When I think of Old Santa Cruz Highway, John Milton’s Paradise Lost comes to mind. Glenwood Highway, now known as Old Santa Cruz Highway, was a good road in its day — still is — what’s left of it. It ran from Santa Cruz through Scotts Valley, Glenwood, and back down to Los Gatos.
Progress –the evil – knocked the life out of Glenwood Highway in 1940 when Highway 17 was completed. Motorists loved the highway. They got a safer, wider road and a quicker way to escape to the Santa Cruz beach on warm summer days in Santa Clara Valley.
Motorists said goodbye to Glenwood Highway, and the nearby railroad that snaked through the Santa Cruz Mountains to Santa Cruz. Progress took a heavy toll in 1940.
Bike riders still enjoy what’s left of Old Santa Cruz Highway, which they gladly share with local residents. The road picks up west of Lexington Reservoir, crosses Summit Road, and dead-ends at Highway 17 in another two miles. It’s an easy climb through the Santa Cruz Mountains. The road’s concrete base, added in 1921-22, remains past Summit Road. Steel-reinforced concrete lasts a lot longer than asphalt.
A road not traveled
What happened to Glenwood Highway past Highway 17? Curious, I rode there early one morning. Google Earth showed what looked like the old road.
I crossed 17 and turned into a driveway. After a short distance I turned left onto a dirt road, which took me quickly down to Glenwood Highway, or what was left of it. It continued for a couple hundred yards before ending.
I pressed on, following a trail through the brush. After some more walking I came to a cliff where I looked down on Highway 17, cars whizzing by.
Like a dinosaur bone poking from the ground, a piece of the ancient concrete highway hung precariously from the barren hillside. The roadbed ended beyond this point.
Highway 17 builders had their pleasure cutting through mountains. Such hubris has come back to haunt us. The hillside continues to erode. On Highway 17, the shoulder is gone. A wall tries to hold back the crumbling hill.
An underpass to somewhere
I think of the possibilities, this bicyclist’s paradise lost. We could have preserved a piece of history and retained a corridor through the Santa Cruz Mountains perfect for cycling. All we needed was an underpass. We didn’t have to cut out so much hillside. I imagine residents who live up that driveway off Highway 17 wish it were true too.
Sure, cyclists can take Highway 17 to the Glenwood Highway turnoff, a white-knuckle ride for four-tenths of a mile. Forget it.
To learn more about Highway 17, the best read is Highway 17 by Richard A. Beal, published in 1991. He expertly documents the highway’s history, other roads, railroads, and towns in the Santa Cruz Mountains.