Page 94 - Montecito Journal Glossy Edition Winter Spring 2012/13

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which have been clocked as high as 106 miles per hour. They are so strong
that they have blown sand from San Miguel Island, across the three-mile
wide strip of water known as the San Miguel Passage, onto Santa Rosa
Island. Sand dunes and sculptured rock are evidence of their relentless
force. The shifting white dunes at the west end of Santa Rosa Island can
cover as much as two square miles, at a height of more than 400 feet.
According to scientist Phil Orr, “All of the sand dunes and arroyo cutting
did not occur during historical times, but rather it was about 7,000 years
ago and 3,000 or 4,000 years ago when the greatest of the dune building
No doubt those same winds blew tantalizing whiffs of vegetation
across the Santa Barbara Channel, enticing Columbian Mammoths
Elphus Imperator
) to swim the five-mile span for tasty grazing. The ancient
relatives of today’s elephants were enormous animals, standing nearly
fourteen feet tall. That they swam a few miles for better forage is not an
outrageous supposition, as modern elephants have been documented to
swim distances up to twenty miles for the same reason.
Once established, mammoths gradually evolved downward in bulk,
eventually becoming what is today known as the species Channel Islands
Pygmy Mammoth (
Mammuthus exilis)
, which stood closer to five feet
in height. Most evidence points to a decreasing food supply and lack of
predators as the downsizing cause, perhaps coinciding with the rising
Images from the Santa Barbara Museum
of Natural History depict scientist Phil C.
Orr examining a fossil, as well as “Rosie,”
the pygmy mammoth found on Santa
Rosa Island, installed in the Museum’s
Geology and Paleontology Hall
spr ing