The Mystique of the Coronado Islands
Tip of the Week: May 30, 2009
Captain o captain
Only five miles ahead
There lies an island
Only five miles ahead
White hills and beaches
Something green in the blue
Captain o captain
So it all has come true
There's an island in the sun
Come together everyone
Ahead lies an island
Now you see it. Now you don't. There are days in San Diego when you can stand on the beach and look out at the Pacific Ocean and see nothing for miles and miles. There are also days, especially during Santa Ana winds, when you can stand in the very same place and spot the four islands that make up the Coronado Islands or the Islas Coronados.
The Coronado Islands are somewhat of a mystery to most San Diegans. Visitors who venture out on the charter dive boats, fishing boats or even the San Diego Harbor Excursion's Nature Cruise have learned more than some of us landlubbers.
They are called the Coronado Islands, but have nothing to do with the well-known Coronado Island in San Diego. Actually, these four islands are part of Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. Confusing, si? There is one way to verify that you are, indeed, in Mexican waters. As you roam the ocean enroute to the islands, you will receive a text message on your cellphone welcoming you to Mexico. Bienvenidos a Mexico! Kind of strange, but we like the strange, the odd... and some have even said we even like the obscure. Perhaps we're guilty of all of the above.
Alright, back to the story. So we have four islands that are about 15-20 miles southwest of San Diego and about 8 miles northwest of Tijuana. While people make the short trek for fishing, diving and sailing, the Coronado Islands are actually a Mexican wildlife refuge and humans are not allowed on the land of these islands. However, there are a few interesting exceptions to that rule.
Here's the dirt. Once upon a time back in the 1920's and 1930's, there was an area called Smuggler's Cove. America was struggling with Prohibition and this little place, just a stone's throw from the United States, was a perfect haunt for boozers and smugglers. Where there's booze, gambling follows and up from the cold Pacific waters rose a two-story casino in 1933. The area was later renamed Casino Cove. The casino action even attracted the Hollywood partiers such as Charlie Chaplin and Mae West. The hooplah and heyday of this hellraising hamlet was silenced by the Great Depression. In 1935, Mexico put the kabosh on casino gambling. What remains of this beacon of bombastic activity is the concrete it stood upon and the old steps leading to the brothels that bemused suitors above the casino.
The South Island is the only island where only a few humans are allowed to work and dwell. Even after all these years, these few fisherman, a couple of Mexican Navy servicemen and a lighthouse keeper or two call this desolate mound of earth, home. It is so desolate that drinking water has to be brought to them by the Mexican Navy once a week. There's no 7-11. There's no McDonald's. There's nothin'. Nada.
Coronado Islands- Key Hole
It's not just Tom Cruise and his Top Gun movie that have ties to San Diego. Even L. Ron Hubbard, the man behind Scientology, served in the U.S. Navy in 1943 as a Lt. Commander and had some trouble with the Coronado Islands. He led the USS PC-815 into military exercises because it was believed that the islands were void of people and were the property of the United States. He and the US Navy were incorrect. Mexico did not take kindly to the little mix up. L. Ron Hubbard was sent packing. We all know what happened to him.
The islands offer many interesting visuals including the wildlife that are not typically seen on land surrounded by water. There are rabbits and mice. Go figure. Where there is an absense of humans on these island shores, there is an abundance of animal life on and around the islands. On any given day, you can spot whales, brown pelicans, cormorants, oyster catchers, brown and
blue-footed boobies (go ahead and laugh), sea lions, otters, seals. and elephant seals (on the Middle Island.) Flipper and hundreds of his friends frolic in the waters close to the northern most island. Even burros can be seen out there. Yes, burros. Who knew?
Depending on what charter boat or tour you take to visit the perimeter of the islands, the trip can feel longer than a three-hour tour. A three-hour tour. The ocean does some funky things enroute to the islands, but it is an adventure. There are geological explanations, but that's another story.
Any way the wind blows, the Coronado Islands sit off the coast of Tijuana and San Diego. To get a good look at them though, it is the Santa Ana winds that bring them into better view. You don't have to wait. Head down to the beach any time you can. You may even get to spot the mysterious Coronado Islands.
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