Image by Alan Moore
In early autumn every year, a kaleidoscope of monarch butterflies swarms the eucalyptus grove at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz. For the duration of winter, these monarchs find shelter, warmth and food in the only monarch preserve in California, creating an awe-inspiring opportunity to experience these fluttering beauties.
For as long as anyone can recall, monarchs have wintered in the Natural Bridges eucalyptus grove. Monarchs call this copse of trees home for many reasons. Santa Cruz’s temperate winter climate and the dappled sunshine provided by the leaves of the eucalyptus trees keep the butterflies warm while the grove’s location set in a canyon shelters them from wind. And, since the trees flower during the cold months, the monarchs have a steady supply of nectar on which to feast.
The monarch population is in jeopardy as a result of the use of pesticides and insecticides as well as the loss of many of their natural habitats. This is another reason monarchs continue to flock to the grove in Natural Bridges. To help rebuild their numbers, residents and businesses can plant organic sources of nectar including marigolds, cosmos and asters. And, although not a typical plant one would seek out for their garden, planting milkweed encourages monarch repopulation as it is the only plant on which the female will lay eggs and the growing larvae will eat. And the plant possesses a natural toxin that protects the burgeoning butterflies from predators.
From now through the middle of January, docents are offering educational guided tours at 11am and 2pm Saturdays and Sundays through the monarch grove. The grove is open daily from sunrise to sunset for self-guided tours. Now until early December are the best times to observe the butterflies. If the temperature is over 55 degrees, they may take flight, stretching their wings and fluttering throughout the grove. If it’s a cooler day, the monarchs prefer to stay huddled together in the trees, which is also a sight to behold. Either way, it is breathtaking experience you will never forget. Maybe this could be a new holiday tradition for you and your loved ones.
Natural Bridges is located at 2531 West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz. In addition to the monarchs, there are a wide variety of activities available including whale and bird watching, hiking, tide pools and the stunning natural arches from which the beach gets its name.