Trip Report: China Hole Loop Hike, Henry Coe State Park

At long last: the following photoessay has been over a week in arriving, but I blame nobody for my tardiness in posting it but the Hades Inc. Department of Pinched Nerves and Spinal Subluxation, Special Expensive Downtime Division. Thank you, dear reader, for your patient tolerance while I’ve been recuperating from this @#$*! neck thing – I quite frankly couldn’t work the keyboard for more than about 15 minutes for about 9 days. Could it have been the rigors of this hike that sent me spiraling into the Nether Depths of Neckdom? Well, highly doubtful. But dang it all anyway.

And so, onto the show: to see larger versions of each photo, the content of heart need only click once.

Sunday, October 15th, 2006
I got together with a few of my pals for a double-digit romp through one of my favorite backyards, Henry Coe State Park, which waits for the adventurous soul on a high ridge about 30 minutes’ drive along a twisty, tortuous mountain road east of the South Santa Clara County hamlet of Morgan Hill, California.

Henry Coe State Park waits for the adventurous soul on a high ridge.

Coe Park is Northern California’s largest state park – even larger than Big Basin – at over 87,000 acres of former farm and ranchland.

Coe Park is Northern California’s largest state park – even larger than Big Basin – at over 87,000 acres of former farm and ranchland.

Henry Coe kept a few horses in his stable, which still stands…

Henry Coe kept a few horses in his stable, which still stands.

…along with his family’s former homestead, which is now the Henry Coe Park Headquarters and Visitor Center.

The Coe family’s former homestead is today the Henry Coe Park Headquarters and Visitor Center.

Much of the splendor that Coe Park offers awaits the ready hiker just across the road from the Visitor Center. I say “ready” for a reason: most of the hiking here requires stamina and a few good base miles. Our group, I’ll admit, was more than ready to tackle just a little more than ten miles’ hilly hiking along the Corral, Springs, and Manzanita Point trails to a keyhole loop of the Madrone Soda Springs, Mile, and China Hole trails.

Our group was ready to tackle more than ten miles’ hilly hiking along the Corral, Springs, and Manzanita Point trails to a keyhole loop of the Madrone Soda Springs, Mile, and China Hole trails.

Though the heat of Summer in the Diablo Range was over…

The heat of Summer in the Diablo Range has given way to cool fog.

…we’d be hard-pressed to find any compulsion not to catapult ourselves off the trail. Yet somehow we escaped that fate.

The sign indicates "NO DIVING". Somehow we escaped the fate of catapulting ourselves off the trail.

At the junction of Manzanita Point, Corral, and Springs trails, we stop for a confab. It’s always good to meet halfway on stuff such as stopping at all hilltops and trail junctions. But it’s the spooky month of October, and who knew what critters lurked just off-trail, waiting to pounce on the unwitting, chatty hiker? I decided we’d better review our worse-, worst-, and worster-case scenarios before plunging down Springs trail.

At the junction of Manzanita Point, Corral, and Springs trails, we stop for a confab.

After all, it may be Fall, but there may just be big hairy spiders springing upon us.

A signpost directs us south toward Manzanita Point.

Meanwhile, the day was still ripe for some fine late-season ambling among the oak- and brush-dotted grasslands.

The day was ripe for some fine late-season ambling among the oak- and brush-dotted grasslands.

Hark! A stag a-leap!! And a fine piece of sharp-eyed camerawork, too. Photo credits – and there are many – go to Mr. Mark Shepley of Walnut Creek, California.

A black-tailed deer leaps just off-trail.

We continue, crediting Nature with this tranquil scene of pines and hardwood hillsides. And then…

Tranquil scene of pines and hardwood hillsides.

…out leapt wave upon wave of big and scary demented hairy beasts!!

Big and scary demented hairy beasts!

And so my prediction comes true: MJ, ever stout of spirit and brave of heart, models the latest line of furs from Halloween, Incorporated…

MJ models the latest line of furs from Halloween, Incorporated.

…yet there is much more trail to discover. Happy in our arachnid discovery, we continue, spirits aloft, to tramp down the trail. Andy and Annie, to my left, are almost bigger hikin’ fools than I am: we’ve pounded a lot of trail together these last coupla years, both locally and otherwise.

Happy in our arachnid discovery, we continue, spirits aloft, to tramp down the trail.

While it’s only been about 2 miles or so to this point on the trail, and while we haven’t yet enjoyed any strenuous hillclimbing, the endorphins are coursing, and it shows easily and often in the smiles of ardent hikers Caroline and MJ.

The endorphins are coursing, and it shows easily and often in our smiles.

Though they say that a picture paints a thousand words, Mr. Shepley’s sense of composition has certainly added a broad palate of fine brushstrokes, as depicted in this still of a tough old ridgetop oak.

Juxtaposition: a tough old ridgetop oak and a foreground stump.

Into the canyon
The remains of the old Madrone Soda Springs resort, built in the late 19th century and destroyed by abandonment and neglect, but mostly by a much more recent Soda Springs Canyon flood: this former two-story building used to stand about a half-mile upstream.

The remains of the old Madrone Soda Springs resort, destroyed by a Soda Springs Canyon flood.

The descent from Coe Park’s Pine Ridge down Soda Canyon spills, finally, onto Coyote Creek.

The descent from Coe Park’s Pine Ridge down Soda Canyon spills onto Coyote Creek.

With 13 creek crossings and some truly fantastic wildlife sightings – the latter being nearly always true for Henry Coe Park – the hike thus far has been an exciting one…

With 13 creek crossings and wildlife sightings, the hike thus far has been an exciting one.

…but that’s because it’s all been downhill to China Hole, a perfect place to swim in Summer if you don’t mind the long, hot, steep, and sweaty hillclimb out from here. Alas, even though the air temperature is rather warm, the water is already too cold for frolicking and wet-play, and all we’re doing is stripping down to our lunchbags.

China Hole is a perfect place for a Summer swim if you don’t mind the long, hot, steep and sweaty hillclimb out from here.

“I smile unto you, my Children.”
Thus uttereth a satiated Winehiker from a well-placed post-lunch promontory. And yet somehow, wine was not involved.

The winehiker surveys the scene from on high.

Mark’s sharp eye once again captures a fine moment in wildlife poseurship: this time it’s a male Dark-Eyed Junco, a common sighting all over coastal California.

A dark-eyed junco whistles overhead.

The old rancher’s grasslands spawn many oaks and many pines. This Monterey pine is more picturesque than most.

A picturesque Monterey pine.

Our Coe Park sortie dissolves, as it nearly always does, into a fine mix of food, laughter, beer, endorphins, and hilarity. Such are the wily plans of a crafty winehiker. If I recall correctly, we also shared a bottle of 2001 Lindeman’s Pyrus from Coonawarra, Australia that afternoon, and I might just have to blog about that wine. [Editor’s note: I’ve now done so.]

Our Coe Park sortie dissolves into a fine mix of food, laughter, beer, endorphins, and hilarity.

The hike was officially over, but not so the day: Mark sighted this coyote through his viewfinder…

A coyote jaywalks along the mountain road.

…and the coyote sighted Mark. Good thing Mark didn’t think this critter was a wolf!

The jaywalking coyote turns to sullenly mock us.

Glad he’s on the other side of that really stout fence
No photoessay of the hills east, north, and south of the San Francisco Bay would be complete, of course, without including its most conspicuous citizen (besides us two-legged varmints). This steer appears well-practiced at posing for photographers exiting Coe Park.

This young steer seems well-practiced at posing for the camera.

On the drive home, we cross a bridge above the junction of Coyote Creek and Anderson Reservoir above Morgan Hill. Pine Ridge is witness to our departure in the mid-afternoon distance.

A bridge above the junction of Coyote Creek and Anderson Reservoir above Morgan Hill.

A view to the west out over Anderson Reservoir is quite enchanting. In late season, this pond is more full than usual.

A view to the west over Anderson Reservoir.

Yes, it’s been a good year.

It’s been a good year of winehiking.

And thus concludes our broadcast day from Henry Coe State Park.

Thus concludes our broadcast day from Henry Coe State Park.

~winehiker

An Arachnoid Prediction for Friday the 13th

The harmless Hairy Mygalomorph

The harmless Hairy Mygalomorph.

Sunday morning, I’ll be meeting a few of my fellow hikers for coffee prior to embarking on the long and winding East Dunne grade out of Morgan Hill. From our coffee rendezvous, it will take one full hour to motor down Highway 101, up 10 twisty miles of East Dunne blacktop, and over the high ridge to the Henry Coe State Park Visitor Center.

It’s a fine drive, if you like narrow, tortuous mountain roads. When we finally get to where we’re going, we’ll have quite an expanse of state park acreage to revel in. This park is, after all, a hiker’s dream: it’s home to more than 250 miles of trails and ranch roads, deep wooded canyons, large lakes, and rolling meadowlands in its over 87,000 acres. Not to mention the little apples of the big berry Manzanita trees. (Yes, they actually are trees here in this park.) Nor the bobcats, coyotes, turkeys, mountain lions, turkey vultures, and javelinas.

Yep, we two-legged varmints will be in good company. We’re going to hike for nearly six hours Sunday, but we’ll only see a fraction of the park. If we were to spend a week, we’d still only see a fraction of it. It’s that big. And it’s anything but flat.

No matter – we’ll still soak in quite a bit of the park’s ample freedom. Our hike will take us to the site of an old mineral springs resort and to the park’s most popular swimming hole a mile farther along. Not sure we’ll swim, being that it’s now October and the nights (and probably the creek) are chilly, but the brave among us might dip a toe in for a brief exciting moment. Along the way downcanyon to the Hole, however, we’ll enjoy 13 creek crossings and survey what’s left of Madrone Soda Springs Resort, a creekside health spa that thrived during the horse and buggy era.

There’s not much left of the resort these days. The buildings and the dance pavilion were dismantled during World War II; the wood was trucked to the Central Valley where it was used to build houses during a time when wood was hard to come by. All we’ll see are a few concrete steps, fragments of the foundation, a stone cooler built into a hillside (no wine stashed in there, though – I’ve looked), and some of the larger remnants that have washed downstream.

After we arrive at the confluence of Coyote Creek, we’ll wander over to the natural pool at China Hole, which is deep enough to dive into during the early summer months – not that I would do that with my boots on. The Hole has a small, sandy beach and lots of big flat boulders for picnicking, sunning, and snoozing. In early Fall, this creekside oasis should be a great place to enjoy lunch. That is, if the ticks aren’t swarming like they did this past January.

After lunch, we’ll get serious. Needless to say, any time you venture downcanyon to a streambed, there’s only one way to go, and that’s up; the hike back up over Middle Ridge is an honorable one. It won’t hurt, however, to pause every few breaths just to enjoy the views, to the south and east, of untold distant blue ridges.

I’ll make what should be an easy prediction: now that it’s mid-October, we’ll see at least one marauding tarantula. (After all, Coe Park just held its annual TarantulaFest last weekend.) If we do see one, I hope to share a photo or two with you of the furry little bugger crawling up some lucky gal’s arm.

[Editor’s note: my prediction bore true! See my follow-up trip report.]

~winehiker

When it pops, it’s really gonna pop!

The continual March rains have hit the west coast and made a firm down payment on April. But sooner or later, Spring is finally going to arrive, and when it does, I have a feeling that California’s many species of wildflowers will unleash themselves in a colorful eye-popping frenzy much like last year’s record show.

In the meantime, the weather hasn’t kept me off the trail, no sir. In fact, I must consider myself lucky, in that I’ve somehow managed to schedule my winehiking days when there’s been a brief lull in the storm pattern.

Last Saturday was one of those days. I met a group of winehikers in Santa Clara down by the university and drove them to Henry Coe State Park, the humongous 87,000-acre natural area so close to us here in the Silicon Valley, and yet seemingly so far away when you walk its trails.

A view to the southeast from Henry Coe State Park's Flat Frog Trail.

A view to the southeast from Henry Coe State Park’s Flat Frog Trail.

Our group was happy to enjoy the path that leads northward from the Visitor Center up toward Eric’s Bench for a nice blend of oak, yellow pine, bay, and manzanita forest along with a scant few wildflowers in filaree, hound’s tongue, buttercups, and a scattering of shooting stars. Returning from the Little Fork of the Coyote River via Flat Frog Trail, a single-track trail that can often showcase the park’s best wildflowers, we realized that Spring had not yet descended upon the area, but that some of the flowers just can’t wait!

In the sparse forests and grassy meadows of Flat Frog Trail, crossing over many small seasonal streams, we saw many more shooting stars, lupines, and milkmaids, and out on the grasslands approaching the Manzanita Point Road, we saw violets, popcorn flower, many more buttercups, as well as one of my all-time favorites, the fleeting red maids.

I think it’s a simple bet that when we get a string of a few good days of warm sunshine, we’ll start seeing the likes of checker lily, chinese houses, larkspur, blue-eyed grass, and Ithuriel’s spear. I’m almost counting on it. But I’m monitoring the weather reports too.

Meanwhile, Coe Park had borne a foot of snow only 8 days before our tour, and it had left its mark along the contours of Flat Frog Trail. We must have stepped over or circumvented no less than 10 downed trees – pines, manzanita, madrone – there was almost no steep hillside that didn’t show Nature’s depradations. The trees just weren’t used to holding all that snow in their branches.

If I can have moments like this one, I'll want to have a million more.

If I can have moments like this one, I’ll want to have a million more.

Not yet satisfied after our stroll, my intrepid winehikers and I drove back down to Morgan Hill for a catered lunch at Pedrizzetti Winery, where tasting manager Stacie poured us her wares. It was warm and sunny enough to eat outside and be comfortable, so we enjoyed our feast of fruits, cheeses, salad, bruschetta, pasta marinara, and my personal favorite of the meal, charbroiled chicken with a nice garlicky sun-dried tomato cream sauce. I doff my Aussie hat to Darlene at Golden Oak Restaurant of Morgan Hill, who put on the spread. Of course, Stacie took care of us by pouring cabernet, chenin blanc, and a very light and delectable sparkling wine.

Ah, this winehikin’ stuff is fun. And the season is still young!

~winehiker