In the photograph below, the south portal of the newly-bored tunnel can be seen beside a footpath that had only recently been the narrow-gauge route around Inspiration Point.
The romance of Inspiration Point made it into postcards of the 1920s and 1930s, when what became Highway 9 was a popular tourist road for those seeking a view of the forest without riding the train or paying for entry to Big Trees Park. Numerous postcards were drawn showing romanticized views of San Lorenzo Gorge, the railroad tracks with a train peacefully chugging up the canyon, and a car parked at the Point. Below are just a few such photographs.
One feature of the bottom postcard is the cement arch along the tracks, visible just in front of the train. This arch was built when the line was broad-gauged around 1907, though it may have been built a few years earlier when the ties were upgraded. It is the only bridge of any sort along the route between the trestle at Big Trees and the Powder Works trestle. That half-bridge itself featured in some actual photographs of the area, such as the one below, showing a freight train heading up to Felton from Santa Cruz in the 1930s. The other photograph shows a passenger train at the same spot also heading to Felton.
Yet the idealism of Inspiration Point may have been overstated. A photograph, probably of the location in the late 1910s or early 1920s, shows that it was commercialized, at least for a while. The area had been heavily logged throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, especially after the 1906 Earthquake. The idealism of later photographs undermine the fact that from 1890 to 1920, the entire area was fairly ugly. This photograph, below, of a rest stop built at the site shows how popular the site was in the period, yet how badly logged the area was following the earthquake.
In addition, the location was prone to some of the worst disasters that occurred along the South Pacific Coast line. Heavily-laden trains regularly crashed and derailed along San Lorenzo Gorge near Inspiration Point just because of the sheer instability of the cliffs. If a better route to Felton could have been found, it surely would have. The cliffs claimed trains, cars, and lives. Even today, two cars from the late 1940s or early 1950s remained stripped of most parts along the cliffside above the cement arch. What happened to the cars or the passengers, no one will probably ever know, but the cars remain as a testament to the dangers of the San Lorenzo Gorge.
The top photograph shows a single-car passenger train cursing down the grade to Santa Cruz near Inspiration Point. The bottom shows a freight train with a passenger car heading north toward Felton. Both show just how steep and dangerous the cliffs are along the approach to Inspiration Point.
And this photograph shows a full derailment on May 23, 1890 near the same location as the previous two photographs. The sketch at the top-left corner is of the Inspiration Point tunnel (#6) which was nearby. In this wreck, a number of people were killed.
The survivors of this 1901 wreck were more fortunate, but this one was caused not by detrainment, but by a landslide as can be seen from the damage to the boiler of the engine. The train did derail, mind you, but that was not the cause of the disaster. The other cars behind appear to be on the tracks still, but the engine is askew. This engine was a narrow-gauge engine riding along tracks that were being prepared for broad-gauging. Note the longer ties on the left side despite no track covering them. The engine here was later repaired and remained in service for another 32 years.
Inspiration Point survives today thanks to the reclamation efforts of CalTrans in the late 1990s. Traveling up Highway 9 from Santa Cruz, it is about 4 miles up the grade. From Felton, about 2 miles south. The point is fairly obvious, with parking and an emergency phone. The view is still spectacular and the train tracks wrap around the point again as they did before 1879. In the summer, diesel trains from Roaring Camp cruise up and down the gorge multiple times a day, but the romance of the place is mostly gone, lost to a reality that probably never existed. Today, Inspiration Point is just another part of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park with no sign or advertisement noting its merits.