It's a misty day in the mountains near Santa Cruz, and darts of rain sizzle on the locomotive's smokestack as the train chugs away from the Roaring Camp Railroads station in Felton. But the coming storm only makes the well-bundled passengers beam — it's a perfect start to our Rain Forest Weekend train excursion.
In winter the Santa Cruz Mountains act like a coastal temperate rain forest, logging 50 to 60 inches of precipitation annually (more than 100 in. in some years). That's good for thirsty redwoods, since each tree can transpire (sweat) up to 500 gallons of water per day. While our train lumbers across a high trestle, the onboard naturalist points out feathery ferns and canyon walls blanketed with moss. The train stops midway through the trip, long enough for passengers to get out and walk into the forest.
A little more than an hour after we started, our train draws back into the station, with leaves swirling in the wind and the rainstorm sweeping the forest floor like a Hoover gone mad. Just a typical winter day in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Rain Forest Weekend train trips depart at 11 a.m. Sat?Sun Jan 8?Mar 27 ($6 parking fee; tickets $18, $12 ages 3?12; off Graham Hill Rd., Felton; www.roaringcamp.com or 831/335-4400). —LORA J. FINNEGAN