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A Cyclist’s Guide to the Wildflowers of Santa Cruz

A Cyclist’s Guide to the Wildflowers of Santa Cruz

Pedaling to petals, it’s almost too good to be true.

Add a little color to your bike ride with this mobile wildflower guide from the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. This flower field guide and bike route map will help you on your treasure hunt. Wildflowers can be fleeting so keep these routes on rotation to avoid missing the show!

Wildflower season varies from year-to-year, usually starting in March, picking up in April, and winding down in May. Some of these flowers pop-up early in the season, while others are late bloomers.


COASTAL CRUISING | Easy

This easy route takes you through some of the best wildflower viewing in the heart of town. You might think wildflowers belong in the wild, but with habitat loss such a huge threat to plant diversity, creating space for native plants in our urban areas is more important than ever.

Getting There

All Trails Route | Distance 7.05 mi | Elevation Gain 203 ft
This route cuts through town and along the coast, starting at Arana Gulch, then heading to the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, and ending at the UC Santa Cruz Coastal Science Campus. Then double back and see if you missed anything!

Santa Cruz Tarplant (Holocarpha macradenia)
Location: Arana Gulch

This rare and endangered plant endemic to Northern California is the reason we have Arana Gulch Open Space. The City manages the park in a way that promotes the success of this species. Adapted for disturbance historically common in coastal prairies, cows graze the landscape much like megafauna used to thousands of years ago.

Photo from Friends of Arana Gulch.

California Poppy Maritime Variety (Eschscholzia californica var. maritima)
Location: Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

The Garden Learning Center at the Museum features several habitats. The front garden is a coastal prairie featuring our local variety of California poppy in abundance! Our maritime variety has a darker center with light edges, whereas the standard poppy is more orange throughout.

California Buttercup (Ranunculus californicus)
Location: Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

These bright, shiny yellow flowers often bloom earlier than many other species, and will go to seed and return to a dormant state by early summer. Buttercups can be a nice source of nutrition and can be toasted or ground up and added to baked goods.

Common Self Heal (Prunella vulgarus)
Location: Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

In addition to attracting pollinators, this edible plant has long been used as a remedy for a variety of ailments, including sore throats and muscle aches. Some of its other common names include heal-all, woundwort, heart-of-the-earth, carpenter’s herb, and brownwort.

Gumplant (Grindelia stricta)
Location: UC Santa Cruz Coastal Science Campus

In the early stages of blooming, the head of this yellow aster produces copious white exudate (i.e. goo). Indigenous cultures have traditionally used this exudate as an adhesive.

Western Blue Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)
Location: UC Santa Cruz Coastal Science Campus

Actually a member of the iris plant family, blue-eyed grass produces deep purple flowers in late winter and early spring. The genus name means “pig snout”, referencing the sweet roots that were dug up by pigs in their native grasslands.

Explore our Guide to the Garden Learning Center


MEADOW MILES | Moderate

Sometimes you have to work a little for flowers, especially the really good ones. This route has you summiting one of our biggest in-town hills by biking up Bay St. towards campus. Part of the UC Santa Cruz Campus Natural Reserves, Mima Meadow is a coastal prairie featuring geologically interesting mima mounds and some of our most sought after flowers.

Getting There

All Trails Route | Distance 5.71 mi | Elevation Gain 427′
This route has you starting at the coast side of Bay St., taking it all the way to the top, then turning left on High St. and continuing on Empire Grade until you reach the closed gate to Mima Meadow on your left (just past the Arboretum). To get into the Meadow, you will need to use the steps in the fence at the fire road. Either lock your bike up at the Arboretum across the street, along the fence, or walk with it along the trails.

From here you can look down on your starting location along the Monterey Bay as you walk the trails. Stop by the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Neary Lagoon on your way back!

Monterey Mariposa Lily (Calochortus uniflorus)

The genus Calochortus contains some of our region’s most sought-after flowers. This rare species has grass-like leaves and upright flowers shaped like a bowl, which bees often rest in. Featured here is a longhorn bee (Melissodes sp.)

Yellow Mariposa Lily (Calochortus luteus)

Another member of the Calochortus genus, this California endemic flower is more widespread than C. uniflorus, but can still require a bit of a hunt. Conveniently, this species pops-up right near the gate to Mima Meadow. Turn right on the first trail you see and make sure you don’t discount every bright, big flower as a poppy!

White Brodiaea (Triteleia hyacinthina)

Also known as fool’s onion, this plant has an edible bulb, though it lacks the familiar onion smell.

Harlequin Lotus (Hosackia gracilis)

This rare plant belongs to the pea family and is unlike any plant you’re likely to find with its mix of sherbet colors. It’s thought to be a larval food plant of the Federally Endangered lotis blue butterfly (Lycaeides argyrognomon lotis).

Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus)

Our region hosts many types of lupines and they can be challenging to tell apart. Even when not in bloom you can identify a lupine by its palmate leaves (five fingered like a hand).

Golden Brodiaea (Triteleia ixioides subsp. ixioides)

This cheerful yellow flower is in the same genus as the white broadiaea and also grows from a bulb.


BONNY DOOM | Strenuous

The Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve is a spectacular location for exploring nature. An example of the rare Santa Cruz sandhills habitat, the soil is comprised of ancient seabed deposits and is very nutrient poor. For that reason, highly specialized plants grow here and nowhere else. It also burned partially in the CZU Lightning Complex fires, as well as during the Martin Fire of 2008.

Getting There

All Trails Route | Distance 24.85 mi | Elevation Gain 2,612 ft
From Mima Meadow, continue on Empire Grade. Turn left onto Smith Grade. You’ll meander through parts of the CZU Lightning Complex Burn Zone before reaching Bonny Doon Rd. Turn right and continue onto Pine Flat Rd. before taking a slight right onto Martin Rd. You’ll know you’re getting close when the habitat changes drastically, the sky opening up above you. Bike locking is a challenge, but you also don’t want to bring your bike along these trails.

When you’re done, double back down Bonny Doon Road to Highway 1 and take that back to the Coastal Science Campus for a relaxing view.

Ben Lomond Spineflower (Chorizanthe pungens var. hartwegiana)

You really have to see this flower in person to understand just how tiny it is. This rare member of the buckwheat family is found only in our local Santa Cruz sandhills habitat. You don’t have to travel far along the trail to find dense mats of this flower when in bloom.

Bush Poppy (Dendromecon rigida)

This shrub offers a pop of color to the Reserve when in bloom and can reach many feet high.

Ben Lomond Buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum var. decurrens)

Belonging to the same family as the spineflower, this variety of naked buckwheat is also rare and endemic to the Santa Cruz sandhills. Its leaves form dense basal rosettes and the tiny flowers sit atop long spindly stems.


WILDERIN’ OUT | Mountain Biking

For those who prefer dirt to pavement, there’s great wildflower peeping along the trails of Wilder Ranch State Park. There’s not a bad trail for finding flowers, but this simple route takes you straight up towards the top of the park, passing through some of the best coastal prairie grasslands in the County. On the way back you’ll pass through redwood forest and woodland habitats.

Getting There

All Trails Route | Distance 11.75 mi | Elevation Gain 1,286 ft
This route takes you along the coastal bike path past invasive plants like wild radish, marigold, acacia, and french broom. When you get to the end of the trail, turn right and head up! You’ll take Engelman’s Loop to Long Meadow Trail, then double back and take the Wild Boar Trail for a change of scene and some fun twists and turns.

Common Fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii)

These early bloomers with their charmingly twisted tops will pop-up in droves. As the plant grows, the stem uncoils, and new flowers emerge, while the old flowers develop into seed pods along the lower part of the stem.

Western Heart’s Ease (Viola ocellata)

Wilder Ranch has a handful of native violets, ranging in colors from white to yellow. These are often found in the transitional zones from meadow to chaparral to redwood forest.

Fairy Lantern (Calochortus albus)

Another stunner from the genus Calochortus, this species has a different stature than C. uniflorus and C. luteus. Rather than a bowl shape, this species has flowers that drop like little lanterns. Find it on the edges of grassland and woodland habitats.

Purple Owl’s Clover (Castilleja exserta)

This species belongs to the genus Castilleja, which includes Indian paintbrushes. Like other related plants in the family, this is a hemiparasite which derives some of its nutrients directly from the roots of other plants.

Fremont’s Deathcamas (Toxicoscordion fremontii)

This perennial plant grows back year after year from bulbs underground. It’s referred to as deathcamas because all parts of the plant contain a toxic alkaloid that some consider more potent than strychnine. 


There are so many more wildflowers to see in Santa Cruz than are included here. If you find something you don’t recognize, consider taking its picture and uploading it to iNaturalist. The app will suggest potential species and your observations will be recorded as biodiversity data, helping us better understand our natural world.

Mural of an Ohlone village by artist Ann Thiermann

These routes traverse the traditional and unceded territories of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi and Cotoni tribes. Today these lands are stewarded by the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band who are working hard to fulfill their obligation to Creator to care for and steward Mother Earth and all living things through relearning efforts and the Amah Mutsun Land Trust.

This guide was created in honor of Bike Month (May 2021) in partnership with Ecology Action. Learn more.

Schwan Lake Guided Walk

Did you know that the Simpkins Swim Center is the former site of a cement plant that manufactured the cement tetrapods used in the harbor jetty? In the back of their parking lot is access to a short set of trails managed by Twin Lakes State Park. These trails meander through sunny meadows and shady oaks and lead to views of the Pacific Ocean and Schwan Lake.

History of Schwan Lake
Schwan Lake was once a lagoon that connected to the ocean and is named after Jacob Schwan, an immigrant from Germany who owned and farmed on the land in the 1860s. In the 1880s the lagoon had bridges and a railroad trestle crossing over it. After the construction of East Cliff Drive in the 1930s the lagoon was blocked from the ocean. This caused it to seasonally dry up and become very smelly. In 1977 a weir gate was installed so now the lagoon is a lake and never dries up! A weir gate is like a dam but it allows water to flow over the top of it once the lake reaches a certain water level.


On the Rocks: The Equinox Elixir

This recipe is part of our series On the Rocks: Exploring Science and Nature through Curated Cocktails.

The vernal equinox marks one of two moments per year when the sun is exactly above the equator and day and night are of equal length. This means that we exit the days of mostly darkness and enter a time of increasing light.

Spring is traditionally a season of transition and new birth: snow melts, seeds grow, and blossoms bloom. This year, the vernal equinox that marks the beginning of spring also represents one year since we began sheltering-in-place. Four seasons have passed and our community has experienced the ebb and flow of the pandemic in tandem with the natural cycles of the Earth.

As we prepare for this next transition, welcoming new growth in fire scarred areas and fresh nectar in our gardens, we also look forward to our own revitalization. The Museum is excited to reopen our doors this spring and host more programs outdoors and in nature than ever before. But we continue to straddle the line of branching out and keeping shelter as our community continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to in-person opportunities, we will continue to offer virtual resources that bring the Museum to you.

And it is with this period of transition in mind that we bring you the Equinox Elixir: a curated cocktail that is equal parts dark and light. We used gin from Venus Spirits for this recipe, a local distillery that sponsored an event we were meant to host last year for the equinox, but had to cancel in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Today, we toast them and you as we prepare for brighter days ahead.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz of Venus Gin No. 01
  • 1.5 oz of cherry syrup (such as from a jar of Luxardo cherries)
The Equinox Elixir once mixed, combining the tart sweetness of the cherry syrup with the fresh botanical quality of Venus’s Gin No. 1.

Recipe

A layered cocktail utilizes liqueurs of slightly different densities to create visual layers in the drink, with the specific gravity of the liquid ingredients increasing from top to bottom. Water has a specific gravity of 1.0, whereas our thick syrup has a specific gravity of 1.8 and our gin is around .95.

Pour your ingredient with the higher specific gravity first (i.e. cherry syrup) into a martini glass, taking care to pour straight down the center so that the syrup doesn’t coat the walls of the glass where you don’t want it to. Then, shake your gin with an ice cub in a cocktail shaker vigorously for a few seconds. Turn a tablespoon upside down and place it just over the glass. Slowly pour the gin over the spoon so that it slowly spills into the glass without mixing with the syrup.

Marvel at its dichotomy and then give it a stir to mix the flavors together and enjoy!

Resources for further exploring the equinox

Post by Marisa Gomez


Explore more Curated Cocktails

Collections Close-Up: The Life and Legacy of Randall Morgan

There are few names in our local naturalist community that are as universally revered as that of Randall Morgan. Also known as Randy or R, Morgan was a pillar of the local natural history community.

Though he passed away a few years ago, his influence on the natural world and those who celebrate it in Santa Cruz is evident from the the Sandhills that his activism helped to save, to the local chapter of the California Native Plant Society that he helped found, to the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History where he worked as a taxidermist to pay for studying linguistics at UC Santa Cruz. His legacy also lives on in the collections of the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History.

Join Kathleen Aston, Collections Manager at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, and Chris Lay, Director of the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History, for an exploration of Randall Morgans life and legacy, including his collections, taxidermy, and conservation efforts.

This month’s Collections Close-Up is in sponsorship of the exhibit Look. Act. Inspire., celebrating the naturalists of Santa Cruz County. It is presented in partnership between the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History, the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, and the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.

Resources for further exploration


This program is part of a series in support of the exhibit Look. Act. Inspire. and is presented in partnership between:

Image result for san lorenzo valley museum

Rare Plants and Community Science in the CZU Burn Zone with Amy Patten

The area impacted by the CZU Lightning Complex Fires hosts a slew of rare plants. As we enter spring, the season of new growth, botanists will be paying close attention to these rare plants, but they’re not the only ones. A “community scientist” is anyone who makes and shares observations in an effort to contribute to scientific understanding — and we hope you will help us bring community science to the burn zone.

During this online training with Amy Patten, Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Manager for the California Native Plant Society, you’ll learn how you can search for and document rare plants as a community science volunteer. We’ll go over some of the fascinating and beautiful rare plants you can see in the burn area, as well as online tools you can use for survey efforts as part of the CZU Lightning Complex and Community Science Project.

Limited space is also available for in-person trainings on March 27 and April 15.

About the Speaker

Amy Patten works in the Rare Plant Program at the California Native Plant Society’s state office where she manages the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt project, a community science project that documents rare plant populations throughout California. Amy lives in Santa Cruz and is passionate about protecting the plants and wildlife of the Central Coast.

New Perspectives on the Past Through Freshly Exposed Rocks

In this edition of Rock Record, the Geology Gents unearth a few key examples of how newly exposed outcrops have led to important geological insights, as well as some geologic exploration into freshly exposed rock and sediments exposed by the CZU Lightning Complex Fires. 

By Graham Edwards and Gavin Piccione (aka the Geology Gents)

To reconstruct Earth history, geologists rely on the rock record: the accumulated rocks that, through their accumulation and formation, are relics of ancient geologic processes spanning geologic history. Such rocks provide a spyglass with which to peer into geologic history. But our view through this spyglass is limited to rocks that are both exposed at the Earth’s surface and have survived the effects of erosion.

As geologists, we often rely on Earth processes to expose new rocks and provide us fresh glimpses into Earth’s history. Since exposing fresh rock requires a lot of energy, natural disasters or extreme natural events can expose clues to this history through fresh rock surfaces. Human activities, such as construction or mining, can also expose new geological wonders.

In this edition of Rock Record, we’ll go through a few key examples of how newly exposed outcrops have led to important geological insights, as well as some geologic exploration into some freshly exposed rock and sediments exposed by the CZU Complex Fire.

Roadcuts

Roadcut in Maryland exposing large folds. Image credit: Joel Duff, Naturalis Historia

The construction of roads often requires the removal of large sections of rock, leaving sheer rock faces on the sides of the road. Some of the most famous rock outcrops are ones exposed in roadcuts and these unique locations are a frequent destination for college geology classes.

As undergraduates, the Gents (i.e. Gavin and Graham) explored roadcuts in the Northeastern US, and learned about tectonic motion through the faults and folds exposed in roadcuts (like the one in the image to the right), about metamorphic rocks via roadcuts in Maine, and about large deep-sea sediment avalanches (called turbidites) from roadcuts in upstate New York. Rocks exposed on the sides of roads can also be significant for geologist’s understanding of the sequence of events in an area.

For instance, a roadcut in Owens valley (see image below), settled a longstanding debate amongst geologists about whether the Bishop Tuff was deposited before or after the first glaciations in the area. The exposed rock showed the Bishop Tuff sitting on top of the Sherwin Till glacial deposit, meaning that the tuff must have been deposited after the till.

Roadcut in Owens valley showing the Bishop Tuff overlying the Sherwin Till. Original image taken by James St. John

Fire

Forest fires are, in many cases, an important natural event for the health of a forest because they clear the forest floor of brush and dead vegetation. Through this process, fires also expose large portions of rock that would otherwise not be visible. For this addition of Rock Record, the Gents explored some areas of the Santa Cruz mountains that have been burned in the CZU Lightning Complex fires last August.

Taking Empire Grade North, areas of Cretaceous (145-66 million years before present) igneous and metamorphic rocks that were previously covered by vegetation are exposed in the burn zone of the recent fires.

Weather

Sometimes extreme weather events can expose new outcrops or geologic features. For instance, the Frijoles Fault of a previous Rock Record post, The Faults that Shape Santa Cruz, was hidden behind trees and shrubs until a powerful storm event in the 1970s drove enough coastal erosion to expose the fault in the sea cliffs. Even more recently, heavy rains can cause landslides on the steep topography of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur. Each of these landslides exposes new surfaces that allow geologists and geomorphologists to study what causes landslides and the ways that massive amounts of Earth can be rapidly moved down hillslopes.

The exposed Frijoles fault contact, which was long hidden behind trees and shrubs before it was revealed by a storm in the 1970s.

Meteorites 

Some rocks are truly out of this world! Rocks that formed beyond Earth and arrive on Earth are called meteorites. Most meteorites come from the asteroid belt, a ring of rocky debris that dwells between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, while some meteorites come from Mars and the Moon. As any Earth dweller knows, meteorites are incredibly rare, but they are important samples of other celestial bodies and leftovers from planet formation that we can study in close detail here on Earth. So, a meteorite fall is an incredibly exciting event for planetary scientists and geologists, alike!

One of the most important meteorites ever to land on Earth was the Allende meteorite, which landed in 1969 near the town of Pueblito de Allende in the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico. The stone broke into pieces before it landed on Earth, but the collected chunks of this meteorite total >4,000 pounds with more pieces still found today! Because there was so much meteorite to go around, many scientists have studied it, and since the Allende meteorite is made of some of the most ancient material in our solar system it has provided an invaluable window into the earliest moments of our solar system just after the Sun formed!

What mysteries do you suppose are hiding all around you, covered by trees, houses, or soil?


Rock Record is a monthly blog featuring musings on the mineral world from Gavin Piccione and Graham Edwards.

Graham Edwards and Gavin Piccione are PhD candidates in geochronology with the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. They also host our monthly Rockin’ Pop-Ups as “The Geology Gents”.

A Guide to the Fossils of Santa Cruz County

Santa Cruz County is home to marvelous wonders, from the shoreline to the summit — and every inch of this landscape was under the ocean mere millions of years ago. In an afternoon you can watch whales breach in the ocean and look at the fossilized remains of their ancestors on the beach (or high up in the mountains for that matter).

From mastodons to megalodons, this guide provides an overview of our local rock formations that feature fossils and how to dig deeper with the resources we’ve compiled.

Jump to: Fossiliferous Formations | FAQ | Additional Resources


Fossiliferous Formations

Before you can understand the fossils of Santa Cruz County, you need to dig a little deeper into the rocks of Santa Cruz County.

Purisima Formation (3-7 Ma)

This sandstone formation was deposited at shallow, near-shore conditions, which is why it has a coarser composition than the Santa Cruz Mudstone it followed. The blue-gray sandstone primarily consists of sediment deposited from rivers dumping into estuaries and bays.

A large fossil in grey rock on the beach.

FOSSILS
If you find a fossil on a beach in Santa Cruz County, it is most likely from this formation. The Purisima Formation features dozens of species of invertebrate fossils, especially mollusks, as well as cetaceans and pinnipeds (i.e. whales and seals).

WHERE
Though there are outcrops of this formation north of Santa Cruz, within the County this formation can be found from where Merced Avenue intersects West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz down to the cliffs of Seacliff State Beach. The best way to find fossils from this formation is at low tide on the beaches below Depot Hill in Capitola, between Capitola Beach and New Brighton Beach. Look to the cliff walls and through boulders and smaller rocks littering the sandy shore.

Santa Cruz Mudstone (7-9 Ma)

While the Purisima Formation formed from shallow-water sediment, the Santa Cruz Mudstone formed farther out at sea where the sediment consists of finer silt and clay. This formation has a more yellow tone and is often patterned with rusty red cracks, caused by methane seeping through the rock while it was still under water.

FOSSILS
Finding a fossil in the Santa Cruz Mudstone formation is a much trickier task than the Purisima Formation that overlays it (in parts), but there are fossils to be found. While most are small bivalves (i.e. clams) and echinoids (i.e. sand dollars), O. megalodon teeth have been found in this Formation.

WHERE
The arch at Natural Bridges State Beach is Santa Cruz Mudstone, as are all of the cliffs up the coast from there until just before Año Nuevo. Read our Guide to the Swift Street Outcrop to learn how to distinguish this mudstone from the Purisima Foundation sandstone.

The arch(es) at Natural Bridges State Beach have eroded over time so that now just one remains.

Santa Margarita Formation (10-12 Ma)

The Santa Margarita Formation is a marine deposit of Miocene sandstone and conglomerate. It is visible in areas of the southern Santa Cruz Mountains and you can spot it by its rough, chunky, and sparkling white appearance.

FOSSILS
Some of Santa Cruz County’s most magnificent fossil finds have been unearthed from the Santa Margarita Formation. According to Frank Perry, “Fossils of at least 20 species of sharks and rays are present, as are remains of bony fishes, marine mammals such as sea cows and sea lions, and invertebrates including mollusks and sand dollars.”

ON EXHIBIT
Features from this formation on display in our exhibits are a cast of a fossil sea cow, an O. megalodon tooth, a jaw bone from a baleen whale, and a dig-box of sand dollars. We also have many more examples in our collections storage, such as the ones seen here.

WHERE
There are outcrops of this formation in the lower parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains all the way up to Año Nuevo, but in Santa Cruz County we find it mostly north of Santa Cruz, through Scotts Valley and up to Boulder Creek. The rare Santa Cruz Sandhills habitat consists of sediment from this formation.

Monterey Formation (17.5-6 Ma)

The Monterey Formation is a Miocene deposit rich in organic material. While it might not reveal fossils of charismatic megafauna like the Santa Margarita formation that followed, the Monterey formation has other interesting biotic features. Monterey Chert, used for tools by Indigenous peoples along the coast for thousands of years, is a feature of the Monterey formation. Chert is extremely diatomaceous (contains high quantities of organic material from plankton), and under other conditions could have become oil. Regularly occurring controversies regarding drilling for oil in the Monterey Bay are due to the presence of the diatom-rich Monterey Formation.

FOSSILS
All of the above notwithstanding, there are micro-fossils to be found. Fossils of diatoms are only visible under a microscope, but fossils of some fish fragments and mollusks are (a little) easier to find. The example from our collections on the left is a fossil pea crab.

WHERE
There are outcrops of this formation throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains — and throughout California. Oil drilling operations off the coast of Southern California and even inland are removing oil from the Monterey Formation. In Santa Cruz County, you can explore this type of rock on parts of Ben Lomond Mountain, along Lompico Creek, and at Majors Creek Canyon.

A variety of Awaswas stone points from present day Santa Cruz County, featuring chert.

FAQ

I think I found a dinosaur bone — did I?

That cool thing you found in Santa Cruz is undoubtedly cool, but we gotta tell you — it’s not a dinosaur. Our landscape in Santa Cruz was still millions of years away from forming when the dinosaurs were alive in the Mesozoic era, 248 to 65 million years ago.

So what did I find?

It could be a fossil bone or shell, or it could be a uniquely weathered stone. Explore the resources listed here or email a photo and detailed description to us at info@santacruzmuseum.org to help determine the identity of your interesting find.

May I collect fossils?

When collecting anything from nature, always practice the “Know Before You Go” philosophy. Determine who manages the land you are on and their laws. For instance, State Parks do not allow collecting of any kind (plants, fossils, etc.), while National Forests do to an extent. Never collect without permission.

Is it a bone or a stone?

There are a few things to consider when determining if the object you have found is a (fossilized) bone or a stone.

  • Where was it found? If it was in your lawn, it’s probably a rock. Consider what rock formations are around you and how old they are.
  • Look at the texture. A rock will either be made up of packed sediment or crystalized minerals, whereas a fossilized bone will likely show evidence of the canals and webbing featured in actual bone.

Is it a modern bone or is it a fossilized bone?

Discarded bones have canals and webbing within them that are hollow. If the bone has fossilized, this texture will likely still be evidence, but it will have been “filled” by mineralization. This also means that fossilized bones will likely feel heavier. Depending on how the bone fossilized, it may also have an altered color.


Dig Deeper

Explore other resources for better understanding paleontology, geology, and our local fossil landscape in Santa Cruz County.

Fossils at the Museum

On exhibit at the Museum

  • Cast of a fossil sea cow (Dusisiren jordani) excavated from the Santa Margarita Formation at a Zayante sand quarry in 1963.
  • Fossil skull of an American Mastodon (Mammut americanum) discovered in March 1980 by Aptos resident Jim Stanton. He spotted the giant molars protruding from a gravel bank along Aptos Creek.
  • Fossil jaw bone of a baleen whale from the Santa Margarita Formation in Scotts Valley.
  • An array of shark teeth (including Megalodon), bivalves, plants, and the skulls of a fossil dolphin, walrus, and sea lion, as well as microfossils.
  • Garden fossils: Take a stroll around the Museum’s Garden Learning Center and see if you can spot our large whale fossils.
  • Activities for kids: Multiple dig boxes features Santa Margarita Formation fossils of sand dollars and casts of a fossil sea cow.

Bring fossils home

Rent a kit to explore local fossils at home. Kit rentals are $10 per week and can be requested here (you do not need to be a teacher to request a rental).

Explore our other online fossil resources

Shop the geology and paleontology section of our online store

Local Paleontologists: Then & Now

Books and Papers

Online Resources

Other Resources

Have a question? Email us at info@santacruzmuseum.org.

Ten Years Since the Tsunami with the UCSC Seismology Lab

Santa Cruz Harbor after the tsunami (Karen T. Borchers/Mercury News)

The March 11, 2011 magnitude 9.1 Tohoku-oki earthquake and accompanying tsunami was devastating to Japan and affected regions all around the Pacific Ocean, including here in Santa Cruz.

On the tenth anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami, Heather Savage and Kristina Okamoto of the UC Santa Cruz Seismology Lab discussed how and why the earthquake occurred and the lessons learned by earthquake scientists from this event. We also discussed how Japan has recovered since the earthquake.

About the speakers

Heather Savage | Associate Professor, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, UC Santa Cruz

Professor Heather Savage’s research focuses on earthquakes and faults. Using both laboratory experiments and field studies, she works on questions regarding the strength and stability of faults in order to improve our understanding of when and where larger earthquakes occur. She uses rock deformation and friction experiments at pressures and temperatures relevant to the seismogenic zone to study in situ fault conditions where earthquakes start. Heather uses field observations of fault structure, particularly mapping earthquake slip and fault damage zones, to provide windows into the processes that occur during earthquakes, such as heat production and chemical reaction, that affect fault zone mechanics. She has worked in a variety of geologic settings, studying faults in California, Nevada, Oklahoma, Alaska, Wyoming, Japan and New Zealand.

Kristina Okamoto | Graduate Student, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, UC Santa Cruz

Kristina Okamoto is a graduate student in the seismology lab at UCSC. Currently, she’s studying an induced earthquake sequence in Prague, Oklahoma in order to analyze the mechanics of earthquakes. She also uses laboratory experiments to explore the physics of friction at conditions relevant to earthquake depths.

Collections Close-Up: Picturing Nature

From rediscovered family photos to contemporary takes on unprecedented times, pictures taken for all kinds of purposes illuminate our collective understanding of the changing world around us. This month we investigate and celebrate the capacity of photography to shape our relationship with nature, from our foundational collections to our current exhibits.

Resources


About the series: Zoom into the stories, secrets, and science of our collections during monthly webinars with Collections Manager Kathleen Aston. This live event is an extension of our monthly Collections Close-Up blog, with added insights and intrigue. Members are invited to participate in this program before it is made available to the general public as well as ask questions directly of Kathleen.

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On the Rocks: The Solstice Sip

This recipe is part of our series On the Rocks: Exploring Science and Nature through Curated Cocktails.

A cocktail in a jar garnished with a sprig of incence cedar leaves in front of a decorated tree.

The winter solstice in the northern hemisphere marks the moment when the northern pole of the Earth’s axis is directed farthest from the sun. There is more darkness on this day than any other, but there is also the promise of new light.

As our region hunkers down into a new Stay-at-Home order, we invite you to cozy up with this Solstice Sip. Powered by the evergreen qualities of the conifers around you, whether from a neighborhood redwood tree or a douglas fir you’ve recently brought inside and covered in twinkle lights, this classic twist on an old fashioned will remind you of the light to come and the light that still flickers, even in these dark times.


**The example shown here features incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) harvested from a Christmas tree, but other options readily available in Santa Cruz are coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). The fresher the growth of the sprigs, the richer the flavor. Make sure to properly identify your tree before harvesting because some coniferous may be toxic if ingested (i.e. ponderosa pine or pacific yew).

Ingredients

Evergreen Simple Syrup:

  • A few sprigs from a conifer** (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of sugar

The Solstice Sip cocktail:

  • 1 1/2 oz Bourbon or Rye whiskey
  • 1 tsp Evergreen Simple Syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Instructions

To make the Evergreen Simple Syrup:

  1. Add water, sugar, and conifer sprigs to a small pot and heat over low for 15 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and let sit for another 15 minutes.
  3. Strain out sprigs and store in a jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

To make the Solstice Sip cocktail:

  1. Combine simple syrup and bitters in a glass.
  2. Fill glass halfway with ice, then stir about a dozen times.
  3. Add more ice, enough to fill the glass.
  4. Add whiskey.
  5. Stir just until cold, about a dozen times.
  6. Garnish with a sprig of your chosen conifer.

Post by Marisa Gomez


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