Centuries before Californians slashed and burned the natural treasures of Fall Creek to make lime, Aztecs were mining limestone on a large scale to create roads and buildings in Mexico. Scientists, like Santa Cruz geologist Frank Perry, say that is what led to the downfall of their civilization.
They burned their trees to fuel kilns that turned the limestone into lime. But like many other civilizations, the Aztecs’ reckless deforestation destroyed their environment.
Lime-making began in our county so it could be used as a building material for the Santa Cruz mission in 1790. In fact, all California missions were established near rocks that could be made into lime, to imitate the white plaster walls of European structures.
After the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, Fall Creek's lime business heated up with city’s building boom. In addition, Santa Cruz began shipping the material all over the Pacific Coast, including Hawaii, where docents today describe historical buildings as being built from Santa Cruz lime.
Like the Aztecs, the lime makers soon deforested Fall Creek, and businesses closed down when no more redwoods were available to fire the kilns and make the barrels and no more hazelnut bushes were available for binding material.
The residents left their little town of cabins, kilns, a warehouse and a cooperage. Second-generation redwoods began to grow.
The remnants of those kilns will be the destination of a walk up Fall Creek that Perry will lead May 19, thanks to a grant I received from the San Lorenzo Valley Water District.
The geologist, who co-wrote the book “Lime Kiln Legacies: The History of the Lime Industry in Santa Cruz County,” has even spoken to a woman who lived on the creek. We will learn how the geology of Ben Lomond Mountain all started with a seashell.
From history to botany
As part of the walk, docent Judy Hill will point out the hazelnut bushes, which I call the “squirrels’ candy store,” as well as the violets and Hooker’s fairy bells blooming along the trail.
I become a little girl again when I go on a nature walk with Hill, asking “what’s this?” and “what’s that?” as I point to lush fronds and berries.
For the past 15 years, she has patiently answered regarding whatever is at the end of my finger.
Of the 18 types of ferns in the Santa Cruz coastal range, 14 grow in Fall Creek. Ferns, which first appeared more than 300 million years ago in the Carboniferous Period, include horsetails, whose stems were used in the making of bows and arrows.
Locals may call bracken fern “weeds,” but Ohlone Indians ate the young fronds, and the rhizomes, or bulbs, were used in basket-making after they were soaked in water and stripped.
Tribes used the black stems of the five-finger fern to decorate ceremonial baskets.
In the pristine water, filtered through granite rocks, the leopard lilies will also be rearing their heads for a full bloom in June. This rare flower almost became extinct when nurseries paid people to yank them out of their creek homes to be sold.
If you would like to join our merry band for a free wander in the woods, please email me at email@example.com.
- Carol Carson, M.Ed., is a writer, naturalist, and educator.