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A Channel Island Teeming With Life

July 11, 1993|JOHN McKINNEY | Hike with John McKinney's guidebook: "Walk Los Angeles: Adventures on the Urban Edge " ($14.95). Send check or money order to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Dept. 1, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. and

Only one square mile in area, Santa Barbara is the smallest of the Channel Islands. It sits some 38 miles west of San Pedro--or quite a bit south of the other islands in the national park.

"You really have to want to go to Santa Barbara Island," says Mark Connally, owner-manager of Island Packers, the national park concessionaire that runs all the boat trips to the Channel Islands. "It's a very long boat ride, so you don't get casual visitors signing up for trips like you do for the other islands."

The boat ride from Ventura to Santa Barbara Island lasts 3 1/2 hours. Usually, in summer, it's a mellow ride, but Santa Barbara Channel weather is extremely unpredictable; the resulting chop has been known to send the heartiest of sailors running for the rails.

From a distance, the triangular-shaped island looks barren--not a tree in sight. The tallest plant is the coreopsis, giant sunflowers that can grow 10 feet high.

To bird-watchers, Santa Barbara means seabirds, lots of them--gulls, cormorants, pelicans and black oyster catchers. And the island boasts some rare birds, too: the black storm petrel and the Xantus' murrelet.

Besides the birds, another reason to bring binoculars to the island is to view sea lions and elephant seals. Webster Point on the western end of the isle is a favorite haul-out area for the pinnipeds, as is well-named Elephant Seal Cove.

Six miles of trail crisscross the island. Parts of the trail system are subject to closure when the island pelicans are nesting. A good place to start your exploration is the Canyon View Nature Trail, which begins at the resident ranger's cabin a few steps from the boat landing cove on the northeastern side of the island. To learn more about island ecology, you can request an interpretive brochure from the resident ranger.

Santa Barbara Island is serviced by boat usually two weekends a month during the summer and early autumn. Trips leave at 7 a.m.; allow about four hours on the island.

Departures from Ventura Harbor are on Fridays and Sundays. The next voyages are scheduled for July 16 and 18. Adult fare is $49.

Santa Barbara Island Signal Peak Loop Trail Where: Channel Islands National Park Distance: Looping the island is 2-5 miles round trip, with 500-foot elevation gain. Terrain: Remote, somewhat barren island Highlights: Great Bird-watching, views of sea lions and elephant seals Degree of difficulty: Easy-moderate Precautions: Prepare for a long and sometimes choppy boat trip; use whatever motion sickness pill, patch or other remedy works for you. For more information: Contact Channel Islands National Park, 1901 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura 93001, (805) 658-5700. Make reservations for boat trips to Santa Barbara and the other Channel Islands by calling Island Packers, (805) 642-1393

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