Pogonip: Lime Kilns, Secret Notes, and Questionable Koi

A young woman sits among a cathedral of redwood trees in Henry Cowell State Park,circa 1903. Photo Courtesy of California Historical Society Collection, 1860-1960.
A young woman sits among a cathedral of redwood trees in Henry Cowell State Park, circa 1903. Photo Courtesy of California Historical Society Collection, 1860-1960.

Tucked away in the mountains of Santa Cruz, adjacent to the UCSC campus, is a hidden treasure called Pogonip. One step into this hideaway will bring to light the sedateness of Pogonip contrasting the hustle and bustle of the city just a few miles south east. The large mossy lime kilns, unforgettable tall redwoods, warm sunny meadows and an interestingly placed koi pond make Pogonip a destination worthy of being at the top of bucket lists worldwide.

Limestone kilns still remain in Pogonip as a reminder of our past. Photo © Lauren McEvoy
Lime stone kilns still remain at Pogonip as a reminder of past uses of land. Photo © Lauren McEvoy.

Lime Kilns

Abandoned fern covered lime kilns riddle the land that make up Pogonip and the UCSC campus. In the early 1800s lime kiln companies in Santa Cruz viciously fought for business to sell to the leading buyer of lime for construction in San Francisco. Laborers worked tirelessly to haul and load lime rock into kilns by continuously adding wood to the fire that heats and separates lime (calcium carbonate) from the mined limestone.The fires that blazed within the walls of the kilns were fueled by Douglas-fir and redwood logged from the surrounding forest.

Lime from Santa Cruz was of the finest quality and was largely used in San Francisco for “hard finishing” walls (plastering and smoothing out lumps and bumps during construction of walls). Lime from Santa Cruz helped build young San Francisco from a modest sized town to a vast world renowned city.

Logging in the Santa Cruz mountains, circa 1900. Photo courtesy of California Historical Society Collection, 1860-1960.
Logging in the Santa Cruz mountains, circa 1900. Photo courtesy of California Historical Society Collection, 1860-1960.

When hiking or viewing current photos of Pogonip, it looks as though nature has reclaimed the kilns. Ferns and mosses shroud the walls of the kilns camouflaging them into the surrounding regenerating forest. Blankets of under story plants and healthy forests of redwoods and Douglas-fir now cloak the land. Without prior knowledge, it is hard to imagine the sheer amount of labor, logging and competition that took place at Pogonip just over 100 years ago.

From Rocks As Revenue to Rocks as Art

Rock art in a rock oasis. Photo © Lauren McEvoy
Rock art in a rock oasis.
Photo © Lauren McEvoy

Fast forward to the 21st century and people are using the local rocks for art instead of commerce. A small trail that leads behind the two lime kilns off of Rincon Trail passes a secret oasis of rock art. Students regularly go here to retreat from school between classes to meditate, relax and think. There are hundreds of rock towers performing crazy balancing acts.

Within nooks and crannies of some of these rock towers are notes left by students. Some are words of encouragement, riddles to be solved and some share the challenges of attending a progressive school.

Progressive schools mean more hiking. Photo © Lauren McEvoy
Progressive schools mean more hiking. Photo © Lauren McEvoy.

Koi, Tufa and Redwoods

Of the many trails at Pogonip, Springbox Trail is exceptionally prized. From Rincon Trail take the short but sweet Springbox trail which leads the explorer to a rare sight. A spring that trickles cold clear water from a deep aquifer surfaces just a few steps from the entrance of the trail. It flows down a rugged sandstone creek bed coated with tufa (pronounced TOOf-a). Down it flows passing tropical plants that UCSC students have planted. The water then flows over the roots of a tall redwood tree benefiting from this constant supply of fresh cool water.

This small spring box catches the initial flow of the spring. Photo © Lauren McEvoy
This small spring box catches the initial flow of the spring. Photo © Lauren McEvoy

Finally the flow comes to a glassy halt as it swirls into a square pool filled with Koi and goldfish that students and locals have replenished when their populations dwindle. It is highly frowned upon but in the heat of summer students have been known to go for a skinny dip.

The spring box is also lined with tufa. It resembles a veneer of creamy brown butter spread on every surface. Tufa is a soft porous type of limestone produced when calcium carbonate precipitates out of water that has surfaced from deep aquifers rich in lime like those around Pogonip and campus. The tufa even precipitates on twigs and leaves. In some cases, tufa has enveloped twigs that later decompose and leave tiny craters and tunnels within the tufa.

The beautiful Koi pond at Pogonip is a favorite destination. Photo courtesy of https://localwiki.org/media/cache/87/84/878463186b13764aaf971fe1992e79ce.jpg
The beautiful Koi pond at Pogonip is a favorite destination. Photo courtesy of Alex Darocy.

About 50 feet south of this tufa encrusted paradise is a tall knobby old growth redwood tree. It stands facing the ocean surrounded by second growth giants. Because of its odd look, it is only one of the few old growth redwood trees spared during the height of the logging era.

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This piece is part of the UCSC Natural History Tour. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.

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About The Author

Ranger Salazar

Lauren McEvoy is a naturalist and Santa Cruz native with a passion for teaching through writing. She graduated Cum Laude with a BA in Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2015. Lauren worked for Mobile Ranger as an intern and created a self-guided natural history tour of the UCSC campus. After graduation she has come back to Mobile Ranger to write and help things run smoothly.

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2 Comments

  1. Amy

    I have lived in Santa Cruz for several years, but am worried about hiking in Pogonip because I always hear it called “the heroin highway.” Is this true? If so, what is being done about it?

    Reply
    1. Ranger Gaudinski

      Hi Amy. There is definitely some truth to the rumor. Here is a link to a 2010 article about it in the Sentinel. Clearly a push was made to deal with the problem at that time. http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/article/ZZ/20100521/NEWS/100528771

      On Hilltromper’s website they say this about the Pogonip: “Your mom would tell you to steer clear of anything north of (and including) Fern Trail, since the far reaches of the park are a favorite haunt of heroin dealers. Also, mountain lions have been spotted at Pogonip, so leave the deer costume in the car.

      Reply

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