Quail Hollow: Santa Cruz Mountains Shangri-La

Ryan Masters

June 12, 2019

Located between Ben Lomond and Zayante, Quail Hollow Ranch County Park sits in a small, amphitheater-shaped valley ringed by sandy, teardrop-shaped ridges. At roughly 300 acres, it is home to a startlingly diverse array of plant communities, including revitalized grasslands, rare Santa Cruz Sandhills, and a mysterious pygmy redwood forest. From Awaswas hunter-gatherers to influential California trendsetters in the mid-20th century, this Santa Cruz Mountains Shangri-la has attracted humans for centuries.

Aerial view of Quail Hollow Ranch County Park
Aerial View of Quail Hollow | Photo by Ryan Masters

Same as it ever Awaswas

The first signs of human occupation in the Santa Cruz Mountains appear approximately 10,000 to 13,000 years ago in Scotts Valley. Just three miles from Quail Hollow, Scotts Valley is one of the oldest permanently inhabited settlements in North America. The first known people to inhabit the area were the Aruama Indians, whom archaeologists believe came from Asia. Subsequent habitations included the San Lorenzo Indians beginning around 11,000 years ago, the Umunhum Indians 8,000 years ago, the Scotts Valley Indians 6,000 years ago, and finally the Awaswas (Ohlone) Indians around 2,000 years ago.

Trail at Quail Hollow
Trail at Quail Hollow | Photo by Ryan Masters

Archaeological evidence reveals these people frequently journeyed miles from Scotts Valley to hunt game, trade, and gather resources, including acorns. While no permanent archaeological sites have been found in Quail Hollow proper, the land was frequently visited by foraging Native Americans. A small band called the Zayante were the most recent native residents of the region. A woman known as the “last Zayante” lived beside Zayante Creek until 1934. Her grave, lost to time, is among the redwoods in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Rancho Zayante and the Kenville Era

After Mexico seceded from Spain in 1821, Quail Hollow became part of the 2,658-acre Rancho Zayante, which the Mexican Government granted to Joaquin Buelna in 1834. Buelna let his claim lapse and the American-born settler Isaac Isaac Graham eventually acquired Rancho Zayante with Henry Neale and William Ware. Graham would go on to build a successful redwood timber mill where Graham Hill and East Zayante roads meet today.

Pond at Quail Hollow
Pond at Quail Hollow | Photo by Ryan Masters

Shortly after California became the 31st state, a French-Canadian named Joseph Kenville acquired 44 acres in what is now Quail Hollow under the Homestead Act. Kenville was an enterprising man. Before establishing the first horse-drawn freight line in Santa Cruz County, he operated a steamship mail delivery service on the Great Lakes, mined gold in Nevada and California, and drove a stagecoach between Carson City, Nevada, and Sacramento.

In 1862, the 35-year-old Kenville married Amerika Baker, a 14-year-old resident of a stagecoach stop hotel near present-day Carson City, Nevada. Three years later, he brought his young bride to Santa Cruz County. During the 36 years, they spent at Quail Hollow — 1866 to 1902 — Joseph and Amerika Kenville had ten children. They also expanded Quail Hollow by 88 acres and ensured Quail Hollow Ranch’s success by convincing the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. to install a “flag stop only” rail siding on their property, significantly cutting shipping times and costs. Remnants of the “Kenville” rail stop are still visible today on private property outside of the park.

The Sunset Magazine Era

For more than a century, no publication furthered the ideal of “Western living” more than Sunset magazine. Southern Pacific Railroad originally published Sunset to lure tourists back to California while the nation suffered through its Gold Rush hangover. Sunset influenced American tastes in mid-century architecture, gardening, California wines and food culture, environmentalism, and even the weekend getaway.

Ranch House at Quail Hollow
Ranch House at Quail Hollow | Photo by Ryan Masters

Many of those ideas came directly from Quail Hollow Ranch, which Sunset publishers Larry and Ruth Lane owned and remodeled from 1937 to 1954. Today, the 13-room ranch house and surrounding grounds exist precisely as the Lanes left them. It is here that the Lanes invented such iconic American concepts as the outdoor barbecue.

Forest of Pygmy, or Dwarf Redwoods
Pygmy, or Dwarf Redwoods | Photo by Ryan Masters

During these years, the Lane’s sons built the famous Sunset Trail, a 2.8-mile footpath that follows the ridgeline overlooking the Quail Hollow Ranch. This trail passes through rare Santa Cruz Sandhills habitat, a 10- to 12-million-year-old seabed full of fossils, before cresting in a forest of pygmy, or dwarf redwoods. One of only two such groves known to science, these stunted trees are the result of the uniquely barren Miocene Epoch soil.

Quail Hollow Ranch County Park is open daily from dawn to dusk. The visitor center is open Wednesday-Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Visit Santa Cruz County Parks for more information and directions.

Ryan Masters
Ryan Masters

Ryan Masters is a Santa Cruz Mountains native, a resident of the Free State of Lompico, a bodysurfer, and a writer. He spent a decade on staff at the Santa Cruz Sentinel and The Monterey County Weekly. His first collection of fiction, Above an Abyss: Two Novellas, was published by Radial Books in 2018. Read more at RyanMasters831.com.

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