South Coast: Is it a Manmade Tunnel? John Vonderlin Reports

Story & photos by John Vonderlin

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Hi June,

Some time ago I posted a story*** about what I consider the most viewed Sea Arch on the San Mateo coast.

I maintained that this arch was the one on the promontory that forms the southern bank of Pescadero Creek where it flows into the ocean. There was some mention by someone that the arch was actually “a hand dug tunnel.” Curious, I went to look for myself, checked it out, took a lot of photographs and opined that it wasn’t regular enough to be manmade.

Besides why would somebody go to the trouble of digging a seemingly pointless tunnel?

Well, last week I was showing my neighbor the California Coastal Records Project (CCRP) website. I was demonstrating the Time Comparison feature when he commented that he and his high school buddies used to party at the beach pictured on the screen. They knew it as “Hole in the Wall Beach.”

That Hole in the Wall is none other then the sea arch opening? tunnel? at Pescadero Beach. Only my neighbor informed me that he was sure it was a tunnel because in the Seventies the sides were much more regular, demonstrating its manmade origin.

While I’m not one to question the hazy, thirty five- year- old memories of a drunken youth, I was still having trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of somebody going to the trouble of digging a tunnel in that spot.

A few days ago while reading the transcript of a “Pescadero Oral History Project” interview with Ron Duarte, the owner of historic Duarte’s in Pescadero, I got my answer. Sort of.

“A bunch of old timers made that tunnel,” said Ron. “ It is not natural. Everybody thinks it is natural but it is not. They thought that was going to keep the mouth of the creek open. Maybe it did and maybe it didn’t. But, most of the time I don’t think it did much good. That was man-made, that tunnel.”

In another interview, also on the Pescadero Oral History CD, Marty McCormick was asked the same question.

Interviewer: Do you remember the tunnel at the mouth of the creek?

Marty McCormick: Out by the beach. Oh, yeah. It is still there. We used to crawl through there. There were some years where it was totally filled in with rock and then there were other years when you could go through there without having to do a belly crawl. I have pictures of my kids inside when they were pretty young—twenty-five, thirty years ago.

They’ve convinced me. It’s a tunnel. The battering surf has naturalized the opening over the decades. And while, to me, it seems obvious that a tunnel is as likely to sand up as the creek mouth itself, somebody, a long time ago, thought excavating one was a good enough idea to invest a lot of hard work. At least they’ve left us a durable monument to the futility of trying to make Mother Nature do our bidding.

I guess it’s also Sea Arches Minus 1, Beach Tunnels Plus One and Oldtimers 1, Young Whippersnapper 0. Enjoy. John

Hi June,

This was the main posting I did about what I thought was a Sea Arch at Pescadero Beach. I’m going to revisit it and see if there is any sign still left of its manmade origin. Enjoy. John

Re: Pescadero’s Pride & Joy
Hi June,
I think of all the Sea Arches on the San Mateo coast, the one just south of Pescadero Creek, is the most well-known and one of the most photogenic. It is visible from the Highway 1 bridge that crosses the creek and easily accessible by pulling into the most northerly parking lot of Pescadero Beach. It is not that difficult to climb down and walk through it, provided the creek is not raging and there is a reasonably low tide. If you are not handy jumping from rock to rock you should be ready to get your feet wet. Looking at the 1972 pictures of this arch on California Coastal Records Project (CCRP), my guess is that unlike many other sea arches on our coast, it will be there a long time. Picture #6257 on CCRP gives a nice overview of this area, helping put the pictures I’ve attached in better perspective. Please note that that Picture #6257 was taken in September before the winter rains which open the creek to the ocean and remove much of the visible sand. Enjoy. John