GLIMPSES OF THE GHOST
Being the report of a five day field trip tracing the route of the
North Pacific Coast RR.
Saucelito to Fairfax: Basically nothing of note
remains save a few places where broad gauge NWP tracks are in place along the old ROW.
A new jogging trail from Mill Valley across the marsh to Saucelito is on the old ROW,
but little else can be seen.
Whites Hill to Tocaloma: The south portal of the new
(1904) "bypass" route through whites hill is still in place, though access is via a
fire road (the ROW) that is privately held. If you want to look at the entry point
drive out of Fairfax about two miles until you come to the sign for the "Henry Bothin
Youth Center" on the right as you are headed north. Turn in (be prepared for
"no parking" signs and questions from Youth Center folks). The youth center gate
is on the left and a gate on the fire road is to the right. The sign says "welcome
to the Marin recreation area...", but that is a sham, since about fifty yards farther
along is another gate stating that it is private property, keep out. At any rate, you
are standing on the ROW and the tunnel mouth is about a mile and a half ahead of
Scuttlebut has it that the youth center folks claim their property extends to
the right of the road, the County thinks their land includes the road. Basically you
are stepping into a minor turf war between the good ladies of the youth center and the
county of Marin...good luck!
After being thrown out of this area you can continue on
over the hill and achieve the San Geranimo valley, site of Woodacre, San Geranimo and
Lagunitas. Continue along the main highway until you have just passed the golf course
on the left. To the right at the base of the hills you can catch glimpses of the
original (pre 1904) ROW. At the end of the golf course you will see a new church and
a left turn off the main road. Take this turn. Immediately after the turn you can
again turn right into a parking area behind the church and its pre-school. Just north
of the church is the San Geranimo depot. Remember, this is all private property and
you should respect that fact.
After looking at the depot you can go back out of the
parking area, but this time turn to the right and immediately left again onto the
original road that runs through the Woodacre residential area. You are basically on
the ROW at this point and will note that it is Railroad Street. Not surprising.
Continue along this street about a mile and you will come to the entry to the Marin
County Fire Department Headquarters complex. That is also the ROW and if you take the
road to the left of the entry you can parallel the old ROW and come to the back of the
Fire Department buildings. Here is the begining of the cut that lead to the tunnel
mouth, which has been blasted closed in recent years.
Returning to the main highway,
continue to Lagunitas, about two miles farther along. On the right you will see a
stucco building with a singular curve to the false front. This store was in place as
early as 1890 and is seen in two different photographs in NGR. The depot was in the
clear area approximately 75 yards farther along and across the present road.
Continuing on from Lagunitas you will pass through Samuel P. Taylor State Park.
Here the ROW is visible along Paper Mill Creek for several miles. Initially it is on
the right as you travel north, across the creek from the highway. About three miles
into the Park there is a footbridge crossing the highway that rests on old NPC
abutments. You can park a few yards south of this footbridge and walk into the
picnic area. As you enter the area look up to your left and you will see the ROW
as a horse/hiking trail. If you wish you can follow it in either direction for
several miles through the canyon.
Continuing from Taylor State Park take the signes
to Tocaloma. Now no more than a fork in the road, there are some barns and a house
that were likely (no confirmation) there in RR days. The ROW swung to the right,
largely following the route of the present road on its left.
If you wish, leave your
vehicle and follow the signs to the Trans Marin Hiking Trail. Again, this is the
ROW and can be followed south for several miles, connecting to the portion in Taylor
State Park. The northern direction from here is on private land and is not open to
From Tocaloma to Pt. Reyes Station the ROW is difficult to follow but in
Pt. Reyes town there are a number of interesting glimpses to be found. You will
arrive at a junction and should turn left towards the center of town. Turn left
again at the main street (you are now headed south again) and follow it. On the
left is the original depot, now restored and used as the Post Office. Many of the
buildings on the opposite side of the street are from NPC days and are an excellent
example of the architecture of the time.
The other railroad building in town is the
second engine house, built in 1920 when the line south of here was broad gauged.
Follow the main street, this time to the north. Look for a prominant light blue
victorian building with two towers. This was a school and appears in several NPC
era photographs; it is really wonderful. Across from it is the engine house, a
rather plain building exhibiting almost no railroad lineage at all. The open
area to the south of the building was the site of the turntable and to the north
one can just make out the ROW curving off towards Tomales Bay.
Of note in Pt. Reyes is the NPC era freight wagon now displayed on the canopy roof of
the feed store next door to the station. It is typical of many seen in period photos
of both NPC and SPC freight stations.
Take the road back the way you came to enter
Pt. Reyes and then turn left onto Highway 1 north. The road curves inland (east) and
when it returns to the west you will be along the shores of Tomales Bay. Stop at
the first pull-off spot after you have come to the bay and look back south. You
can clearly see the long straight causeway that was the ROW. It looks like a dike
across an inlet, with an opening for the tidal flow. These are to be seen an regular
intervals as you travel north. Several spots have trestle pilings in place, but
access is difficult. Watch out for the poison oak!!! If you do go down to the ROW
do also watch out for the rising tide!!! We got trapped and had to wade a waist
deep muddy stream to get back again.....
For the hardy these forays down to the ROW can be fun and in some spots there is
wood cribbing still in place, though badly deteriorated at this late date. There
is also evidence of dry laid stone walls along the bay side of the raised ROW.
Likely the stone walls and cribbing were to protect the ROW fill from wave action
and the present condition indicates this was needed. We photographed and measured a
number of the trestles, cribbing and such to determine how they were made.
Pt. Reyes Station to Tomales:
Driving along the bay the ROW appears in many places, so keep your eyes open.
Do be aware that Calif drivers like to treat this stretch of road as though it was
a freeway, so watch your mirrors carefully and pull over for the race drivers!
There are many pull off spots so you should not have to park on the roadway at all.
The next spot of note is Marshall. Here nearly all the buildings are of RR vintage.
The road is the ROW and about the only structure missing is the depot itself,
which is rumored to have been on pilings in the Bay! The terrain did not provide
much flat land, so this is no surprise.
About three miles beyond Marshall is the
site of Hamlet, marked by a single yellow farmhouse on the right of the highway.
You can spot it by the large palm (!) tree next to it. Directly opposite this house
a small gravel road leads to the edge of the Bay where you will find a row of deserted
houses on stilts...a real ghost town! The roadway in front of the houses is the ROW
and continues in both directions for some distance.
Back on the highway (or the ROW
if you wish) the last spot before the crossing of Key's Creek was Ocean Roar.
A small group of private buildings marks the spot, though silting of the bay in the
120 years since the NPC was constructed has totally obscured the fact that they once
landed a locomotive here from a sailing ship! This is true all the way up Key's
Creek as well, which was said to have been navigable in the 1870's nearly to the
town of Tomales. Today it is hard to believe.
Rounding the bend as the highway turns eastward up Key's Creek watch for the
large round bridge piers marking the crossing of the ROW at this point. Traveling
up Key's Creek towards Tomales keep an eye out and you can see the ROW across the
creek from the present highway. About half way up is the site of Camp Pistolisi, now
called Camp Tomales. This is private property and permission is difficult to arrange.
Along this stretch also is the tunnel and long fill seen in the engraving in NGR,
though that also is on private land and permission must be obtained before attempting
to enter the area. The tunnel is intact and the ROW quite easy to spot for most of
this part of the drive.
As you arrive in Tomales the ROW has swung off to the north some distance, making its
way along the hillside and actually entering the town headed south. The depot site
is an open area amidst new homes and the large hay barn is long gone. Many of the
buildings in the town, however, do date from the railroad days.()reach(The San
Gerenamo Valley Church)
In the clear area approximately 2nearby f the present road on its left. resting
glimpses to be found. Coming in from Tocaloma y, you will be on Fourth street(A
l flow. These are to be seen at It is unlikely that many, if any, of
these buildings date from the RR days, but they certainly are typical of the type.
Back on the highway
Tomales to Monte Rio: This section is through open rolling land that was once the
heart of Sonoma's dairy industry, a major source of freight for the NPC. Leaving
Tomales the ROW is hard to spot. It is generally on your left as you travel north
and about one mile outside town a guardrail marks the entrance to a long tunnel that
goes under the road and the hills to the right, eventually emerging at the right of
the highway about a mile farther along.
From Tomales all the way to Occidental the ROW
appears now and again alongside the road, or in the fields near it.
At Fallon, now just a crossroads, one can see the Creamery building (now only one
story tall), the adjacent store and post office, and a small water tank on the hill,
all of which date from RR days. Several other buildings in the area (a grain barn and
a cattle barn across the road) may date from the period, though historic photos do
not show them.
From Fallon to Valley Ford the ROW appears and disappears at various points, though
sharp eyes can definately follow it. Just outside Valley Ford there is a turn to the
left on Middle Road which curved out into the low area south of the town. About 3/4
of a mile out this road it bends to the right and just following the bend you will see
a high fill on the left that is the ROW. Looking to the right (towards Valley Ford
town) you can see a single remaining bent from the trestle known as "Wind Bridge".
This is the same spot shown in the Appendix to NGR in the photo with Ted Wurm, and
In Valley Ford itself there are seveal buldings that date from RR days, but no sign
of ROW or RR buildings. The depot is long gone.
Between Valley Ford and Freestone
is a spot known as Bodega Roads. Considerable effort has gone into finding out where
this was and the best guess at this point is near a junction of ______ and __________.
We are told in NGR that "it is little more than a crossroads...", so this would fit.
No ROW is clear until about a mile farther on towards Freestone.
At Freestone the store and one house seen in the photo in NGR remain, though the
store has been remodeled somewhat. The ROW is quite clear and a modern water tank
and firehouse now sit next to it. Several other buildings in the town are clearly
from the RR era, though none of them are seen in the published photos.
Between Freestone and Occidental there is evidence of the ROW, but second growth forest
has obscured much of the bulk of it. We did visit the site of Brown's Canyon trestle
and found the remains of the unusual center pier seen in both the photo and the
engraving in NGR. This is on private property (several owners are involved) and
considerable effort was involved in arranging access.
At the south end of the trestle
site (we didn't look to the north since we did not have permission to enter the area)
the ROW is clear for some distance and leads to the site of another, smaller trestle.
The large stumps along the ROW show clearly the size of the trees in earlier days.
Nearing Occidental the ROW is largely obscured and all traces of it within the town
are long gone. Several prominant buildings, however, do survive from RR days and a
comparison with the photos in NGR makes it easy to identify them.
A resturant has been established in the ____________building (seen in several
historic photos) and they have a number of wonderful historic photos of the railroad
and the town on display, many of them unpublished. The food is good and it is
definately worth a stop. If you are ready for lunch the Angel Cafe, located in a
historic building, is a good bet....nice folks and the food is good. The only
structure missing is the depot
From Occidental it is a short distance to the canyon of Dutch Bill Creek and the
start of the real Redwood country. As you drive the canyon note the dirt track on
the other side of Dutch Bill Creek from the road. This is the ROW. The site of
Tyrone is long obscured by second growth and modern vacation homes, but if you follow
the turn off at Tyrone Road you can see the flat area which must have been the site
of the mill. The huge Redwood stumps speak silent volumes about what this scene must
have been before 1900.....
The tunnel between Tyrone and Monte Rio is closed by rock slides, but the ROW leading
to it is quite clear, running initially on the right (as you travel north) high above
the present road, crossing (an old abutment can be seen) the road and continuing along
the left side of the creek.
At Monte Rio there are a few buildings left from RR days and the site of the major
hotel can be discerned from the concrete retaining walls and foundations in the
hillside behind the fire station. Here was the junction between the NPC and the broad
gauge NWP. The NWP crossed the river here, but the narrow gauge continued down
Moscow Road on the south side of the river. Again the massive stumps remaining
in the second growth forest indicate why the financiers of the NPC were willing to
invest. Much of the re-building of San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake and
fire was done with lumber from this area.
Along Moscow Road you will see a turn to
Freezeout Road, site of the settlement of Azalea. My summer visit did not reveal the
source of the name Freezeout, but most of these early names bear silent witness to
their locations so it must be a really cold spot in the winter!
A few miles farther
along you will come to the bridge across the river at Duncans Mills. This modern
bridge is exactly on the alignment of the two railroad bridges (the first, a wood
Howe truss was swept away in a flood in the mid 1880's and the second, a steel truss
was replaced for highway widening).
Immediately adjacent to the pier of the new concrete bridge one can see both
sets of piers from the old bridges. The rock fill is from the steel bridge and
the stub pilings are from the first Howe truss.
If you want you can not cross the river at this point and continue down Moscow Road
(now Freezeout Road) along the south bank of the river. This road is on the old
logging ROW and again the size of the stumps tells the whole story. There are no
obvious RR remains in this area but it is good for a sense of the ambiance of the
Redwood logging scene.
Duncan Mills to Markam/Willow Creek: At Duncan Mills the narrow gauge and broad
gauge came together at a buisy interchange. The large mills provided freight traffic
and the two lines delivered thousands of vacationers each weekend to the area.
The original narrow gauge depot has been beautifully restored and is a museum.
The museum seems to be only occasionally open, which is too bad as a peek in the
windows indicated there is a lot of very interesting stuff on display. Immediately
adjacent to the depot is NPC caboose #2, the same one in the drawing in the appendix
to NGR. We are told that the color (a very bright orange) is correct and was
discovered on some hidden material exposed during restoration. The caboose has been
beautifully restored, though the trucks are not original in comparison to several
Also adjacent to the depot are two 36' wooden boxcars and a coach from the broad
gauge P&SR RR (Petaluma and Santa Rosa, an electric line).
Don't be fooled by the buiding across from the depot which appears to be an historic
freight house. It is actually a very nice modern effort to replicate a typical
building of the period. Look closely, it is made of plywood!!
Across the highway from the depot site are several commercial buildings which date
from the RR era. The red store building to the west of the small town center is shown
on early maps, as well as two in the main grouping of buildings. These are all
occupied and in various stages of good repair.
The huge mill was located in the large empty field formed by the angle between
the Bohemian Highway and the River Road intersection. A single farm building
(likely not from RR days) occupies this once busy spot.
Traveling down river towards the coast one passes the site of Markam, now an open
pasture with a gated ranch road occupying the former ROW into the valley. This is
private land and entry is prohibited. We are told nothing remains of the mill sites
at Markam and Laton.
Farther along is the bridge crossing the river just south of
Jenner. Crossing the bridge brings you to a resturant on the left side and just
beyond it the turn off to Willow Creek Road. The valley of Willow Creek is all a
natural preserve and entry is restricted, depending upon fire conditions. The road
is normally open about 3 miles in and it is a lovely drive, though no remains of
either RR or logging can be seen.
Duncan Mills to Cazadero: Heading out of Duncan Mills to the east (up river) watch
for the turn off to Cazadero. The road runs along the west side of Austin Creek and
the ROW largely along the east side. Glimpses of the ROW can be seen, but new growth
and later development have largely obscured most of it.
A sign and several vacation
motels mark the site of Elim Grove, a spot one mile from the end of track.
Arriving at Cazadero one is driving on the ROW and in the center of town (such as
town is!) a firewood mill occupies the site of the yard, turntable and depot.
A few buildings in the town date from RR days, but most evidence has been
totally obscured by time. and change.
sometimes (The San Geraniothin Youth Center" on the left brick stucco
facade and a lar curve to the false front. Despite its present garish paint job
the north wall has a wonderful Lucas Dairy sign painted on it that is worth a look.
In the clear area approximately 50with signage State Park take the signf the present
road and tonear the road junction eventually sin a pasture c,d
Tway about a mile farther along. I have seen esbeyond rincluding the large church
on the hill,makes it easy to identify them. "Occidental" f them unpublished.
The food looked(we had eaten earlier) In this area the Bohemian Highway (on which
you are driving) is on the old ROW much of the way and the old County Road is across
the creek, to your left headed north.wait to An examination of the car also indicates
that there may be several errors in the published plans (NGR) that warrent correction.
I shall work on this.to towards the south on the left
I am sure that on susequent visits I will find even more, but I was truely amazed at
how much remains if one knows what to look for. As advertised in 1900, the
progression of landscape from Marin up the line to Cazadero is truely wonderful....
some of the best scenery in California, if you as an old Sonoma native! It is clear
why early vacationers en excursionists loved the ride....heck, I would love it NOW!
Please feel free to direct questions my way if you think I can be helpful,
or correct any mistakes I have made. The more we learn, the more we know!!
With Aloha, Boone Morrison