Several maps done in the 16th & 17th Centuries show a huge island off the western coast of America. At its lower end, it looks a lot like baja california, but it is clearly an island, as opposed to a peninsula.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Insel_Kalifornien_1650.jpg is an example link

How did it get this way, and who figured out that the maps were wrong?

  • 3
    Google Maps - misleading people since 1500s! :) +1 - excellent question!
    – DVK
    Jan 23, 2012 at 1:30
  • Is there any such map you can link here?
    – o0'.
    Jan 23, 2012 at 15:55
  • 1
    It's dwarfed however by issues with the shape of Canada.
    – alan2here
    Jan 23, 2012 at 22:40
  • There is an extensive discussion of this matter in "Lands of Promise and Despair". Mar 21, 2017 at 0:00
  • @alan2here: Divergence of the North Magnetic and Geographic Poles befuddled cartographers and explorers for centuries, until sometime mid-19th century. Dec 14, 2017 at 21:58

2 Answers 2


So, in researching the link from sbi, I think he's got one piece of the puzzle, but there seem to be a few more.

  1. Juan de Fuca (the same guy from whom the straits around Vancouver Island / the Seattle area are named), had claimed to have found a Northwest Passage
  2. Sailors from the south had also found the Gulf of Baja California, and frankly its big - so big that it would have been real easy to say, 'Oh, that's Juan's strait'
  3. There was the romance novel Las sergas de Esplandián by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, mentioned above.

Put them together, and you have an island.

Given the resources at the time, and a surfeit of targets for exploration, it makes sense they would have said, 'This is an island, we'll get around to mapping it later.'

That this was not an island was realized in 1744, when an overland expedition proved it be part of the mainland.

  • 1
    Good find! +1 from me.
    – sbi
    Jan 26, 2012 at 21:39

According to Wikipedia, this might be based on the romance novel Las sergas de Esplandián by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, which contains the first written mentioning of the Island of California.

It is probable that this description prompted early explorers to misidentify the Baja California peninsula as the island in these legends.

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