Too much of a good thing?
Henry W. Coe State Park
Henry W. Coe is a big, largely undeveloped state park east of Morgan Hill. When I say big, I mean 87,000 acres big. I mean big changes in elevation, ranging from 300 feet above sea level to craggy ridges up to 3,560 feet. The weather is bigger, too. It can be above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (hot) in the summer and dry as dust, but in the winter, the temperature can drop to 30 degrees Fahrenheit with overflowing, dangerously impassable seasonal streams. Winter or summer, the ridge trails are exposed to strong winds and rapid changes in weather.
But big is good, too. You can see forever. The views from the ridge tops are vast, spacious, and spectacular with few signs of human intervention. You can enjoy these wide, open spaces without crowds. In fact, chances are you won’t see another person. In a world that is becoming ever more crowded, being out in a beautiful, quiet environment alone has special value. You can experience true solitude.
Hikers and equestrians can follow 250 miles of dirt roads and trails. Some are open to mountain bikes. Most are well marked. The biggest problem is bigness. It’s often a long way between signposts, and the unshaded climbs up to the ridges are challenging. Some days are too hot; others too cold. Where do we start?
My other hikes began at the main park entrance. Although the park is immense, the parking lot is constricted and small, especially on weekends. I’d just about given up on Coe when hiker/horsewoman/realtor Niki Lamb suggested another approach, including a map and directions. How could I refuse?
The hike begins at the less-popular Hunting Hollow entrance at the southwest corner of the park. It was promising. There was only one car in the large parking lot, with plenty of room for cars and horse trailers. I paid my six dollars to the “iron ranger lockbox,” and walked along the rocky but flat Hunting Hollow Road, across five seasonal streambeds, and turned left on Lyman Willson Ridge Trail. The marker said it was 3.1 miles to the Bowl Trail and Willson Camp. The first mile was a relatively easy uphill walk, but as I climbed higher the trail got steeper, rockier, and warmer. A cool breeze reduced the sweat level while creating deep waves in the chest-high grasses.
On the way up, I found a shady spot with two big rocks, suitable for a table and chair. After a too-brief rest, a snack bar, and some lime-flavored water, I climbed up to the intersection with Bowl Trail at 2,040 feet elevation, enjoyed the view, and returned back to the trailhead.
According to my FitBit, I had walked about eight miles, or 17,479 steps. I enjoyed the hike, but it was enough. For a well-justified reward, I detoured via Leavesley Road to In-N-Out Burger and the Gilroy outlet stores.
If you take this hike, I have some suggestions. Walk this trail on a cool day in spring or fall.
Bring your own water. There is water at Willson Camp, but for horses only
Wear boots. The trail is rocky, and after a few miles, you’ll feel the rocks coming up through your soles.
Bring a map. Brochures, complete with map, are available at the trailhead, but you can get a better map at www.greentrailsmaps.com or REI. The Green Trails map is waterproof, tear-resistant, and topographic. This last feature is important. I’ve learned the hard way that when hiking, elevation gain is more important than distance.
It’s about fifty miles to the Hunting Hollow entrance. Niki suggested a good route. Take Highway 85 to 101 south. Go left on San Martin toward the hills. You pass the lower entrance to Harvey Bear County Park. The road name changes to New Avenue. Turn left on Roop Road, you pass another Harvey Bear entrance, and stay straight on Hot Springs Road. You’ll pass a fire station at the intersection with Cañada Road. (I mistakenly took a right turn, and ran (figuratively) into a herd of cattle driven by a young female herder. It was an interesting but unnecessary detour.) Instead, stay left on Hot Springs Road. You’ll see the Hunting Hollow entrance to Coe on the right.
Looking for a scenic view, quiet solitude, and a challenging hike? Henry Coe may be a good thing.