northwest swells of winter/spring and the south shore is best during the south swells of summer/fall. However, all surf spots are remote and are best accessed by private boat due to the island's rugged terrain and the hiking distance from the designated landing areas.
No fishing is allowed at Scorpion Anchorage since it is within a marine reserve. Fishing is allowed on Santa Cruz Island outside of the marine reserves. Possession of a valid California state fishing license with an ocean enhancement stamp is required and all California Department of Fish and Game regulations apply.
A variety of seabirds can be seen throughout the year (especially around Scorpion Rock), but most birders go to the island to see the endemic island scrub-jay-only found on Santa Cruz Island and no other place in the world. Best viewing is at Prisoners Harbor, but they are also spotted around the Scorpion area as well. Island foxes are often seen around the ranch and campground at Scorpion Anchorage. Remember that it is illegal to directly or indirectly feed animals in the park. During a normal year of rainfall, wildflowers are best viewed in late winter and spring. In addition, some plants like gumplant, buckwheat, poppies, and verbena continue to bloom during the summer. Tidepooling at Scorpion Anchorage and Prisoners Harbor is limited. Better tidepools can be found at Smugglers Cove.
History and Culture Overview
Santa Cruz Island, the largest and most diverse of the eight Channel Islands, has a long and varied history that is tied closely to its physical attributes. Its vast grasslands, coastal scrub vegetation, oak woodlands, and rich coastline sustained the Chumash for millennia and they maintained a number of villages and seasonal settlements on the island. For most of the nineteenth century, mariners found shelter in its coves and hunters and fishermen exploited the marine life. Immigrant ranchers grazed livestock, and the military took advantage of the island's strategic location.
Chumash Civilization and European Contact
Archeological investigations indicate that Santa Cruz Island has been occupied for at least 9,000 years. The island was home to the largest population of island Chumash and developed a highly complex society dependent on marine harvest, craft specialization and trade with mainland groups. The Santa Cruz Island Chumash produced shell beads that they used for currency, which formed an important part of the overall Chumash economy. Those living on the east end of the island mined chert from the numerous island outcroppings to make tiny blades for drilling holes to make the shell disc beads. Native villagers had no known contact with outsiders until the 16th and early 17th centuries. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who is credited with the first European exploration of the California coast, observed at least six villages, though he and his crew never stopped at the island. The villages were called Niquipos, Mazul, Xuga, Nitel, Macamo, and Nimitapal. Cabrillo named the island San Lucas, although the Chumash called it Limuw.
In 1602, Sebastian VizcaÃno led the last Spanish expedition to California. His map named Santa Cruz Island the Isla de Gente Barbuda (island of the bearded people). Between 1602 and 1769 there was no recorded European contact with the island. Considering, however, the amount of traffic passing the islands, a number of unrecorded visits were probably made. Finally, in 1769, the land-and-sea expedition of Don Gaspar de la Portola reached Santa Cruz Island. Traveling with him were Father Juan GonzÃ¡lez VizcaÃno and Father Francisco PalÃ³u. Father PalÃ³u wrote of Father VizcaÃno's visit to the Santa Cruz village of Xaxas that the missionaries on ship went ashore and "they were well received by the heathen and presented with fish, in return for which the Indians were given some strings of beads." Upon returning to their ship the missionaries soon realized that they had forgotten their staff in the village. Father PalÃ³u wrote:
"They immediately gave it up as lost, on account of the cross that it carried for it was of iron, and it was known how the Indians coveted this metal. But they were so honest that at daybreak it was discovered that one of the little canoes of the island was coming to the ship, and that one of the heathen was carrying in his hand the staff with the holy cross. Climbing on board he delivered it to the father and after being rewarded returned to the island. For this reason it was called the Island of the Holy Cross (Santa Cruz), and as such it has been known ever since."
The island was considered for establishment of a Catholic mission to serve the large Chumash population. When the mission at San Buenaventura was founded across the channel in 1782, it commenced the slow religious conversion of the Santa Cruz Chumash. In 1822, the last of the Chumash left the island for mainland California.
Santa Cruz served as a base for otter hunters, fishermen, and smugglers. Smugglers Cove, for instance, derived its name from these illicit activities. The Channel Islands often provided smugglers and bootleggers with convenient and isolated hideaways in which to store their goods for a time.
George Nidever recalled hunting otter at Santa Cruz in the winter of 1835-1836. Working from a base camp at Santa Rosa Island, he and two others obtained 60 skins that season. Fishermen encamped on the island, trading fish for other goods from passing boats.
With Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican government asserted its control over California. In an effort to increase the Mexican presence, the government began sending convicted criminals to populate many areas. Around 40 prisoners were sent to Santa Barbara where, upon arrival, they were sent to Santa Cruz Island. They lived for a short time in an area now known as Prisoners Harbor. Read more about their interesting story by following this link.
Through a land grant from the Mexican government, Captain Andres Castillero became the first private owner of Santa Cruz Island from 1839 to 1857. When California became a state in 1850, the United States government required that land previously granted by Spanish and Mexican governments be proved before the Board of Land Commissioners. For twelve years Castillero's claim to Santa Cruz Island was disputed, even after his property had been sold. During Castillero's ownership, Dr. James B. Shaw, an English physician, acted as manager of the island. He built the island's first ranch house by 1855 and is thought to have brought the first French Merino sheep to the island.
Ranching on Santa Cruz Island
Andres Castillero sold the island to William Barron, a San Francisco businessman and co-owner of the company Barron, Forbes & Co., in 1857. During the twelve years that Barron owned the island, Dr. Shaw continued manage it as superintendent and was charged by Barron to expand the sheep ranching operation begun during the Castillero era. The Civil War significantly increased the demand for wool and by 1864 some 24,000 sheep grazed the hills and valleys of Santa Cruz Island.
Shaw's island sheep ranch was well known by 1869, the year he left Santa Cruz. He imported cattle, horses, and sheep to the island and erected one of the earliest wharves along the California coast at Prisoners Harbor by 1869. He built corrals and houses for himself and his employees and expanded the road system. Shaw was the first rancher to ship sheep to San Francisco by steamer, some selling at $30 per animal. The press frequently praised the quality of sheep and wool coming from the Santa Cruz Island ranch. In 1859, the Sacramento Daily Union published an article about the sheep in the Santa Barbara area:
"Sheep of a much finer quality can be found in this county, and we doubt if anything superior can be found in the State than those owned by Dr. Shaw, on the island of Santa Cruz. Judging from the number of persons who have purchased from the doctor, for the purpose of raising sheep, Santa Barbara Country bids fair, in a few years, to be one of the greatest sheep producing sections in the state."
When Barron sold the island in 1869, Shaw left for San Francisco and Los Alamos where he continued ranching. At that time, the gross proceeds from the ranch on Santa Cruz Island were supposedly $50,000.
Justinian Caire and the Caire Ranch
William Barron sold the island to ten investors from San Francisco for $150,000. One of the investors, Justinian Caire, was a French immigrant and founder of a successful San Francisco hardware business that sold equipment to miners. By the late 1880s Caire had acquired all of the shares of the Santa Cruz Island Company which he and his colleagues had founded in 1869. He continued a successful livestock and ranching industry on the island for many years.
From the ranch headquarters in the central valley (also called Rancho del Medio for its central location on the island), Justinian Caire developed an impressive agricultural operation with satellite ranches on the east and west ends of the island and at Prisoners Harbor, as well as seasonal and short-term ranches on other parts of the island. Diversified production, including wool, beef, wine, fruit and nuts, in addition to sustainable gardens, orchards and flocks of fowl, decreased the need to import food and goods from the mainland and sustained the ranching operations through the boom and bust cycles of the livestock industry.
Caire brought architectural styles and culture from Europe and, during its heyday, more than 100 workers, mostly Italian but including French, American, Mexican Californian, and Indian, were employed at the ranch and worked as blacksmiths, masons, carpenters, painters, sheep-shearers, team drivers, vintners, butchers, dairymen and sailors. Caire's legacy is visible on the island in brick and stone ranch buildings, the groves of ornamental trees and fruit and nut orchards, the numerous dry stone masonry structures walls and dams, and the road system. Descendents of Justinian Caire still reside in California and many are active in the preservation of the island history.
An extended and complicated series of litigation among Caire family members resulted in the division of the island and the sale of most of it in 1937. Justinian Caire's descendents retained 6,000 acres on the east end of the island, on which they continued the sheep ranching operation. Other family members sold the remaining 90 percent of the island to Los Angeles oilman Edwin Stanton in 1937.
The Stanton Ranch
Edwin Stanton's purchase of the major part of Santa Cruz Island brought a major shift in agricultural production on the island. After trying for a short time to continue the sheep operation, he decided to switch to beef production. At the time, the beef industry in California was growing rapidly, with Santa Barbara County among the top ten beef producers in the state.
The Stanton Ranch was a major part of Santa Barbara County's cattle industry between the 1940s and 1980s and, at 54,000 acres, was the largest in size. Neighboring Santa Rosa Island exceeded Stanton's cattle numbers on similar acreage.
Edwin Stanton's ranch on Santa Cruz Island saw changes that reflected the evolution of cattle ranching in a working landscape. While retaining most of the 19th century structures dating from the Caire period, Stanton constructed a few buildings to meet the needs of his cattle ranch, the most notable of which is Rancho del Norte on the isthmus. Pasture fencing and corrals were altered to suit the cattle operation and an extensive water system was added to provide water to the cattle.
The End of Island Ranching
The Gherini family, descendents of Justinian Caire, continued their sheep ranching operations on the east end of Santa Cruz Island until 1984, using Scorpion Ranch as their base. They managed the island with resident managers and laborers and often worked as a family during shearing and during the summer. Production dropped during the 1970s and 80s and the expense of ranching on a remote island rose. By 1984 the last ranch lessee vacated the island and a newly formed hunting club called Island Adventures leased the facilities from the Gherinis. The hunt club used the ranch houses at Scorpion and Smugglers to house guests who came to hunt the feral pigs and remaining sheep.
With Edwin Stanton's death in 1964, his widow and son, Carey, re-incorporated the Santa Cruz Island Company and continued the cattle operations on the island. Carey Stanton died unexpectedly in 1987 at the ranch and was buried in the family plot in the island chapel yard at the Main Ranch. His personal possessions on the island, some of which dated to the Caire era, were left to the Santa Cruz Island Foundation. The real property passed to The Nature Conservancy through a prior agreement that Carey Stanton had established with the non-profit organization. The Nature Conservancy rapidly liquidated the cattle operation and ended the ranching era on the island.
Military Uses of Santa Cruz Island
The military forces of the United States took notice of Santa Cruz Island during World War II, and since that time have constructed and maintained strategic installations in the name of national security. Like all its neighbors, Santa Cruz Island served as an early warning outpost watching for enemy planes and ships during World War II. The Cold War brought the communications station as a part of the Pacific Missile Range. This station remains in operation, although not at the levels of its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s.
The National Park Service
While Santa Cruz Island did not attain National Park designation until 1980, visitors and previous owners of the island have understood the resource values of the island and contemplated preserving the property as a park for perhaps 100 years.
In 1936 the Caire family reportedly offered their 9/10ths of the island for $750,000 to the state of California for use as a state or federal park. Nothing came of this proposal and the property was sold to Edwin Stanton. Stanton's son and heir was not interested in a government purchase of his beloved island and took steps to avoid such events by forging an agreement with The Nature Conservancy and the property was transferred to the organization upon his death. Although Santa Cruz Island is included within the boundaries of Channel Islands National Park, The Nature Conservancy portion of the island does not belong to the park. A transfer of 8,500 acres from the Nature Conservancy to the park was completed in 2000.
Channel Islands National Park owns and operates approximately 24 percent of Santa Cruz Island. Today, a combination of organizations which includes The Nature Conservancy, the National Park Service, the University of California Field Station, and the Santa Cruz Island Foundation work to protect the island's natural and historic resources.
Ethnographic Island Place Names
Ethnographic island place names aid in native language revitalization, illustrate cultural values, and provide tangible connections to cultural landscapes and seascapes.
Many of these place names were recorded by ethnographers and anthropologists in the late 1800 and early 1900s. J.P. Harrington was an ethnographer who worked for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., from 1915 to 1955. He interviewed American Indian consultants, including Chumash and Gabrielino Tribal members, and recorded information about native languages and culture.
Chumash Indians Fernando Librado (Kitsepawit) and Juan Estevan Pico were the main sources for island place names. They were both born and raised in Ventura. They learned of the island places from Chumash elders, most notably Ursula (of wima) and Martina (of limuw.) Pico's interviews of Martina resulted in a list of island place names given in order from east to west (or vice/versa,) to anthropologist, H.W. Henshaw. Anthropologists have cross-referenced Pico's list with the archeological record, baptismals, and marriage patterns.
Twenty-six new place names were recently identified and mapped by Mark Vestuto (Barbareño/Ventureño Band of Mission Indians; Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival) with assistance from Kristin Hoppa (Archeologist, Channel Islands National Park) and the Chumash community. These names reference island peaks, water, landforms, islets, trails, caves, and beaches.
Please note that lowercase is used because capitalization is a convention in English which poses problems in the writing of native languages.
Restoring Santa Cruz Island
Close to the mainland yet worlds apart, Santa Cruz Island is home to plants and animals that are found nowhere else on Earth. Like the Galapagos Islands of South America, the Channel Islands exist in isolation, allowing evolution to proceed independently, fostering the development of 145 endemic or unique species. Santa Cruz Island is host to 60 of these endemic species. Some, like the island jay and the Santa Cruz Island silver lotus, are found only on Santa Cruz Island.
Unfortunately, this isolation has also made these species vulnerable to extinction. The melodic song of the Santa Barbara Island song sparrow and the crimson flower of the Santa Cruz Island monkey flower are no longer heard or seen within the park. The destruction of these species' habitats by non-native, exotic plants and animals has caused their extinction along with eight other rare and unique island species. Once found only on the Channel Islands, they have been lost forever.
To save 10 other island species, including the island fox, from the brink of extinction as well as to protect more than 3,000 internationally significant archeological sites, the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy embarked upon a multi-year program to restore Santa Cruz Island. This restoration program was part of the National Park Service mission, as mandated by Congress, to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. As owner of over 70% of Santa Cruz Island, it is the mission of The Nature Conservancy to preserve the plants and animals that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the land and waters they need to survive.
The National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, and natural and cultural resource experts identified non-native feral pigs and non-native fennel (an invasive weed) as the most significant disturbances to the island's sensitive resources. Both pigs and fennel caused major direct impacts to native plant communities, rare plant species, and archeological sites.
Pig rooting caused massive destruction of native species, resulting in bare ground that is easily eroded and colonized by invasive weeds, especially fennel. This activity was a factor in the decline of nine island plant species listed as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Pig rooting also damaged a large number of archeological sites on the island that are associated with the Chumash native people who occupied the island from at least 9,000 years ago until the early 1800s. The feral pigs rooted three feet deep at a number of sites, completely disturbing and desecrating these sacred sites and destroying their archeological value.
In addition, feral pigs played a pivotal role in the catastrophic decline of island foxes. Piglets provided a year-round food source for golden eagles, allowing these formerly rare or occasional visitors to expand their range and establish resident populations on the island that then prey on island foxes. Golden eagle predation placed the fox on the brink of extinction on Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel Islands.
The consensus among numerous experts was that the eradication of feral pigs was the most important action that can be taken to protect and restore Santa Cruz Island. The National Park Service has had tremendous success restoring other islands in the park through the removal of non-native animals. The eradication of European rabbits from Santa Barbara Island and sheep and burros from San Miguel Island resulted in tremendous natural recovery. Feral pigs were eradicated from Santa Rosa Island in a similar program. Pig eradication began on Santa Cruz Island in 2005 and was completed in 2007.
Other management actions to initiate recovery of the island ecosystem were also been implemented. Golden eagles were captured and relocated to northeast California. A captive breeding program for island foxes was established as insurance against losses due to golden eagles. This program was so successful in reestablishing a wild population that the program was shut down in 2008 and the island fox was removed from the endangered species list. Monitoring of the island fox population still continues.
Also, native bald eagles were reintroduced. This predator disappeared in the 1950s due to DDT poisoning. Bald eagles eat fish, seabirds, and animal carcasses, not live foxes, and are very territorial. Once they mature, they establish territories and drive off any newly arriving golden eagles. In 2006, this program paid off. For the first time in more than 50 years, two bald eagle chicks were hatched unaided from two separate nests on Santa Cruz Island.
This multi-year program to remove golden eagles, reintroduce bald eagles, breed island foxes, eradicate pigs, and control fennel helped restore the balance to Santa Cruz Island's naturally functioning ecosystem offering visitors one of the last opportunities to experience the nationally significant natural and cultural heritage of coastal southern California.