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CALIFORNIA SPORTS PARADISE
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FEATURE ARTICLE

NATURAL BRIDGES STATE BEACH PARK
By Gene Raffanti

ABOUT NATURAL BRIDGES

Named for the unusual rock formations found in the area, one of the highlights of Natural Bridges is the annual winter clustering of the Monarch butterfly in the park's eucalyptus grove. This park hosts the largest concentration of Monarchs north of Mexico. On a sunny winter day these delicate appearing butterflies will float and flutter in huge clouds in and around the eucalyptus trees and the heads of the visitors gathered to witness this wondrous display. It not unusual to see a Monarch gently land on the head, shoulder or outstretched hand of an observer. You may find as many as 200,000 butterflies wintering in the park as they seek protection from the elements.

All year long Natural Bridges offers great tide pool observing. On the rocky ledges leading north from the main beach are beautiful tide pools with an abundance of both plant and animal sea life including various types of sea stars, mussels, limpets, rock crabs, hermit crabs, turban snails, sea urchins, sea anemones, soft corals, kelp, sea grasses, and many small fish. Tide pool observers are asked to look and not touch. The tide pool ecosystems are fragile and easily damaged. Also, please be careful when the tides are high or the swell is large. A frequent glance toward the ocean is advised. See the article on Ocean Safety in Brian's Bodybag.

HOW TO GET THERE

Natural Bridges is located at the northerly edge of the City of Santa Cruz. Take Mission Blvd (Highway 1) north, turn west on Western Drive to West Cliff Drive, turn north onto West Cliff Drive and you will soon see the sign.

THE HIKE

The Trail starts near the visitor center and leads down into a small ravine where the butterflies gather. There is an observation platform located directly in front of the main clustering tree. If you turn around and follow the trail that leads up the other side of the ravine there is a one mile loop that will take you back to the visitor center. The last time I took this hike with my seven year old daughter we saw two bobcats casually walking through the meadow. These cats were not spooked by us and seemed to be accustomed to hikers. We observed these healthy felines for a few minutes and when we started walking in their direction they took cover in the brush.

The hike is not long, so take your time observing the Monarchs before you start. If you also take some time observing the tide pools, you might end up spending a good part of the day enjoying Natural Bridges State Beach Park.

Natural Bridges State Beach: Phone (831) 423-4609 / (831) 429-2850

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CALIFORNIA'S MONTHLY ON-LINE MAGAZINE FOR OUTDOOR SPORTS


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