If you were to go back in time to, let’s say 1880, and visit Purisima Canyon, you wouldn’t recognize it. The loggers clear-cut the canyon starting in the 1850s and ending in the 1920s.
There was ongoing logging here into the 1960s, but it was more like tree thinning.
On Monday morning as I rode down the “trail” from Skyline Boulevard, which I’ve been doing since 1980, I was struck by how much more brush and undergrowth I saw compared to the old days. It used to be pristine, redwoods and little undergrowth. I suppose the difference in plant life is mostly from the lack of logging, but it may also be climate change at work.
Most of the redwood was turned into shingles back then, mainly because it was hard to remove trees from the steep canyon over the hill to the port of Redwood City. There weren’t any harbors nearby on the Pacific Coast.
The first mill was water-powered, where Harkins Fire Road joins Purisima Creek Road at the canyon entrance. Later sawmills relied on steam engines, or steam donkeys.
Going downhill, the first location where two sawmills existed is located where Purisima Creek runs under the road through a large steel culvert. That’s where the road levels out somewhat and there’s a sharp right turn. Right here is where a cable way was installed to haul logs uphill to Swett Road. Purdy Pharis, Shingle King, sunk a lot of money into the project, but it never was successful. He died about the time the operation was underway in 1884.
Farther down, at the Grabtown Gulch trail intersection, were two more logging camps, Charles Borden Mill and Hartley Shingle Mill, both operating around 1900-02.
Finally another half mile or so below this site was the Borden & Hatch Mill, which ran from 1871-1900.
While most of the wood went to making shingles, some was used to build a flume for Spring Valley Water Company in 1871. The nine-mile long flume, located in what is now the San Francisco Watershed (Frenchman Creek and stone dam) lasted 20 years before being abandoned.
This was the first time I rode in the Santa Cruz Mountains on a Monday. There’s no traffic to speak of on Kings Mountain Road (2 going up, 5 going down) and the same goes for Tunitas Creek Road. However, Santa Clara Valley traffic during rush hour is no picnic. I’ve learned how to get around it mostly car-free though.