Santa Cruz: Exploring Moore Creek

The one bridge left at Natural Bridges State Park

The one bridge left at Natural Bridges State Park

Natural Bridges State Park, the site of an early picnic lunch date, invokes romantic memories for Holly and me so we must visit whenever we come to Santa Cruz. We can’t get enough of the ocean beach, the bridge (the namesake rock formation just off shore; there is only one left now—there were three), the cool limestone rock, and Monarch butterflies flocking in eucalyptus. We walked the Monarch Trail and chatted with the docent who had a scope set up so we could get a close look at the overwintering insects. The trail descends to the ocean and the mouth of Moore Creek, which stole my interest. I had to find its headwaters.

Just turn around to see the mouth of Moore Creek

Just turn around to see the mouth of Moore Creek

I’ve been very critical of the maps app on our phones, as it didn’t include the names of creeks, rivers, mountains and geographical features, just roads. I’ve found the best place to go for mountains is AAA road maps! But upgrading the operating system on our iPhones must have supplied an updated maps app. Still no mountains, but the rivers are now well labeled. The San Lorenzo River is Santa Cruz’s main waterway and I could trace its run on my phone right up to its headwaters north of Castle Rock State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Someday we will hike up there.

On this trip we confined our watershed adventure to Moore Creek and we uncovered some interesting history.

1890 water tower

1890 water tower

My phone showed the headwaters of Moore Creek to be just below Dry Pond, right off of High Street near the UC arboretum. We got there just before the arboretum closed and parked in its lot. The docent showed us a map of the arboretum, which included spots marked Old Cowell Reservoir and Old Water Tower. We walked over a ridge, which turned out to be an old dam, and into the dry reservoir, now a forest. The red brick water tower, maybe 40 feet tall, emerges from the center, quite whole. The Moore Creek headwaters appeared to be a spring just south of the reservoir.

I’d been to the arboretum several times, (definitely worth a visit) but had never known about the tower. It was part of an early water system built by the city of Santa Cruz. The reservoir, built in 1890, was its main storage facility. Except it didn’t hold water because it was built on pervious limestone which allowed the loss of up to half a million gallons a day! Eventually the city gave up and deeded the reservoir back to Cowell Ranch and now it’s on university land.

At the edge of Moore Creek Canyon looking across to the Moore Creek Preserve

At the edge of Moore Creek Canyon looking across to the Moore Creek Preserve

We stayed at a friend’s home in a Westside neighborhood built above the east side of the impressively deep Moore Creek Canyon. Walk west on many of these streets and they dead end at the edge of the canyon, a wild, steep slot filled with scrub and groves of live oak, bay laurel, fir and eucalyptus. A mini-park at the end of one street has benches where you can sit and look over the canyon to the ocean beyond. I searched in vain for signs of paths down to the bottom.

Determined to find a way down, I investigated other dead end streets in the neighborhood. Finally, I found a trail labeled Public Pathway to Moore Creek, but when I followed it I wasn’t able to get far beyond a tangle of brush at the bottom.

But if you follow Western Drive further up the hill and turn west onto Meder Street, you traverse the upper reach of the canyon across the creek. I kept going and found the Moore Creek Preserve, a 246-acre greenbelt purchased by the City of Santa Cruz in 1998 and co-managed by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. I learned that Moore Creek Preserve encompasses the riparian corridor formed by the West Branch of Moore Creek, which joins the longer East Branch that originates on the UCSC campus. Here there are trails galore! There are cattle grazing on native grasslands! Spectacular ocean views! And old trees!

Thanks Santa Cruz for keeping it wild!

Written by Molly


One thought on “Santa Cruz: Exploring Moore Creek

  1. Lovely. Hope you are having Thanksgiving in Santa Cruz, so full of nature’s attractions. We visited the Botanic Garden years ago. Primarily Australian natives. Drought tolerant. Proteas galore! Love, Yvonne


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