This article was first published in The Epoch Times on November 15, 2022.
On a sunny Autumn day in Santa Cruz, California, my friend and I walked the paved path along West Cliff Drive. Our route lay between Natural Bridges State Park to the west and the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse to the east. During our four mile out-and-back walk, we viewed sandstone arches, beautiful beaches, and wintering Monarch Butterflies.
We parked for free on Delaware Avenue, located behind the Monarch Butterfly preserve of Natural Bridges State Park. Taking a path through the eucalyptus trees, we met a young man picking up trash. He wore a green vest and looked official. My friend thanked him, and he explained that he didn’t work for the city.
“So you do it for yourself,” she said.
“I do it for the ocean,” he corrected her, “because where would the earth be if everyone was selfish?”
Natural Bridges State Beach
Our first stop was to view the “natural bridge” at Natural Bridges State Beach. The bridge is actually an arch, the only one left of the original three. Wind and waves first carved three caves from a sandstone cliff that extended into the sea. Over time the caves eroded to arches. One collapsed in the early 1900’s, and the second collapsed during a storm in 1980. The remaining middle arch can only be viewed by walking down to the beach and looking toward your left.
The beach itself is beautiful with white sand, a small estuary, and tide pools. Take care when you explore the tide pools. As the tide comes in, waves often break high upon the rocks, drenching visitors, or worse. Years ago, my son jumped down into a natural rock grotto that forms there when the tide is low. He couldn’t get back out and the tide was coming in fast. Luckily, he had a friend there who pulled him back out again.
The Views Along West Cliff Drive
Rhode Island may have its Cliff Walk and mansions, but the Santa Cruz cliff walk has white-sand beaches, charming homes, and interesting locals. We shared the path with walkers, strollers, and bikers. Everyone was polite.
Our view out toward the incredibly blue ocean included fishermen, kayakers, dogs with their people, and a feeding frenzy of brown pelicans that were dive-bombing fish. There was something to see every minute.
A Local Coffee House
The surfing museum was late to open, so my friend took me beyond it to a local secret: The Shrine Coffee House located on the grounds of the Shrine of St. Joseph Church. You would never know the cafe is there, because it is at the far end of the church parking lot. They have a nice indoor/outdoor seating area with a tile fountain, and the coffee is delicious.
The Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse
After our coffee, we walked back to the surfing museum, which is located inside a tiny lighthouse. The working lighthouse is a memorial to an eighteen-year-old man who drowned, on February 28, 1965, while bodysurfing near Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz County. Mark’s parents had the lighthouse built in his memory and buried his ashes at the base of the lantern-room tower. A plaque and statue indicating his remains can be seen inside the surfing museum.
Surfers are also honored in an informal memorial located above the Steamer Lane surf spot. Though most of them did not die in the ocean, their family and friends have chosen to remember these loved ones by their passion for surfing.
The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum
If you want to learn about the history of surfing, be sure to visit the little surfing museum located inside the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse. The museum mostly contains wall panels of photographs–organized by decade–and some impressive surfboards from the past.
The Monarch Butterfly Preserve
The monarch butterflies sheltering at Natural Bridges State Park only fly about if the temperature is at least 55 degrees. To give the day time to warm up, my friend and I delayed viewing the butterflies until we’d returned from our walk, around 1 pm.
There is a nice visitor center and gift shop at the entrance to Natural Bridges State Park. Behind it, a boardwalk path winds down to the butterfly preserve. Each fall, from October to mid-February, thousands of monarch butterflies shelter in the eucalyptus grove located within this canyon (ironically, eucalyptus trees are actually invasive plants). They only leave the trees to get their fill of nectar.
Monarch butterflies migrate from across the western United States and Canada to coastal shelters up and down California and northern Baja California. Sometime in January or February, the monarchs begin migrating back from the California coast to the eastern Sierra Nevada’s and the Rocky Mountain foothills. They complete this journey over five butterfly generations.
The monarch butterfly’s life-span can last anywhere from two weeks to nine months. Each generation lays their eggs on milkweed. Those eggs become caterpillars, which become butterflies that travel even further inland. The fifth and last generation of this epic migration travels all the way back from western habitats to the California coast–the place where their great-great grandparents originated. This is the generation that can live for nine months. It is incredible when you think that these monarch butterflies are migrating to areas they have never seen.
Viewing the Butterflies
If you visit the Monarch Butterfly preserve, be sure to bring a good camera or binoculars. The butterflies shelter high up in the trees, beyond the reach of a smartphone.
After I had finished photographing some of them (using a tripod and zoom lens), I told my friend there was one more thing I wanted to do. She waited patiently as I laid down on the deck, hat behind my head, and looked skyward. Hundreds of butterflies, lit by the sun, fluttered high overhead. Others clustered together for warmth. I highly recommend taking the time to be quiet and just enjoy watching the butterflies.