Exploring Mountain Roads

Neil Wiley

I was driving along Summit Road across from Villa del Monte when I noticed a new road sign. I’ve lived here for fifty years so I thought I knew every path, trail, and thoroughfare, but I didn’t remember Fils Lane, so I turned the corner. It was a short trip, just fifty feet or so before it became two private roads, but I liked it. Tall slim trees framed a perfectly straight lane. Nicely done.

I continued west on Summit to look for other less known byways. I remembered Smitty’s Road. The real Smitty took me ocean fishing where I developed a taste for cod, and a distaste for seasickness.

I passed Trail Ridge that brought me many times to Patti Hughes’ Maison du Lac, a beautiful estate that hosts the Loma Public Education Fund’s annual Gala and the Building Blocks’ carnival, the finale for this month’s The Amazing Mountain Race.
Continuing on Summit, I passed the Mason-Taylor Ranch, the site of a farm stand, several historic buildings, and the future Mountain History Museum. (If you are interested in preserving mountain history, come to our meeting on May 17.)

I turned north on one of my favorite roads, Old Santa Cruz Highway. It was only a short distance before I glimpsed an unmarked private road that once took you to the Taylor’s farm stand.

A little farther down the highway, I saw a white mailbox. A locked gate and a paved road snaking through the forest, are all that can be seen of the infamous Chateau Liberté, known in its later years as a biker bar, until it closed in 1975. (I remember leaving my beer on the counter and slinking away on my little Honda 175 when the Hells Angels came to visit.)

I remember hearing the Doobie Brothers, Sons of Champlin, and Cold Blood featuring Lydia Pence. As the Chateau website (Chateau Liberte’ – Santa Cruz – LocalWiki.html) says, “There were many rumors of Chateau Liberté about drugs, crime, music, fun, and danger. They were mostly true.”

Returning from what I can remember of the sixties and seventies, I drove around the “tree in the road,” while wondering how many road planners would do that, and then stopped at the scenic view looking east toward Sierra Azul. To my left was the road to Knipes’ Hazlwood (yes, that’s how they spell it) and the Beck’s Nestldown (yes, that’s how they spell it). The Knipes have retired, but they have hosted many weddings and social events, including several of our mountain-area 55-plus group’s annual Christmas parties. Nestldown is a magical and elegant fantasyland for weddings and corporate events. (You’ll see what I mean if you visit

Continuing on Old Santa Cruz Highway past Call of the Wild, where a landslide closed the highway for more than a year, I imagine more history on the left as we pass a triangular piece of ground defined by two roads that join to become Madrone Road. This was once the entrance to Redwood Estates, complete with a decorative Dutch windmill. Replacing this entrance for most visitors is a shortcut up Holy City Road across from Tom Stanton’s Holy City Art Glass. The views from the top extend all the way to Loma Prieta. It may not be as famous as Lombard Street in San Francisco, but you get a better natural view. (The history of Holy City would take many pages. We’ll save that for a future issue.)

I took Old Santa Cruz Highway by the Ogallala Warpath Trail entrance of Chemeketa Park, a community known for its Indian road names, precarious slopes, and interesting houses. (According to a March/April, 1995 article in Mountain Network News, “Chemeketa” is a Native American word meaning “Place of Peace.”)

I stayed right on Aldercroft Heights Road, and then turned left on Alma Bridge Road, bringing me to the eastern shores of Lexington Reservoir. Stopping near the El Soza gates, I walk a path down to the water to see the eight-man and eight-woman crews row the length of Lexington while coaches yelled instructions from their powerboats. It seemed grossly unfair, but perhaps a reflection of our society where many row, and a few ride. The giant egrets, ducks, and the occasional eagle paid no attention as they flew by. I saw a few giant houses across the water. How did they get permits?

On one short drive you can see more in the Santa Cruz Mountains than mountains. Do you have some explorations to share?