Natural Bridges SB
Narrated by Russ Christoff

October through February, an interesting natural phenomenon occurs at a crescent shaped beach in north Santa Cruz.

Thousands of Monarch Butterflies descend on Natural Bridges State Beach to spend the winter months in a sheltered eucalyptus grove.

People come in droves to witness the clustering of these delicate little creatures as they warm themselves in the sun.

On the day I visited, the park was sponsoring Monarch Day, an event which occurs annually in the month of October.

The many visitors who gather on this day may participate in all kinds of activities.

Although many were browsing through reading material in the visitor center before visiting the butterflies, most were engaged in headband coloring and face painting booths.

A winding ramp makes the short trip to the eucalyptus grove easily accessible for most.

At the bottom, I met with Elizabeth.

Elizabeth, there seems to be a lot of activity going on here today. What is going on?

ELIZABETH: Well, today is the 18th Annual Welcome Back Monarch Day here at Natural Bridges State Beach, so we are welcoming the return of the Monarchs that come here to Natural Bridges to over winter.

RUSS CHRISTOFF: And we are standing at what is like an observation point?

ELIZABETH: This is the viewing platform, yes.

RUSS CHRISTOFF: OK, and off in that direction are the butterflies.

ELIZABETH: We are seeing a lot of activity today, a lot of clustering, and a lot of fluttering about and also what we call bursts.

When the temperature gets just right in the cluster, a burst opens up to a spectacular sight of thousands of butterflies fluttering about.

The Monarchs that you see here at Natural Bridges today are the over wintering generation, and they are the longest living.

The live six to nine months. They come to the California coast and they wait out the winter.

There are a lot of wonderful and unique things about Natural Bridges and I would have to say that one of the most unique things is the Monarch preserve here.

It’s actually one of the only state Monarch preserves in the United States, and so the Monarchs are protected here.

RUSS CHRISTOFF: How long have they been coming here?

ELIZABETH: The Monarchs have been coming here for many years, since the eucalyptus trees have been tall enough to provide a canopy, to protect the Monarchs from the wind and the elements, and makes it a perfect habitat for an over wintering site.

RUSS CHRISTOFF: The beach at Natural Bridges was also seeing a lot of action that day.

The sea worn, mudstone formations that give the park its name are found here.

These towering arches create a refuge for pelicans, cormorants, and other sea birds and lend interest and beauty to the park’s sheltered cove.

A boardwalk will lead visitors to a wetland preserve and onto the beach and tide pool area.

Guided tours to these areas are often available.

If you plan to visit Natural Bridges to see the Monarch Butterflies, call ahead to find out if they have begun to arrive.