San Nicolas Island

San Nicolas Island (Tongva: Haraasnga)[1] is the most remote of California's Channel Islands, located 61 miles (98 km) from the nearest point on the mainland coast. It is part of Ventura County. The 14,562 acre (58.93 km2 or 22.753 sq mi) island is currently controlled by the United States Navy and is used as a weapons testing and training facility, served by Naval Outlying Field San Nicolas Island. The uninhabited island is defined by the United States Census Bureau as Block Group 9, Census Tract 36.04 of Ventura County, California.[2] The Nicoleño Native American tribe inhabited the island until 1835. As of the 2000 U.S. Census, the island has since remained officially uninhabited, though the census estimates that at least 200 military and civilian personnel live on the island at any given time. The island has a small airport, though the 10,000 foot runway is the second longest in Ventura County (slightly behind the 11,102 ft. at the Naval Air Station Point Mugu) and several buildings, including telemetry reception antennas.[3]

San Nicolas Island aerial view
San Nicolas Island
Californian Channel Islands map en
Map of Channel Islands


Archaeological evidence suggests that San Nicolas Island has been occupied by humans for at least 10,000 years.[4] For thousands of years, San Nicolas was the home of the Nicoleño people, who were probably related to the Tongva of the mainland and Santa Catalina Island. It was named for Saint Nicholas by Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno after he sighted the island on the saint's feast day (December 6) in 1602. The Nicoleños were evacuated in the early 19th century by the padres of the California mission system. Within a few years of their removal from the island, the Nicoleño people and their unique language became extinct.

Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island

The most famous resident of San Nicolas Island was the "Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island", christened Juana Maria; her birth name was never known to anyone on the mainland. She was left behind (explanations for this vary) when the rest of the Nicoleños were moved to the mainland. She resided on the island alone for 18 years before she was found by Captain George Nidever and his crew in 1853 and taken to Santa Barbara.[5] Her story is famously told in the award-winning children's novel Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell.


The steam-schooner California and its two whale catchers Hawk and Port Saunders operated off San Nicolas in 1932 and 1937, catching about 30 fin whales off the island from October to early December in the former year.[6][7]

San Nicholas Island California military facilities
U.S. Navy facilities on San Nicolas Island, 2009.

Munitions testing

San Nicolas Island was one of eight candidate sites to detonate the first atomic bomb before White Sands Proving Ground was selected for the Trinity nuclear test.[8] Between 1957 and 1973, and in 2004 and 2010, U.S. military research rockets were launched from San Nicolas Island. The launchpad was situated at 33°15′51.4″N 119°32′20.4″W / 33.264278°N 119.539000°WCoordinates: 33°15′51.4″N 119°32′20.4″W / 33.264278°N 119.539000°W. It remains part of the Pacific Missile Range.

San Nicolas Island currently serves as a detachment of Naval Base Ventura County. In addition to Port Hueneme and Point Mugu, San Nicolas Island is military-owned and operated.



Composed primarily of Eocene sandstone and shale,[9] much of the island also has marine terrace deposits of Pleistocene age, indicating that it was probably completely submerged at that time.[10] The entire western part of the island is covered with reddish-brown eolian dune deposits laid down during the early Holocene. In some places these deposits are more than 10 meters deep.[11] Small quantities of volcanic rocks (primarily andesite) exist on the southeast end of the island.[12]

Stone available to natives for tool making on San Nicolas Island was largely limited to metavolcanic (including porphyritic metavolcanic) and metasedimentary (mainly quartzite) rock.[13] The metavolcanics are found in the form of cobbles within conglomerates and cobble-bearing mudstones.[12] This material is dense and not easily workable.[13]


Under the Köppen climate classification, San Nicolas Island features a semi-arid climate (Köppen BSk) with mediterranean characteristics.[14] Winters are mild with an average temperature of 55.3 °F (12.9 °C) in February, the coolest month and is the season where most of the precipitation falls.[15] Summers are dry and warm with an average of 64.7 °F (18.2 °C) in September, indicating a seasonal lag. Temperatures above 90 °F (32.2 °C) are rare, occurring on 2 days per summer.[15] The average annual precipitation is 8.58 inches (218 mm), with the wettest month being February and the driest month being August. On average, there are 36 days with measurable precipitation.[15]



There is little ecological diversity on San Nicolas Island. The island was heavily grazed by sheep until they were removed in 1943. Overgrazing and erosion have removed much of the topsoil from the island. Despite the degradation, three endemic plants are found on the island: Astragalus traskiae, Eriogonum grande subspecies timorum, and Lomatium insulare.

The dominant plant community on the island is coastal bluff scrubland, with giant coreopsis (Coreopsis gigantea) and coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis) the most visible components. The few trees present today, including California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera) were introduced in modern times. However, early written accounts and the remains of ancient plants in the form of calcareous root casts indicate that, prior to 1860, brush covered a portion of the island.[16]


Island Night Lizard, San Nicolas Island, California.
Island night lizard.

There are only three species of endemic land vertebrates on the island; the island night lizard (Xantusia riversiana), deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus exterus), and island fox (Urocyon littoralis dickeyi). Two other reptiles, the common side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana), and the southern alligator lizard (Elgaria multicarinatus), were at one time thought to be endemic, but an analysis of mitochondrial DNA indicates that both species were most likely introduced in recent times.[17]

More than 10 endemic molluscs are known only from San Nicolas Island. These are Binneya notabilis, Catinella rehderi, Haplotrema duranti duranti, Micrarionta feralis, Micrarionta micromphala, M. opuntia, M. sodalis, Nearctula rowellii longii, Sterkia clementina, and Xerarionta tyroni (ssp. tyroni and hemphilli).[18]

Large numbers of birds can be found on San Nicolas Island. Two species are of particular ecological concern: the western gull (Larus occidentalis) and Brandt's cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus), both of which are threatened by feral cats and island foxes.

The common housecat was one of the greatest threats to the island's wildlife until they were eradicated from the island.[19] The cats killed cormorants, gulls, and the island night lizard. The Navy removed the cats in order to protect the birds' nesting areas.[20] The cats arrived on the island before 1952, probably brought by navy officers that worked there.[19] Many cats have been relocated to a specially prepared habitat in Ramona, in San Diego County.[21] It is believed that there were no cats left by June 2010, but they weren't officially declared eradicated until 2012. Eradication efforts took 18 months and cost $3 million.[19]


  1. ^ Lassos, Jerry. "Island of the Blue Dolphins".
  2. ^ Block Group 9, Census Tract 36.04, Ventura County United States Census Bureau
  3. ^ "San Nicolas Island - Channel Islands California". Retrieved 2014-08-14.
  4. ^ Davis, Troy, Jon M. Erlandson, Gerrit L. Fenenga, & Keith Hamm. 2010. Chipped stone crescents and the antiquity of maritime settlement on San Nicolas Island. California Archaeology 2:185-202.
  5. ^ Sahagun, Louis (March 5, 2015). "With island dig halted, Lone Woman still a stinging mystery". Los Angeles Times.
  6. ^ Pacific Fisherman (Vol. 31, 1933), p. 42.
  7. ^ Pacific Fisherman (Vol. 35, 1937), p. 48.
  8. ^ "Trinity Atomic Web Site". Walker, Gregory. Archived from the original on 2010-04-20. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
  9. ^ Meighan, Clement W. and Hal Eberhart. 1953. Archaeological Resources of San Nicolas Island, California. American Antiquity vol. 19 no. 2, pp. 109.
  10. ^ Thorne, Robert F. 1996. The California Islands. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden vol. 56 no. 3, pp. 394.
  11. ^ Vedder, J. G., and Robert M. Norris. 1963. Geology of San Nicolas Island, California Geological Survey Professional Paper 369. United States Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., pp. 31.
  12. ^ a b Vedder, J. G., and Robert M. Norris. 1963. Geology of San Nicolas Island, California Geological Survey Professional Paper 369. United States Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., pp. 27-29.
  13. ^ a b Rosenthal, E. Jane. 1996. "San Nicolas Island Bifaces: A Distinctive Stone Tool Manufacturing Technique." Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology vol. 18 no. 2, pp. 304.
  14. ^ Kottek, M.; J. Grieser; C. Beck; B. Rudolf; F. Rubel (2006). "World Map of the Köppen-Geiger climate classification updated" (PDF). Meteorol. Z. 15 (3): 259–263. doi:10.1127/0941-2948/2006/0130. Retrieved December 1, 2012.
  15. ^ a b c d "General Climate Summary Tables". Western Regional Climate Center. Retrieved December 1, 2012.
  16. ^ Schoenherr, Allan A., C. Robert Feldmeth, and Michael J. Emerson. 2003. Natural History of the Islands of California (paperback), University of California Press, Berkeley. pp. 339-340.
  17. ^ Schoenherr, Allan A., C. Robert Feldmeth, and Michael J. Emerson. 2003. Natural History of the Islands of California (paperback), University of California Press, Berkeley. pp. 342-347.
  18. ^ [1] Atlas of Native California Terrestrial Snails in Ventura County
  19. ^ a b c Steve Chawkins (February 26, 2012). "Complex effort to rid San Nicolas Island of cats declared a success". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 28, 2012.
  20. ^ Restoration Activities - Montrose Settlements Restoration Program - Pacific Region - DAARP National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
  21. ^ McCormack, P. Island's feral cats get home at rehab center. San Diego Union-Tribune December 24, 2009.

External links

Astragalus traskiae

Astragalus traskiae is a rare species of milkvetch known by the common name Trask's milkvetch. It is endemic to the southern Channel Islands of California, where it is known only from Santa Barbara Island and San Nicolas Island.

China rockfish

The China rockfish (Sebastes nebulosus) is a rockfish of the Pacific coast found from Kachemak Bay in the northern Gulf of Alaska to Redondo Beach and San Nicolas Island in southern California.

The China rockfish has a distinctive appearance, with a dark blue or black body crossed by a patchy but obvious yellow stripe that extends from around the third dorsal spine down and then along the lateral line. Although the black-and-yellow rockfish is similar in appearance, the China rockfish has a continuous yellow band while the black-and-yellow has scattered patches of yellow. The body of the China Rockfish may be covered with small whitish or yellowish spots. Maximum reported size is 45 cm (18 inches).

Early life history is little-known; juveniles have been observed in shallow coastal water. Adults are solitary and territorial, preferring rocky outcrops with boulder fields and crevices. When confronted with an intruder, the fish erect its spines and try to look larger. The territories are apparently small, with a study off Vancouver Island finding Chinas moving only within 10 m (33 ft). They feed on benthic organisms, including brittle stars, chitons, and crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp.

They have been popular for commercial fishing since the 19th century. During the 1930s, Chinas sold for twice as much as any other rockfish except the black-and-yellow rockfish, and for more than any other kind of finfish. They are today popular in Asia, often being sold alive. Commercial fishing methods include hook and line, longline, and trapping.

The species epithet nebulosus is Latin for "clouded". Although Jordan and Evermann promoted the common name "yellowspotted rockfish", the "China" name has persisted, due to a perceived preference by persons of Chinese ancestry living in central California. The species was actually described by both W. O. Ayres and Charles Frédéric Girard in the same year, with Girard naming the species S. fasciatus, but the name had already been used for the Acadian redfish and thus Ayres' choice prevailed.

Eriogonum grande

Eriogonum grande is a species of wild buckwheat known by the common name redflower buckwheat. It is native to northwestern Baja California, as well as the Channel Islands of California. It is a mat-forming perennial herb producing tall, stout inflorescences of white, pink, or red flowers. Leaves are located mainly at the base of the plant and are wavy along the edges and up to 10 centimeters long.

There are three varieties of this species:

E. g. var. grande - Pacific Island wild buckwheat, redflower buckwheat - found on several of the Channel Islands

E. g. var. rubescens - San Miguel Island buckwheat, red-flowered Pacific Island wild buckwheat - found on the northern Channel Islands

E. g. var. timorum - San Nicolas Island buckwheat - rare and endemic to San Nicolas Island

Fraternal snail

The fraternal snail, also known as the San Nicolas Island snail, scientific name Micrarionta feralis, is a species of air-breathing land snail, a terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusk in the family Helminthoglyptidae. This species is endemic to the United States, specifically California.

George Nidever

George Nidever (also spelled Nidiver) (December 20, 1802 – March 24, 1883) was an American mountain man, explorer, fur trapper, memoirist and sailor. In the 1830s he became one of the first wave of American settlers to move to Mexican California, where he made his living in fur trapping. In 1853 he led the expedition that rescued Juana Maria, the last member of the Nicoleño people, from San Nicolas Island where she had been living alone for eighteen years. Toward the end of his life Nidever wrote a memoir, Life and Adventures of George Nidever, which was popular at the end of the 19th century.

Island night lizard

The island night lizard (Xantusia riversiana) is a species of night lizard native to three of the Channel Islands of California: San Nicolas Island, Santa Barbara Island, and San Clemente Island. A small number of island night lizards also live on Sutil Island, near Santa Barbara Island.

Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins is a 1960 children's novel by American writer Scott O'Dell, which tells the story of a 12-year-old girl stranded alone for years on an island off the California coast. It is based on the true story of Juana Maria, a Nicoleño Native American left alone for 18 years on San Nicolas Island during the 19th century.

Island of the Blue Dolphins won the Newbery Medal in 1961. It was adapted into a film of the same name in 1964. O'Dell later wrote a sequel, Zia, published in 1976.

The 50th Anniversary edition of Island of the Blue Dolphins includes a new introduction by Newbery Medalist Lois Lowry and also includes extracts from Father Gonzales Rubio in the Santa Barbara Mission's Book of Burials. Island of the Blue Dolphins: The Complete Reader's Edition, a critical edition edited by Sara L. Schwebel, was published in October 2016 by the University of California Press. It includes two chapters deleted from the book before publication.

Juana Maria

Juana Maria (died October 19, 1853), better known to history as the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island (her Native American name is unknown), was a Native American woman who was the last surviving member of her tribe, the Nicoleño. She lived alone on San Nicolas Island off the coast of California from 1835 until her rescue in 1853. Scott O'Dell's award-winning children's novel Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) was inspired by her story. She was the last native speaker of the Nicoleño language.

Lottia edmitchelli

† Lottia edmitchelli was a species of limpet in the family Lottiidae. It was native to the coast of Southern California, where it may have been endemic. Specimens are known from San Nicolas Island, one of the Channel Islands of California, and from San Pedro in the city of Los Angeles.The specimens from San Nicolas Island lived during the late Pleistocene. The San Pedro specimen was a fresh shell collected between 1861 and 1863. No other fresh specimens have been found since, and the species is thought to be extinct. It is a "neoextinction", one that occurred relatively recently. It may have become extinct because it lived in a specific and fragile habitat that was rapidly degraded and destroyed by human activity as the human population of Southern California grew.


Lutica is a genus of zodariid spiders that occurs only in North America on both the mainland California coast and the Channel Islands. Lutica abalonea is known from the coast west of Oxnard, California, Lutica clementea is known from San Clemente Island, Lutica maculata is known from Santa Rosa Island, and Lutica nicolasia is known from San Nicolas Island. It is believed that there is another species found on San Miguel Island, though it has not been described due to lack of adult specimens.These spiders are found living in coastal sand dunes in and around clumps of foliage. Unlike many spiders, Lutica build web tubes that are covered in sand. These tubes are used to detect prey, such as Coelus globosus, when they cross the tube, similar to the hunting style of purseweb spiders. Lutica also do not balloon as most spiders do but rather stay fairly close to their initial locations in their dune environment and non-reproductive terrestrial migration is uncommon.

Mount Wilson (California)

Mount Wilson is a peak in the San Gabriel Mountains, located within the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County, California. With only minor topographical prominence the peak is not naturally noticeable from a distance, although it is easily identifiable due to the large number of antennas near its summit. It is a subsidiary peak of nearby San Gabriel Peak.

It is the location of the Mount Wilson Observatory, which is an important astronomical facility in Southern California with historic 60-inch (1,524 mm) and 100-inch (2,540 mm) telescopes, and 60-foot (18.3 m) and 150-foot (45.7 m) solar towers. The newer CHARA Array, run by Georgia State University, is also sited there and does important interferometric stellar research.

The summit is at 5,710 feet (1,740 m). While not the tallest peak in its vicinity, it is high enough in elevation that snow can sometimes interrupt astronomical activities on the mountain. All of the mountains south of the summit are far shorter leading to unobstructed views across the Los Angeles Basin, Orange County, the Inland Empire, and out to Ventura County, San Diego County and the Pacific Ocean. On most days Santa Catalina Island, California, some 65 miles south, is visible. On clear days, other Channel Islands visible include San Clemente Island at 95 miles, Santa Barbara Island at 76 miles, San Nicolas Island at 107 miles, Santa Cruz Island at 98 miles and San Miguel Island at 133 miles. At an elevation of 5,710 feet, the horizon on the ocean extends 92 miles.

Mount Wilson is also heavily utilized for relay broadcasting of radio and television for the Greater Los Angeles Area.

The FM broadcasters include but are not limited to KRRL-FM 92.3, KCBS-FM 93.1, KTWV 94.7, KKLQ-FM 100.3, KIIS-FM 102.7, KOST-FM 103.5, and KBIG-FM 104.3.

Naval Air Station Point Mugu

Naval Air Station Point Mugu is a former United States Navy air station that operated from 1942 to 2000 in California. In 2000, it merged with nearby Naval Construction Battalion Center Port Hueneme to form Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC).

At Point Mugu, NBVC operates two runways and encompasses a 36,000 square mile sea test range, anchored by San Nicolas Island. The range allows the military to test and track weapons systems in restricted air- and sea-space without encroaching on civilian air traffic or shipping lanes. The range can be expanded through interagency coordination between the U.S. Navy and the Federal Aviation Administration. Telemetry data can be tracked and recorded using technology housed at San Nicolas Island, Point Mugu and Laguna Peak, a Tier 1 facility also controlled by NBVC.

Naval Base Ventura County

Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) is a United States Navy base located near Oxnard, California. The base was formed in 2000 through the merger of Naval Air Station Point Mugu and Naval Construction Battalion Center Port Hueneme. NBVC is a diverse installation comprising three main facilities—Point Mugu, Port Hueneme and San Nicolas Island—and serving as an all-in-one mobilization site, deep water port, railhead, and airfield. NBVC supports more than 100 tenant commands with a base population of more than 19,000 personnel, making it the largest employer in Ventura County.

Naval Outlying Field San Nicolas Island

Naval Outlying Field San Nicolas Island or NOLF San Nicolas Island (ICAO: KNSI, FAA LID: NSI) is a military airport located on San Nicolas Island, in Ventura County, California. The airport is administered by Naval Base Ventura County and is one of several Naval Outlying Landing Fields operated by the US Navy.

The airport's ICAO identifier is KNSI. Although most U.S. airports and airbases use the same three-letter location identifier for the FAA and IATA, NOLF San Nicolas Island is assigned NSI by the FAA, The IATA has assigned NSI to Nsimalen International Airport in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

Naval Outlying Landing Field

An Outlying Landing Field, or Naval Outlying Landing Field, is an auxiliary airfield, associated with a Naval Air Station, used by the United States Navy.

Having no based units or aircraft and minimal facilities, an outlying landing field is used as a low-traffic location for flight training, without the risks and distractions of other traffic at a naval air station or other airport.


The Nicoleño were a Uto-Aztecan Native American people who lived on San Nicolas Island in California. Its population was "left devastated by a massacre in 1814 by sea otter hunters". Its last surviving member was given the name Juana Maria, who was born before 1811 and died in 1853.

Niebla dactylifera

Niebla dactylifera is a fruticose lichen that grows only on San Nicolas Island in the Channel Islands of California. The epithet, dactylifera, is in reference to the terminal finger-like branches.

Pacific Missile Test Center

Pacific Missile Test Center (PMTC) is the former name of the current Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division. The name of the center was the Naval Air Missile Test Center prior to PMTC. It is located at Naval Base Ventura County/Naval Air Station Point Mugu in Ventura County, California. The nearest city to the installation is Oxnard.

The Naval Air Warfare Center consists of both the NAS Point Mugu airfield and a rocket launching site for the U.S. Navy. The center has been an active development and test facility for the Navy since the late 1940s. Among the missiles developed and tested there include the Sparrow family and the Phoenix, and AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and the Regulus surface-to-surface missile in addition to numerous prototypes of military rockets and sounding rockets.


Zaniolepis is a genus of scorpaeniform fish native to the eastern Pacific Ocean. Z. frenata is known to have been a source of food to the Native American inhabitants of San Nicolas Island off the coast of southern California, United States during the Middle Holocene.

Climate data for San Nicolas Island
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 83
Average high °F (°C) 61.3
Daily mean °F (°C) 55.6
Average low °F (°C) 50.1
Record low °F (°C) 36
Average precipitation inches (mm) 1.67
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 6 7 4 5 3 1 1 0 1 2 3 6 36
Source: WRCC (normals 1933-1976)[15]
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