Newsletter – December 2007
A Walk Back Through History
By Ed Gilbert
This vast and beautiful 10,200-acre state park, in Santa Cruz County, that we lovingly call “The Forest of Nisene Marks,” offers us a variety of hiking challenges, views and historical perspectives, from its near sea-level entrance to its 2,600-foot mountainous apex. Once an ancient seabed in the prehistoric past; an awesome forest of old-growth giant redwood “Sequoia Sempervirens” up through the early 20th century; to the thriving, mostly second-growth redwood forest that we have here today; we are now blessed with boundless recreationaland educational opportunities here that will remain protected far into the future.
Please join me today as I walk you through a virtual hike along one of my favorite treks in the park, which I refer to as “The Historic Loop.” We will begin on the drivable Aptos Creek Fire Road, three miles into the park from Aptos, at the “Porter Family Picnic Area” parking lot, known in the 1880’s as “Shillings Camp.” This very moderate 5-1/2 mile semi-loop hike, with a gradual elevation gain to 1,000 feet, begins on the fire road, passes layered strata of fossilized sea life embedded in the road bank on the left just before we depart the fire road at the “Molina Junction” and enter the “Loma Prieta Grade Trail.” This fire road and trail were once the main route of the Southern Pacific standard-gauge railroad that extended to “Five-FingerFalls”, deep at the end of Aptos Creek Canyon.
We will hike along the trail, past stumps from giant trees felled beginning in 1883; past “Fairy Rings” of new redwoods growing from the roots of these old stumps; past the decaying structural members from a long gone railroad trestle; and past the remains of a log slide used for rolling logs, from railroad flatcars, down the hillside into a mill pond formed by the damming up of Aptos Creek. From there we will pass the burned out remains of two old stumps, and the massive new growth surrounding them; past a long piece of wire-rope (cable) used for moving logs to the railroad; and to a fork in the trail just before an outdoor display commemorating the “Porter House Site.” This was the home of Warren Porter and his family. Mr. Porter was the superintendent of operations for the “Loma Prieta Lumber Company.” Here we will do as the venerable baseball player, Yoggi Berra, once said: “When you come to a fork in the trail, . . . take it!”
Shortly before this fork you will have the opportunity to venture into an open-area grove of redwoods on the left of the trail. Once in the area, look for an old stump that is sprouting a new growth with pure-white “albino” needles. Please “don’t touch it”, as this is a rare occurrence, and it has been intentionally damaged many times in the past.
Yes, we will “. . . take it”; the fork to the left, up over a hill and down into a gorge which continues to another fork in the trail. We are now following what was once the route of the Loma Prieta Lumber Company’s narrow-gauge railroad to “Big Trees Gulch” (now “Big Stump Gulch”). Here, just under one mile into our hike, we will veer left to continue on the Loma Prieta Grade Trail another mile up to the “Hoffman’s Historic Site.” Along the way, we will pass through an oak grove; along the wall of a deep canyon; past an old support structure which held a water tank that serviced the steam-engine powered trains; and again by fossilized sea life embedded in the banks where the trail cuts through the hillside.
Once at “Hoffman’s Historic Site” (previously known as “Camp #5” and “China Camp”), which was home to much of the logging done after World War I and up to when logging ceased in 1923, we will see the remains of many cabins, other structures and a 120-foot long bunkhouse used for housing the crew.
From the camp, we will continue on the Loma Prieta Grade Trail 1-1/4 miles up to the “Big Stump Gap Trail” and steeply down to and across Bridge Creek (no bridge here). There we will face a decision. For the rugged at heart, we will go left, adding one mile in and out, through a very rugged creek gorge to beautiful 45 feet high “MapleFalls.” For the rest of you, we will go right along the “Bridge Creek Trail”; past an old, mostly still standing narrow-gauge railroad trestle made of redwood logs; across the creek (again no bridge); past a small seasonal water fall; and back again on the Loma Prieta Grade Trail to the “Porter House Site.”
We will now divert from the Loma Prieta Grade Trail onto the very short “Mill Pond Trail”, hike down hill, across a foot bridge over Aptos Creek, and uphill to the Aptos Creek Fire Road. Here we will notice a wire rope cable that is attached to an old tree stump and is engulfed in and passes completely through a new tree growing near that stump. From here we will walk along the fire road (please stay to the right to accommodate mountain bikers and joggers); past more fossilized evidence of prehistoric sea life embedded in the road bank on the left; past the remains of the foundation of what was once the largest lumber sawmill in Santa Cruz County; over “Margaret’s Bridge” which was constructed using a recycled Cotton Belt Railway flatcar as its main structure; and back to the parking area where we began.
I certainly hope that you enjoyed our virtual hike today; that you took the time to view and enjoy the flora and fauna that populate this forest; and that you will come here again sometime soon for a real-time hike on Nisene Marks’ “Historic Loop.”