On a trip to California or what this writer called the “Mission Impossible” tour (due to the fact we stopped at nearly every mission between Los Angeles and San Francisco) the group decided to take a “side rail” up north to the town of Felton and stopped at a little place called Roaring Camp. Donning our railroad overalls and t-shirts, we spent the late morning and early afternoon at the camp.
Mountain man Isaac Graham settled here in the 1830’s. In 1835 Graham constructed the first whisky distillery near Roaring Camp. Trappers and traders traveled for miles to sample the brew. Legend states their wild antics led to the local’s nickname as Drunkard Camp. Graham took offence to the name and the settlement was soon called the Wild and Roaring Camp. The area’s first railroad, the Santa Cruz and Felton, began carrying tourists to the big redwood trees and the beach in 1875.
Georgiana and Norman Clark had the dream of recreating an 1880’s logging railroad as a tourist/historical tourist attraction. They bought the land in 1958. Clark laid the track in the 1960’s. The mountain train ran over an elaborate trestle system until 1976. The trestle burned during the drought of 1976 in an arson fire. It is still a popular tourist stop where folks can ride a train to the beaches of Santa Cruz or just take a shorter jaunt on a narrow-gauge steam locomotive through the redwoods.
Bear Mountain is haunted because of its logging past. In 1996, a skeleton was found during a routine brush cleaning in Roaring Camp on the slopes of Graham Hill. The sheriff was called and a homicide investigation began. The skeleton with remnants of clothing and vest carried a .38 –caliber fully loaded Colt revolver in the right hand. Found on the corpse were: a gold watch, glasses, and a “pumpkin seed bottle” which had held morphine or Laudanum, and 1890’s gold coins. A .44 bullet had shattered the lower left of the ribcage. The dead person had been lying in wait for someone else, who appeared behind them, and fired the first, fatal shot. The University of California Santa Cruz anthropologists determined that the skeleton laid there for about 125 years. The sheriff’s department found a spent .44 caliber round beneath the skeleton—which, in case you were wondering, was female. Her identify has never been solved.
We bought tickets to ride the narrow-gauge train and perhaps learn more about the victim of this unfortunate ambush victim as we rode the train deep into the forest. We enjoyed the fun reenactment players who came into view as each train passed by just long enough to come on board and try to rob the passengers. The Roaring Camp is a wild and roaring place to visit!
Roaring Camp Railroads
5355 Graham Hill Rd
Felton, CA 95018