Sunday, September 18, 2011


Yesterday I rode to Laurel, a town that shows up on most maps of the Santa Cruz mountains but doesn't exist.

When they built a rail line between San Jose and Santa Cruz, they dug tunnels through some of the ridges to keep the grade manageable. One tunnel ran through the Summit ridge, from Wright's Station to Laurel. Then another tunnel ran from Laurel to Glenwood, through the ridge that Highway 17 now runs across.

Little towns sprung up at each of these entrances, born to serve the tunnel workers and then sustained by train traffic. But as the railway declined and disappeared, so did these towns. Wright's Station, Laurel and Glenwood are all ghost towns.

I left the house about 9 in the morning. I warmed up the legs by taking Shannon across to Los Gatos, then took the Los Gatos Creek Trail up to the reservoir. For the second time in a row, I spun my skinny tires on the dusty ramp at the end of the trail and had to walk up. Part of the problem is that it's late in the dry season, but another part is that there's really only one solid line, and if the trail's busy you end up in the dust.

At the top of the dam, the parking lot at Lexington Reservoir was overflowing with cars. I have no idea why. As I rode around the reservoir on Alma Bridge Road, there were also cars in each of the turnouts by the side of the road, near the trails. Could it have been the Coast Cleanup Day?

If you have this, why do you need Highway 17?
At the southern end of the reservoir, I took Old Santa Cruz Highway and climbed up to Summit. For the first time, I went straight across. Until now I've only seen the northern section of the road, which is a lightly-used but normally maintained asphalt road. The southern portion still has its original concrete surface from the 1920s, and looks like it hasn't seen much work since then. Despite the many cracks and occasional asphalt patches, you can almost see ghosts of Nashes and Packards puttering along on skinny spoked wheels. Now, like many of the old roads in these mountains, this one has been ceded to bicycles.

Wooden bridge on Old Santa Cruz Highway
This part of the road runs about a mile, basically level, until it meets up with Highway 17. I suspect that the old highway ran along the same route until it met up with Glenwood Drive, somewhere.

I turned around at the highway, the high point of this ride, and headed back to the intersection with Schulties Road. There was a permanent sign at the intersection indicating that the road was closed, which can't be good news. The reminder that there's no turn-around is amusing, and a good sign to take seriously if you're driving around here.

Intersection of Schulties and Old Santa Cruz Highway.
You can't say they didn't warn you.

Vineyard near the top of Schulties Road
Schulties Road
Schulties runs through thick woods, down a steep-sided gulch formed by Burns Creek. It drops from about 1600 feet to 800 feet, and its quality drops along the way. It starts out with smooth asphalt, and toward the bottom it's so broken up and gravelly that it's not clear whether it's paved at all. The road has become feral.

Toward the bottom of a very slow descent, I came across the construction that closed the road. This wasn't some pothole; apparently the whole road has washed away, and is in the process of being rebuilt. I had a hard time finding a path to even carry my bike through the work zone.

Major construction on Schulties Road
Laurel historical marker.
The tunnel entrance is in
the shadows to the left.
A little further down one arrives at the intersection of Schulties, Redwood Lodge Road, and Laurel Road. This, apparently, is the former location of the town of Laurel. Today there are a couple of houses and a historical marker.

I'd love to look around the tunnel entrance a bit, but it's at the end of a private driveway, right next to one of the houses. And yesterday two big dogs were barking at me as I took pictures. I knew the tunnel entrance was back there somewhere, but I couldn't see it, let alone get a picture of it.

Now, there are two old tunnel entrances near Laurel. This tunnel ran to Glenwood. The other one ran to Wright's, and this side of it was actually back up the road a bit -- I had missed it. I knew the entrance would be on my left, but I had imagined that it would be near the road. In fact, it must be across the creek. I'll have to try again. If you look at a terrain map it's pretty obvious where the entrance should be, so I'll just have to keep my eyes peeled.

My plan was to ride up Redwood Lodge Road. Schulties had dropped more than I expected, so I was amused to find that Redwood Lodge dropped another 100 feet to about 800 feet as it crossed back over Burns Creek. I was worried that Redwood Lodge might be steep, but as it turned out I motored on up in a way entirely unlike me. Redwood Lodge is a single-lane road, with more traffic than you might expect.

Redwood Lodge meets the Soquel/San Jose road at a little over 1300 feet. I took a left, riding up toward Summit Road. I had been seeing enigmatic signs reading "Goat Hill" around the Summit area. I was assuming it was a bike thing, but there wasn't a clue. On Soquel/San Jose there were more signs, and around Summit Woods Drive there were dozens of cars. Apparently the signs referred to something called the Goat Hill Fair, and it was fairly popular.

Since it was now a little past lunchtime I stopped at the Summit Store for half a sandwich, then continued down Summit back to Old Santa Cruz Highway. This time I went around the west side of the reservoir, which incidentally follows the other remaining part of Old Santa Cruz Highway. So yesterday I rode the whole thing. Apparently, the part of this road that parallels Highway 17 is relatively new. If you look at Google Earth images from the early1990s, Old Santa Cruz Highway just meets up with 17, so for bicyclists it was like the section between the Bear Creek overpass and Alma Bridge Road.

Still feeling reasonably good, I crossed back over to Almaden on Kennedy.

The Garmin reported a little over 45 miles, but its elevation readings in the gulch pretty much went nuts -- it recorded some 8000 feet of elevation, on a ride that never went above 1800 feet. The real number was probably below 3000 feet of climbing.

No comments:

Post a Comment