On the University of California, Santa Cruz Campus, east of Stevenson College and across Coolidge Road, you will find one of the seven entrances to Santa Cruz’s beloved open space preserve, the Pogonip. With 640 acres and 8 miles of trails, the Pogonip is a favorite place for locals to connect with nature. Inside, dark mystical redwood forests with light dappled understory give way to oak woodland habitat that open onto warm sunlit grasslands comparable to scenes from “Little House on the Prairie.” The challenge is to decide where to linger.
Cowell Family Estate
The UC Santa Cruz campus and much of the Pogonip land was originally part of Cowell Ranch. Henry Cowell bought the land in 1865 for its extensive lime and timber resources. Cowell and his family owned the Pogonip portion until 1989 when the Cowell estate sold it to the City of Santa Cruz. The Cowell estate has their name stamped on some of Santa Cruz’s most beloved retreats left to public good. Besides Cowell College on the UCSC campus, the Cowell family name can be found on Cowell Beach next to the Boardwalk, and Henry Cowell State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains, all due to land gifted to the public by the Cowell family.
The Pogonip Clubhouse
In the heart of Pogonip lies a dilapidated building with peeling paint that is rich in history. In the early 1900s, it was called the Casa Del Ray Club and Golf Links, or the Pogonip Clubhouse. It was a hot spot for the surrounding golf course at Pogonip. People would come far and wide to play at the spectacularly beautiful golfing spot.
In the 1930s, Dorothy Demming Wheeler revamped the golf links into polo fields that soon became a haven for talented women polo players. She called the new and improved clubhouse the Pogonip Polo Club. Wheeler helped break a long standing barrier for women in sports. The clubhouse was closed during World War II and was used as a rehabilitation facility for wounded soldiers. In 1948 the clubhouse reopened for use as a social club before the City of Santa Cruz bought it in 1989.
The clubhouse was used as a set for three movies, including one teenage vampire movie that trumps all modern day teenage vampire movies: “The Lost Boys”. There are free showings of this action packed thriller on Main Beach in the summer projected on a giant screen. Heart throb (in 1987 of course) Corey Feldman who played one of the leading roles occasionally attends these showings.
At first sight the once hopping clubhouse looks as though it may collapse from even a mere sneeze. There’s now a six foot wire fence barricading the building from the interested tourist and the party spot seeking UCSC student.
A Pogonip Haunting
Near the northern section of Pogonip, the ghost of Henry Cowell’s daughter, Sarah Cowell, is said to drift among what locals call the Haunted Meadow. In 1903 the local paper touched on the story of Sarah Cowell and Evelyn George, the wife of the Cowell Ranch manager. They were apparently thrown from their horse-drawn carriage while returning to the ranch. Mrs. George was severely injured but survived. Sarah Cowell died after repeated, desperate attempts to revive her.
Some say her ghost haunts the meadow in the darkness of the night. She is seen only as a long white cloak hovering above a shadow below the moon light. Only the bravest of souls should explore the haunted meadow in search of Sarah Cowell. The story of Sarah Cowell’s death has transformed over time and despite the ghostly stories at Pogonip, her accident actually occurred “near Cowell’s upper kilns” which is now a part of Wilder Ranch State Park. Despite the true location of the accident, maybe Sarah’s ghost visits the Haunted Meadow anyway.
Visiting the Pogonip
The Pogonip is a captivating gem loved by Santa Cruzans and visitors alike. Visitors should be aware that on-site parking, drinking water and toilets are non-existent. Before heading out, be sure you know what poison oak looks like, as it can cause a itchy, angry rash!
Beyond connections to nature, north of Fern Trail another connection has permeated the forest. Word on the street is that drug dealers linger in those neck of the woods so steer clear of anyone who doesn’t look like a hiker, biker or park worker.
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.
Sources UsedTonya 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.