From Three Bridges to an Arch

The lone remaining arch at Natural Bridges State Beach in April 2012. Photo © Mobile Ranger.
The lone remaining arch at Natural Bridges State Beach in April 2012. Photo © Mobile Ranger.

Natural Bridges State Beach derives its name from three beautiful natural bridges that were present in the early 1900s. Today, only the middle one remains and technically it’s now an arch, not a bridge, since it stands alone and no longer goes anywhere.

Formation of the Bridges

Natural bridges typically form in narrow peninsulas that stick out from shore. Waves are refracted or bent around the headland and focus energy on both flanks. Sometimes caves will form on both sides that eventually meet, other times a small hole forms and is then the focus of wave energy which makes it grow bigger.

 

Here along the north coast of Santa Cruz, the bridges form in a rock formation known as the Santa Cruz Mudstone, which is fairly resistant to erosion. Once a natural bridge is created, it will last for decades. Eventually though, erosion takes its toll. The bridge may become an arch for a time, but as enough of the base erodes it finally collapses.

The three natural bridges circa 1900. Photo courtesy of Frank Perry and UCSC Special Collections.
The three natural bridges circa 1900. Photo courtesy of Frank Perry and UCSC Special Collections.

The Collapses

The outer-most bridge was intact in fall, 1905. Some say it collapsed during shaking from the famous 1906 earthquake but there is no proof of this.

The three bridges at Natural Bridges State Beach circa 1950. Photo courtesy Frank Perry.
The three bridges at Natural Bridges State Beach circa 1950. Photo courtesy Frank Perry.
The innermost bridge fell during a storm on the night of January 10th, 1980. The park rangers were so saddened when the second bridge fell, they held a wake to commemorate its passing. Alexander Weiss, one of the rangers, wrote and recited a poem, called “Ode to an Arch.” Read it at the bottom of this article.

The innermost bridge in winter 1979 just months before it collapsed. Photo courtesy of Frank Perry.
The innermost bridge in winter 1979 just months before it collapsed. Photo courtesy of Frank Perry.

The Future

In future decades the name of this park, Natural Bridges State Beach, will refer only to bridges/arches of the past. New arches and bridges are forming at Wilder Ranch and other locations along the north coast, but none are forming here.

Ode to an Arch

Ode to the Natural Bridges Arch
By Alexander Weiss January 13, 1980

Once three arches stood in this park
As if windows to the sea,
But wind-blown sand and storms like sharks
Attacked them constantly

This force made one disappear
Sometime ’round 1900;
The other two, like some stone brassiere
Would not be split asunder

 

 

But time and storms, they do not care,
And the near arch slowly shed
Bits and pieces here and there
Til it looked quite underfed

In February ’79
That shed quite a chunk,
And again in October, into the brine
Went some more kerplunk! kerplink!

The arch now was thin and weak,
But gave not up and stayed;
As if it had some goal to seek,
It saw the new decade!

But as the seventies passed on
And the eighties had begun,
It knew it could not last for long
For it was erosion’s son:

For through erosion it was born
And through erosion it would die
And such a death one does not mourn
One merely says goodbye.

The night of January 10th
It gave up the ghost,
And we are here not to lament,
But to offer it a toast:

Here’s to arches that are gone
And to new ones on the way,
For just as sure as there’s a dawn
There’ll be some more some day!

And to our last remaining arch
That now stands like some island fort,
We pledge that we will always march
To give our arch support

Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour

This piece is part of the West Cliff Drive Tour. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.

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Further Information

  1. Sources Used

    • California State Parks Website. Natural Bridges State Beach Pamphlet. California State Parks. 2012.
    • A Coast to Explore: Coastal Geology and Ecology of Central California. Miles O. Hayes. Pandion Books; 2010.
    • Definition of Geologic Jointing. Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_(geology).
    • Ephemeral Features-West Cliff Drive Photo Parade. Frank Perry. Santa Cruz County History Journal, S.C.C. Historical Trust, Inc. 1994;(1).
    • Our Ocean Backyard: Broken bridges and fallen arches. Gary Griggs. Santa Cruz Sentinel. February 13, 2010. www.santacruzsentinel.com/localstories/ci_14395476.
    • Living With the Changing California Coast. Gary B. Griggs, Kiki Patsch, Lauret E. Savoy. University of California Press; 2005.
    • Natural Bridges Field Trip Guide. Christie Rowe. University of California Earth Sciences Webpage. www.es.ucsc.edu/~crowe/structure/natbridges.html.



About The Author

I really enjoy field trips. I love being in a cool place and having someone tell me about it. The problem is, you can’t always find a professor or park ranger-type to tell you all they know about the local rocks, plants, and history. So I decided to combine my love of things natural with mobile technology.

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