Saturday, February 14, 2015

A multi-activity coastal park in Santa Cruz: Natural Bridges State Beach

Seabird-populated rock island with natural tunnel
Natural Bridges State Beach is a day-use park at the outskirts of Santa Cruz in California [1-3]. Although relatively small, the park has much to see and explore. The park has hiking trails, bike trails and coastal vista points offering spectacular views of its eponymous rock structures. Your nature & wildlife experience at Natural Bridges will go beyond ocean viewing and whale watching: the park with its mild seaside climate includes the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve, where monarchs find a temporary home in the eucalyptus grove—typically between mid-October and mid-February. All year round, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish can be viewed in the Moore Creek Wetlands, a sheltering salt and freshwater marsh with productive plant communities.

Natural Bridges with tunnel and missing arch
The visitor center provides educational exhibits featuring the park's wildlife and history.  A panel describes how the seaside cliffs are getting sculptured by waves:

Several natural processes erode the coastal cliffs. Sand carried by waves acts like sandpaper, slowly grinding away at the rock. Higher up, expanding salt crystals loosen tiny particles of stone. Some kinds of clams act like drill bits, boring holes in the rock to make their home. And finally, the pressure of water forced into cracks by he waves acts like a hydraulic jack, pushing apart chunks of rock.

Under the title “Going, Going...”, the history of the natural bridges is traced by photographs from between 1900 and 1994. One photograph captures the rocky three-tunnel peninsula in 1900. The other pictures demonstrate how the rock-tunnel structures grow into bridge-like architectures. In the 1994 photograph, the long arch of the “main bridge” is gone, leaving a one-tunnel island behind, resembling what we see today. Nobody knows how many bridges formed and collapsed along the California coast. Their number is growing; the coastal evolution is continuing on.

With the remaining arch as a scenic backdrop, locals and visitors come to enjoy the beach. And surfers hope for nice waves next to the arch.

Getting there
The official address is Natural Bridges State Beach, 2531 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA 95060 (phone: 831-4234609).
From Highway 1, turn west on Swift Street. Stay on on Swift until you reach the coast. Then turn right on West Cliff Drive, which takes you into the park.
If you want to avoid the entrance fee, try to find parking on the northside of  Swanton Boulevard, from where you can walk into the park. Going west on Swift, turn right on Delaware Avenue and then turn left on Swanton Blvd.

References and more to explore
[1] Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks: Natural Bridges State Beach [].
[2] California State Parks: Natural Brides State Park [].
[3] Quest: Geological Outings Around the Bay: Natural Bridges [].

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