Published in the June 22 – July 5, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Mike Monroe

Mike Monroe

Mike Monroe

Summertime means hot temperatures in the valley. So beat the heat and join me for a pleasant morning hike among the redwoods. Feel the cool ocean breezes wash over you with their hint of saltiness and perhaps, if the fog is not too heavy, a panoramic view of the southern outline of the Monterey Bay will await us.

Henry Miller had the same idea when in 1879 he and his family began camping at Mt. Madonna as respite from his tireless work weeks and the hot and dusty climate of their Bloomfield Ranch home south of Gilroy.

This year we remember the centennial anniversary of Miller’s passing in 1916 after an amazing career in the livestock business which his firm, Miller and Lux, dominated in the late 1800s. It was in October 1916, at the home of his only surviving child, Nellie, in either Menlo Park or San Francisco (historians cite both locations) that a brilliant and driven man of immense wealth finally took his last trail ride.

Prior to the Miller family’s weekend get-aways at Mt. Madonna, the rugged ridge-line of the southern terminus of the Santa Cruz Mountains was the home of the Amah-Mutsun Ohlone Indians.

On the valley side of the ridge with its hot summer afternoon exposures, the Amah lived at a large semi-permanent village we know as Chitactac. Even with the cool waters and pools of Uvas Creek nearby, it is most likely that those first peoples followed a path along Redwood Retreat Road and up and over the summit close to Mt. Madonna to trade with their Pajaro Valley neighbors.

Anthropologists have mapped the various Ohlone language groups of the Bay Area and they indicate that tribal bands living in Watsonville and Castroville spoke the Mutsun dialect that was prevalent in San Juan Bautista and much of southern Santa Clara County.

When the Spanish military and missionaries arrived in the Monterey Bay region in 1769 with the first Portola expedition, they were unable to determine if they had actually located the correct expansive bay described in 1602 by Sebastian Vizcaino.

They opted to continue north hugging the coastline and it was Oct. 8, 1769 that weary contingent arrived near the Pajaro River. Portola and his scouts discovered a hastily abandoned, smoldering village site with a huge bird carcass (pajaro — possibly a condor) stuffed with straw.

After an afternoon of travel, the men camped on the shores of Pinto Lake to rest and recuperate. There they observed for the first time in recorded history, magnificent trees unlike anything yet reported growing nearby the “little lagoon.” The company’s engineer, Miguel Costanso, recorded that the “trees were the largest, highest and straightest we had ever seen — some were four to five yards in diameter.” The Franciscan priest, Juan Crespi, wrote that “we gave them that of the color of the wood — palo colorado.” Today, on a clear day, the outline of Pinto Lake can be seen from one of the few clearings along the Bayview Trail. The Miller family had a 360 degree view from their rustic camp because most of the trees had been logged for lumber – a much different scene than we have today because of the regeneration of the forest.

The Gold Rush brought a flood of new residents eager to make their fortune in California. The redwood forests were a gold mine for the early lumbermen in the 1860s such as William Hanna and the Bodfish brothers, George and Orlando.

For many years, before the construction of Hecker Pass (completed in 1928 through the efforts of County Supervisor Henry Hecker of Gilroy) the westward trail from Gilroy was know as Bodfish Mill Road. Bodfish Creek runs adjacent to Hecker Pass flowing eastward until it mergers with Uvas Creek.

Hanna sold his lumbering and planing mill business to the partnership of Whitehurst and Hodges and they conducted a thriving business for several decades making roofing shingles, grape stakes and redwood planks. Significant redwood and tan oak logging continued in the Mt. Madonna area until after the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 when local timber supplies were mostly exhausted.

The Miller family originally put up a rough two story cabin at Mt. Madonna and invited key Miller and Lux employees, friends and guests to stay with them in brightly trimmed tents with wood floors.


In the late 1880s, due to Mrs. Miller actively encouraging her husband to slow down his work habits, they built three very substantial summer homes. Today, all that remain is a few walls and their cement foundations. Henry Miller very much wanted to be buried at his beloved Mt. Madonna estate, yet his daughter thought the location too primitive and the Miller family plot is located in Colma.

Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy a few hours of refreshment with me at Mt. Madonna County Park. We will stroll out to the Miller home sites and for those who feel like stretching their legs we will hike out to the Bayview Trail. Happy Fourth of July.

Keep on sauntering!

Gilroy resident Mike Monroe is a business owner and naturalist. He is a docent for Santa Clara County Parks.