A brief history of Castle Rock...

Castle Rock may be rugged country, but it has always been a place humans visited for renewal. For thousands of years, the ancestors of the Muwekma Ohlone and Amah Mutsun tribal bands used the area as a stopover point on their treks from the valley to the ocean. Castle Rock itself may have been used for rituals, according to State Parks archaeologist Mark Hylkema.


Bedrock Mortar

Evidence of Castle Rock's indigenous people such as these acorn grinding mortars can still be found throughout the region.

Settlers were not immediately drawn to the rocky, oak and brush-covered land along Castle Rock Ridge. Wood choppers worked their way through the region in the 1860s. They were followed by speculators with interest in the lumber industry. Timber cutters were eventually drawn to the redwood stands in the area as they worked their way through the mountains from the coast.


Early Day Logging

Ox teams like this one were used to harvest the mighty trees of the Santa Cruz Mountains in the 19th century.

CR climbing with ladder Fulmer F7.jpg

Victorian-Era Climbing

Visitors to Castle Rock in the 19th century use a ladder to access the top of the monoliths.

In the 1880s and 1890s, permanent settlers established orchards and vineyards in the area. The first schoolteacher, Ida M. Jones, came to the newly built Castle Rock school in 1886. She lived in a cave in Castle Rock for a time until her cabin was finished.

Castle Rock became a popular site for Sunday picnics. Both locals and visitors could often be seen scaling the wooden ladder in their bulky Victorian-Era clothing.

From the top of Castle Rock, these early climbers might be rewarded with views into eight neighboring counties, ranging all the way to the Sierra Nevada.


In 1908, Judge James Welch, purchased property around Castle Rock and welcomed people to camp there. Members of his family often cleaned up after the campers. Almon Smead, whose family owned the neighboring property, kept an eye on Castle Rock during this period. He was considered the first unofficial ranger or "Mayor of Castle Rock."

“What majestic word are you speaking now, out of your ages and ages of growth...talking to the light and reaching for the sky?”
— John Varian, "Sand Dunes"

Among those who found refuge in the mountains after the turn of the century was John Varian, a mystic poet who instilled a love for the natural world in his sons.

Castle Rock State Park was originally the vision of his eldest son, Russell Varian. He wanted to create a place where future generations could “find anew the values that are ages old.”


Russell & Sigurd Varian

Life Magazine's Jan. 4, 1954 issue featured Russell and Sigurd Varian surrounded by wave guide apparatus used with klystrons. (Photo: Ansel Adams)

Varian gained fame when he invented the klystron tube, a precursor to modern radar that helped win World War II. In 1948, he left Stanford University to establish Varian Associates, which is often called Silicon Valley's first start-up.

Varian seldom went to Castle Rock alone. His wife, Dorothy, grew to love the area as he did. Their dream of helping to create Castle Rock State Park was part of a shared vision.

In 1959, Russell obtained an option to buy the land surrounding Castle Rock. Sadly, he died before he could complete the purchase. Yet, thanks to Dorothy Varian and Sempervirens Fund, Castle Rock State Park was born in 1968.


In addition to growing Castle Rock State Park to 5,242 acres, Sempervirens Fund has continued to be its primary advocate.

When Gov. Jerry Brown proposed closing 70 state parks in 2011 to balance the state budget, Sempervirens Fund put up the money to keep Castle Rock State Park open.

Castle Rock State Park has been Silicon Valley's gateway to the Santa Cruz Mountains for 50 years. Now the park entrance is set to undergo a 21st century upgrade.

In 2011, Sempervirens Fund donors supported the purchase of a 33-acre parcel from the Whalen Family.

After seven years of design, planning, permitting and construction, the project is nearly complete.

When it opens on Sept. 29, the Robert C. Kirkwood entrance will feature interpretive exhibits, WiFi connectivity, and new engagement opportunities. It will include a 90-car parking lot with permeable paving and a 60-seat amphitheater. It will feature six restrooms with flush toilets. It will have a drinking water station, and accessible pathways and picnic areas. It will also feature native landscaping and a demonstration garden by the Native Stewards of the Amah Mutsun Land Trust.

If Silicon Valley had an official state park, it would be Castle Rock.
— Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News