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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour
This piece is part of the UCSC Natural History Tour. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.
- Tonya Haff, Martha T. Brown, W. Breck Tyler (Eds.). The Natural History of the UC Santa Cruz Campus, Second Edition. Environmental Studies Department, University of California, Santa Cruz. 2008. [Review]
- Joan Gilbert Martin and Colleen McInerney-Meagher. Pogonip: Jewel of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B, 2007. [Review]
- Frank Perry. Lime Kiln Legacies: The History of the Lime Industry in Santa Cruz County. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum of Art & History, 2007.
- Who Was Henry Cowell? California State Parks Website.
- The Pogonip. Santa Cruz Public Libraries.
- The Pogonip. Hilltromper.
- The Pogonip. LocalWiki.
- Pogonip Clubhouse. Deep Blue Moon Website.
- Guide to the Pogonip Collection. Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History Website.