Posted by: James Wapotich | July 3, 2017

Trail Quest: Fraser Point

Santa Cruz Island is the largest island off the coast of California. The island covers roughly 96 square miles and is one of eight islands that make up the Channel Islands found here in Southern California. These islands are home to a rich variety of plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.

Fraser Point is the westernmost point on Santa Cruz Island and visit to the point provides a unique opportunity to explore this remote part of the island.

The eastern portion of Santa Cruz Island is part of Channel Islands National Park and is open to the public. The western 76% of the island, however, is managed by The Nature Conservancy. Through the conservancy, private, non-commercial boaters may obtain a landing permit to visit parts of the island during the day. Permits are $30 per month, or $70 per calendar year. Proceeds support the work of the conservancy. For more information go to http://www.nature.org.

Fraser Point Western Santa Cruz Island Natural Conservancy Island Packers hike Channel Islands

Secluded cove at Fraser Point

Recently, Island Packers, through a special arrangement with The Nature Conservancy, offered a trip to Fraser Point, providing a rare opportunity to visit this part of the island on one of their boats. Island Packers is the authorized concessionaire for Channel Islands National Park and regularly offers transportation to destinations within the national park.

Since 1991, Island Packers has also been regularly providing trips to Pelican Bay, which is on land managed by The Nature Conservancy. As part of the arrangement an Island Packer’s naturalist must accompany visitors while on the conservancy’s land.

During the government shutdown in 2013, which closed our national parks and forests to visitors, Island Packers working in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy was able to offer additional trips to western Santa Cruz Island, including Cueva Valdez on the north shore.

Fraser Point Western Santa Cruz Island Natural Conservancy Island Packers hike Channel Islands

Santa Rosa Island frames a view of Fraser Point from the ridge overlooking the western end of Santa Cruz Island

The trips were so well-received that after the shutdown, Island Packers continued to explore ways to provide visitors with unique places on the island to visit. Working with The Nature Conservancy, Island Packers offers a limited number of day trips to Cueva Valdez, as well as Willows Anchorage on the south shore of the island.

Fraser Point is the third such destination on western Santa Cruz Island, and this recent trip was actually the maiden voyage for visitors. The trip will likely be offered again.

From Ventura Harbor, we made our way out towards Santa Cruz Island. The boat ride out and back actually circumnavigates the island providing a visual tour of both the south and north shores. The ride across the channel often includes sightings of marine wildlife. This time around, thanks to the keen eyes of the crew, we saw common dolphins, humpback and blue whales, and even a basking shark.

Nearing the eastern end of Santa Cruz Island, golden fields of non-native grasses framed by the reddish-brown rocks of Montañon Ridge come into view.

Wildflowers Fraser Point Western Santa Cruz Island Nature Conservancy Island Packers hike Channel Islands

Wildflowers frame a view from Fraser Point

The first recorded inhabitants of the island were the Chumash people who were there more than 10,000 years ago. There were at least 10 Chumash villages on the island, which the Chumash called Limuw, or place of the sea.

In 1542, Cabrillo sailed past the island, but did not land there. In 1769, the Portola land-sea expedition landed on the island, giving it the name La Isla de Santa Cruz. Following the war of Mexican Independence, the Mexican government granted the land to Andrés Castillero in 1839. During this time Dr. James B. Shaw, served as the ranch manager. Shaw is thought to be the first to introduce sheep to the island. He later also introduced cattle and horses as well.

In 1857, Castillero sold the land to William Barron. 12 years later, Barron sold it to a group of 10 investors, which included Justinian Caire. By the late 1880s, Caire had bought out all the other investors becoming the sole owner of the island.

Part of Caire’s vision for the island’s operation was to make it self-sufficient as possible. The ranch is said to have cleared rocks on the broad plain east of Montañon Ridge to grow wheat in order to produce flour. On the south shore, overlooking Smugglers Cove, is the olive grove planted by the ranch. Other measures to reduce the need to import from mainland and diversify production included growing fruit and nuts, and raising fowl.

Harbor Seal Forney Cove Fraser Point Western Santa Cruz Island Nature Conservancy Island Packers hike Channel Islands

A harbor seal watches us land at Forney Cove

Continuing past Smugglers Cove, along the south shore of the island the land ashore transitions from National Park to Nature Conservancy as we pass Willows Anchorage and Bowen Point, which is the southernmost point on the island.

In 1937, following extended litigation amongst Caire’s family the western 90% of the island was sold to Edward Stanton, while the balance of the island stayed with Ambrose Gherini, who was married to one of Caire’s daughters.

Stanton passed away in 1984. Three years later his son, Carey Stanton, also passed away, and under a previous agreement the land passed to The Nature Conservancy. In 1996, the federal government completed its purchase of land from the Gherini Family to include in the National Park. In 2000, The Nature Conservancy transferred 8,500 acres of land to the National Park, creating the boundaries that exist today.

Eventually, the boat arrives at Fraser Point. There is no pier and so we anchor at Forney Cove, which is a small cove on the south side of the point. Using motorized rubber rafts, or skiffs, the crew shuttles us to the island, six at a time, while curious harbors seals bob in the water watching the commotion.

Fraser Point Western Santa Cruz Island Nature Conservancy

Pocket Beach at Fraser Point

We disembark on the sandy shore and those who are interested follow the Island Packer’s Naturalist up onto the island. Our route leads past remnants of Campo Punta West, where buildings from a satellite ranch dating back to the days of Justinian Caire were located. Wood from the buildings was later reused to construct Rancho Nuevo several miles down the shore.

There are no designated trails out to the point, which is shaped somewhat like an isthmus sculpted with a couple small coves and pocket beaches. There is also no dense brush or even a lot of wild grasses out on the point. In fact, the real surprise is the amount of wildflowers in bloom thanks to this year’s generous rain.

We make our way cross-country stopping to take in the wildflowers. Among the yellow flowers are goldfields, tar weed, and beach sun cup. Among the pink and purple flowers are sand verbena, phacelia, and checkerbloom. Also present is non-native crystalline and small-flowered ice plant.

Our counter-clockwise loop provides us vistas of a couple small coves and pocket beaches before arriving at the point. To the west, out across Santa Cruz Channel, we can see Santa Rosa Island, and immediately to our left is Cormorant Rocks, which is loaded with cormorants and California brown pelicans. Completing the loop, we pass two more small coves before arriving back at the landing beach.

wildflowers super bloom channel islands western santa cruz fraser point hike

Wildflowers cover Fraser Point with Santa Rosa Island in the distance

A smaller group of us follow the naturalist on a second hike along an old ranch road, while others enjoy themselves at the beach. The route leads through wild grasses and up to the ridge overlooking the point. The ridge provides some great views back down towards Fraser Point and Forney Cove, as well as views across the narrow West End Flats along the north side of the island.

The boat ride back continues around the island, tracing the northern shore, where bald eagles can sometimes be seen. The ride back also includes a visit to Painted Cave. The sea cave is one of the largest and deepest in the world and Island Packers will often take their boat into the quarter-mile long cave, weather permitting, for sightseeing. Currently, the sides of the cave are lined with sea lion pups left there by their parents, who are out hunting for food.

There are no trips scheduled to Fraser Point or Willows Anchorage at this time, but they will likely be offered again within the next year. Island Packers, however, has three trips available to Cueva Valdez on July 8, August 13, and October 21, in addition to all of its other regular trips to Channel Island National Park. For more information go to http://www.islandpackers.com.

This article originally appeared in section A of the July 3rd, 2017 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

Wildflowers Fraser Point Western Santa Cruz Island Nature Conservancy Island Packers hike Channel Islands

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Wildflowers Fraser Point Western Santa Cruz Island Nature Conservancy Island Packers hike Channel Islands

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Wildflowers Fraser Point Western Santa Cruz Island Nature Conservancy Island Packers hike Channel Islands

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