Wind and weather constantly sweep across the North Pacific to batter the shores of the westernmost of all the islands, San Miguel. This extreme weather creates a harsh but profoundly beautiful environment. The 9,500-acre island is primarily a plateau about 500 feet in elevation, but two 800-foot rounded hills emerge from its wild, windswept landscape. Although lush native vegetation covers this landscape today, a century’s worth of sheep ranching and overgrazing caused scientists in 1875 to describe the island as “a barren lump of sand.” With the grazing animals removed, vegetative recovery is in progress. Giant coreopsis, dudleya, locoweed, lupine, buckwheat, coastal sagebrush, and poppies are all recolonizing the island to their former extent, returning San Miguel to its more natural state.
Also making a comeback, after years of hunting, are the thousands of pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) that breed, pup, and haul out on the island’s 27 miles of isolated coastline. Hikers who make the all-day, ranger-guided, 16-mile round-trip hike across the island to Point Bennett will never forget seeing one of the world’s most spectacular wildlife.
Other wildlife include the island fox and deer mouse. Both of these little creatures are endemics-they are found only on the Channel Islands. The island fox, the size of a house cat, is the largest land animal on the island. In the waters surrounding San Miguel, the marine animals get much larger. Dolphins and porpoises are often spotted along with gray whales, killer whales, and the largest animals of all, blue whales.