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Riding the Rails with Rover

by Whitney Wilde

Photo by Heather Sims

raoaring camp

All aboard the Roaring Camp Train to Bear Mountain! Riding these rails with your Rover is like entering a time machine into a primeval rainforest.

As the train pulls out of the Roaring Camp station, “Dixie,” the 1912 Shay steam engine, blows her whistle two long blasts (code for “leaving the station”), and my furry friend, Nershi, sings along with his wooooo-woooofs.

The steam locomotive chuff-chuff-chuffs along a narrow-gauge track that is almost unchanged from 1875, when it hauled redwood timber from the flumes in Felton to the wharves in Santa Cruz. The station area was the site of the first whiskey distillery in the west in the1830s and led the area to be called “Wild and Roaring Camp” or “Drunkard’s Camp.”

As we chug steeply uphill, we glimpse what Isaac Graham (Daniel Boone’s nephew) saw when he arrived at the Mexican land grant called Rancho Zayante. The gold rush in the San Lorenzo River, plus Graham’s whiskey distillery and sawmill, helped create the first “American” settlement west of the Rockies.

After Graham’s death, the property was to be sold to loggers until Mrs. Estrella Welch, wife of San Francisco businessman Joseph Welch, urged her husband to purchase the property so no one could cut down “her” trees. These were the first redwoods to be protected from logging. Funny thing is, Henry Cowell (the state park is named for him) made his fortune cutting down redwoods for timber—and it was actually Welch who saved them.

In 1958, with $25 in his pocket, Norman Clark had a vision to restore the rails that run from the redwoods to the beach, and make them into an excursion for the public to enjoy. His daughter, Melanie, runs the Roaring Camp excursion today.

As you and your doggy disembark from your excursion on the train, you are surrounded by a rare temperate coastal rainforest thousands of years old. If green had a perfume, it might smell something like this. Look up . . . redwoods can reach 300 feet—the height of a 30-story building! Redwood trees need a moist climate, and they create their own fog. They transpire sometimes as much as 500 gallons of water a day.

Redwood needles paint the ground with a reddish tinge, feeding the ferns, mosses, lichen, wildflowers, grasses and berry bushes. The purple-blossomed oxalis vines (that I try to purge from my yard) are so pretty here. The grey squirrels are chittering at my furry friend Nershi, they have been traced back 50 million years.

Living in huts made from redwood, were the local Ohlone Indian tribe called Zayantes and their Hutcekniš (domesticated dogs). In Ohlone mythology, humans were the descendants of Coyote, whose spirit was clever, wily, lustful, greedy, and irresponsible.

Are my woof friends sensing wolf ancestors? Their noses are in the air, frantically sniffing. Are they catching the scent of something with large footprints? Back in the 1870s and 80s, campers were frightened by the “wild man of the woods.” According to Mike Rugg, curator of the Bigfoot Discovery Museum, there were three Sasquatch sightings near here last year, with evidence of footprints and “scat.”

During winter months, there is only one Bear Mountain train per day, and sadly, the break at the top is only 15 minutes—too short to take a hike on any of the trails. So just enjoy your ride back down the mountain, slowly returning to present day.

During the spring, summer, and fall there are more trains running, and you can explore the trails on Bear Mountain. Ask the ticket master for a map of the fire roads to see the hiking trails. We hiked back down to the station on a fire road (which is currently closed due to storm damage). Ask if the fire road is open yet; it is on their “to do” list.

Roaring Camp has something (free!) happening almost every weekend: Civil War re-enactments, art faires, musical saw performances, and more. Check the Camp’s website for upcoming events.

Roaring Camp has two routes: the Beach Train (pulled by a diesel engine) and the Redwood Forest Steam Train to Bear Mountain. Dogs are welcome on either route. Dogs are not allowed on “special” trains, such as the dinner trains, etc. Ask the ticket master if you are not sure.

Redwood Forest Steam Train
Adults (13 & up): $24.00 

Kids (2 - 12): $17.00 

Kids under 2 years: Free
Dogs: Free
Parking is $8 per vehicle.

Special thanks to Michael Sarka, Roaring Camp Operations Manager, for all his valuable help.

Bigfoot Museum
5497 Highway 9, Felton
(Next to Oak Tree Ristorante)
(831) 335-4478
(Well-behaved pooches are welcome!)



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