Monarch Butterflies, Santa Cruz (1/15/2006) © 2006 John Poimiroo
A tradition of California Fall Color has been to report all things autumn and colorful, including the annual return of the Monarch Butterflies to the Central Coast.
In keeping with that tradition, Natural Bridges State Beach will welcome back the Monarchs officially, on Sunday, October 9, from 10am to 4pm. This annual event marks the homecoming of the brilliantly-colored orange and black monarchs with guided tours of the monarch grove, live music by the 5-M’s band (Mostly Mediocre Musical Monarch Mariposas), educational displays and guest lecturers that will reveal the mystery of monarch migration and more. Children can participate in monarch butterfly themed active-learning games and crafts, and everyone is invited to dress up for the butterfly-themed parade.
The park’s Monarch Grove provides a seasonal home for monarch butterflies each winter. From mid-October until early February, they form a “city in the trees.” The areas mild ocean air and protected eucalyptus grove provide a safe roost until spring. In spring and summer, the butterflies migrate to valley regions west of the Rocky Mountains where milkweed, the only plant a monarch caterpillar eats, is plentiful.
October marks the beginning of their arrival, with numbers and activity usually peaking near Thanksgiving, when many park visitors gather to enjoy and photograph the butterflies. Visitors can view the over-wintering Monarchs by walking down the park’s wheelchair and stroller-accessible boardwalk to the observation deck in the eucalyptus grove. The Monarch Grove has been declared a Natural Preserve, thus protecting the Monarchs and their winter habitat from human encroachment or harm. This is the only State Monarch Preserve in California.
Weekend Guided tours of the Monarch Grove take place on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00am and 2:00pm, from October 9 until the monarchs migrate, usually in late January. Monarch migration is variable; please call the park if you would like more information. Public tours are offered on weekends and no reservations are necessary, or call (831) 423-4609 to arrange a tour for a group of 10 or more. Meet at the Visitor Center for the hour-long program. The walk is stroller and wheelchair accessible.
Natural Bridges State Park is located at the end of West Cliff Drive at the north end of Santa Cruz. Take Swift Avenue west from Highway 1, or follow West Cliff Drive north along the in-town bluffs until it ends at Natural Bridges.