The 87,000 acres of wild open spaces at Henry W. Coe State Park in Morgan Hill make it the largest state park in northern California. The terrain is rugged, varied and beautiful, with lofty ridges, steep canyons, a full spec-trum of trees and abundant wildlife.
I arrived at the park mid-morning on a gorgeous Sunday in April, and was pleased to see that - unlike some of the parks I have visited - the parking lots were full! I even had to wait in a short line at the Visitor Center to pay my day use fee. I never thought that waiting in line would be a source of joy, but since it meant that folks were coming to the park, that was my reaction.
And drat! It had to happen sooner or later I guess. I forgot to take a picture of the State Park sign. Argh!
The Pine Ridge Association is a nonprofit cooperating organization formed in 1975 to assist the Coe park staff with interpretive and educa-tional programs. Thus, when California passed legislation earlier this year allowing non-profits to join with state parks in order to keep them open, Henry Coe was ahead of the game. They are currently funded to stay open through 2015! One of their most popular fund raisers is the Adopt an Acre pro-gram. My grand nieces, Bella and Bree, are both adoptors of Henry Coe acreage.
I decided to hike to Frog Lake, with an added loop around the Ponderosa Trail. After paying my day-use fee, not only did I receive a map, but I was given a "private consultation," allowing me to ask questions and receive specific directions and suggestions, as was anyone coming in to hike today. Wow, what service!
A five-ten minute walk and an immediate 400 foot elevation gain gets you to a plateau and Ponderosa Loop Trail. Here, sloping meadows offer panoramic views of southern Santa Clara County as well as the full, overflow parking lot below. Grand Valley Oaks with strategically placed picnic tables and benches allow for quiet relaxation. Henry Coe is large enough that even on high use days, there is ample solitude. I like that.
Anderson Lake lies below, a few miles down the windy mountain road. I suspect in summer many will stop there on the way home for a quick plunge to cool off after a day hike on these inland trails under the blazing sun.
The park touts spring as exceptional for wildflowers. Before arriving I wondered, given the unusually early spring and the relatively low elevation (as compared to my home in the Sierras) if I would have already missed the lion's share of flowers by late April. Not to worry though!
Ground iris, orange Indian paintbrush, California blue-eyed grass (above) yellow oak violets and of course California poppies (below) were the most prolific of the wildflowers on the day of my visit.
Frog Lake was mucky and brown, perfect for Frogs, but not so perfect for swimming. It was a small lake, and I suspect by summer's end will be dry.
I plopped down on a large rock to eat lunch, while Dragonflies swooped onto the pond's surface. Invisible swamp creatures were making plopping sounds of their own, creating circles in the water.
A flock of Red Winged Blackbirds preened, chirped and sang throughout my lunchtime, accompanied by red-headed Acorn Wood-peckers on percussion (in addition to the non-stop "plopping" sounds in the pond.)
I especially enjoyed watching one female Woodpecker as she continuously rearranged the acorns in her pantry.
And finally, the excited voices of yet another pair of red-capped creatures could be heard throughout the forest as they exclaimed the discovery of tadpoles in the gooey creek.
I packed up the remains of my lunch under the watchful eye of a Turkey Buzzard, who was waiting to see if his clean-up duties would be needed. I love Buzzards. They're so... practical. I waved goodbye to the fairytale Frog Lake and her witchy trees, and continued on the loop heading back to the Visitor Center.
A Squirrel tried to evade me by running circles around what I dubbed the "Guggenheim Tree." But eventually he came to rest at the top, deciding his desire for a snack outweighed his annoyance with my camera.
Back at the Visitor Center, I bought a bottle ice cold water and perused through an album of wildlife photographs from the park.
A taxidermied Lion, Barn Owl and Badger filled in some of the blanks of critters I didn't see in person today. Before becoming a state park, Henry Coe was primarily a cattle ranch. I was amazed by the display of over a dozen different types of barbed wire. I am always in wonder and awe of the willingness of people to preserve the most minute details of daily life.
I visit the south bay-area frequently, and plan to return to Henry Coe SP. As my enthusiasm for hiking increases - largely as a result of my state park expeditions - I think this is the perfect park to consider for my first overnight backpacking adventure, perhaps in months to come. There are over 70 miles of trails for backpackers, with both designated campsites and more wilderness settings on the east end of the park.
Friday, May 25, is a celebration at Henry Coe, thanking all those who have made it possible for the park to remain open. Here's hoping that a few more parks enjoy the same success.
I hope to see you at the State Parks.