Alpine Road: Gateway to Two Open Space Preserves

The entrance to the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve and where you will be parking for this stop.
Parking for the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve is on Alpine Road, right after the turnoff from Highway 35. Photo: Julia Gaudinski

Right off of California’s Highway 35, Alpine Road passes Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve and Skyline Ridge Preserve on its route from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. Alpine Road probably began as a Native American walking trail and later became a way for Mexican Rancheros and then loggers to cross over the Santa Cruz Mountains. Today, it’s a favorite trip for motorists.

Alpine Road, within the South Skyline Region in the Santa Cruz Mountains, along the San Francisco Peninsula. Original Map © Eric Goetze, courtesy of Eric Isacson.
The old route of Alpine Road. Today’s Alpine Road is no longer continuous. It has been closed in parts for the Coal Creek Open Space Preserve. On the east, it was superseded by Page Mill Road, and it now connects to that road. Original map by Eric Goetze, modified and provided courtesy of Eric Isacson

The name “Alpine” is said to be derived from a Californio-owned ranch on the west side called “El Pino” (the pine tree). In the 1830s, it became a wagon road between the two ranchos granted to Antonio Buelna and was known as “The Old Spanish Trail.” When logging gained traction, it became a primary route used to access the redwoods west of the summit.

View over Portola Valley from Russian Ridge. Photo by Jeff.
The view toward the ocean from Russian Ridge. Photo: Jeff Vier CC BY-SA 2.0.

Two Adjacent Preserves

A tunnel from the parking lot of the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve leads to the lovely spring-fed Alpine Pond and the David C. Daniels Nature Center in the adjacent Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve. Both of these preserves offer extensive trails and beautiful views.

The Russian Ridge Preserve

If you visit Russian Ridge, be sure to stop by the nature center for a historical overview and biology lesson about the pond.

The tunnel that leads to Alpine Pond.
The tunnel that leads to Alpine Pond from the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve Parking lot on Alpine Road. Photo: Julia Gaudinski
Alpine Pond next to the the Daniels Nature Center. It's an easy walk from the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve parking lot off Alpine Road.
Alpine Pond next to the the Daniels Nature Center. It’s an easy walk from the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve parking lot off Alpine Road. Photo: Julia Gaudinski

The Skyline Ridge Preserve

Much of the Skyline Ridge Preserve was once owned by the popular San Francisco mayor and California governor James “Sunny Jim” Rolph, Jr. Between 1907 and 1934, Rolph acquired over 3,000 acres of surrounding territory. Sunny Jim earned his nickname by virtue of his expansive personality and his habit of assuring Californians that everything would come up rosy during the Great Depression. On the campaign trail, he was accompanied by a band playing his theme song, “There Are Smiles That Make You Happy.” He died in 1934, toward the end of his term as governor. After his death, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was unofficially dedicated to him, although few sources acknowledge him.

James Rolph, Jr. and his daughter Annette survey their vast estate astride Alpine Prince, c. 1915. Photo courtesy of Nancy Welch.
James Rolph, Jr. and his daughter Annette survey their vast estate astride Alpine Prince, c. 1915. Photo: Courtesy of Nancy Welch

The Skyline Ranch was then occupied by Charles Howard, owner of Seabiscuit, the famous race horse. John Rickey also raised his prize-winning pigs here. Rickey’s goal was to breed the leanest pork for his restaurants, including the former Dinah’s Shack, in Palo Alto. Part of the preserve is now leased to a Christmas tree grower. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you may cut your own tree after carefully selecting one of the thousands available.

The entrance to Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve. You will pass this on the way to the next stop.
One of the entrances to Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve. Photo: Julia Gaudinski

Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour

This piece is part of the South Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) Tour by the Skyline Historical Society. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.

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Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Apple App Store
Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Google Play Store

Much of the information in this tour comes from a book called The South Skyline Story by Janet Schwind and the Skyline Historical Society, 2014. It is a well written, fun and informative read from the Native Americans, through the early loggers and ranchers, commune dwellers, wine makers, conservationists and homebuilders. You can get a copy at Alice’s Restaurant in Skylonda (the junction of Highways 35 and 84) or by contacting Skyline History President Chuck Schoppe, email: chuck_sch@hotmail.com or phone: 408-867-9229.

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