Henry W. Coe State Park
Photos by Andrea Guthrie*
“…while we may have been used to hiking long distances in other parks, the miles were much longer in Coe” Barbara Bessey on Ranger Barry Breckling, From Under My Brim
At 87,000 acres, Henry W. Coe is California’s largest State park. My Aunt and Uncle volunteered there for many years when they were living just a few miles from the park in Morgan Hill. I remember attending various picnics and family gatherings there as a child.
Today, I got lucky; my friend Andrea volunteered to drive to the park. A hiking buddy and a driver—Woo Hoo! What a treat! We initially arrived at the Hunting Hollow entrance in Gilroy. A good number of cars filled the parking lot and a group of backpackers prepared to take off on one of the longer backcountry trails; however, we decided to seek out the visitor’s center so we could get suggested hikes from the staff.
The main entrance to Henry W. Coe lies at the end of a narrow and winding road with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. The park itself consists of steep rolling hills of oak woodland and canyons, and consistently reminds me of Pooh Bear’s 100 acre wood only many times larger.
At the visitor’s center we met Ranger John Verhoeven, an open and friendly man built for hiking. Andrea and I chatted with him about the park for quite some time, and he suggested a six mile hike which he helpfully highlighted on a map; he even suggested that if we wanted to avoid steep climb at the end of the hike that we do the loop clockwise. Thank you Ranger Verhoeven for that piece of advice. When he said steep, he meant steep; it felt like wearing mountain sized stilettos on the descent. We met some folks traveling up this hill who implored us to turn around.
Lots of snags dot the region making excellent granaries for acorn woodpeckers, and the old watering holes for cattle remain as small ponds throughout the park. We saw a California striped racer and numerous bird species; wild flowers still populated some of the fields. A section of the trail travels past a grove of gigantic manzanitas and madrones.
While in the visitor’s center, I picked up a book written by long time state park Ranger Barry Breckling. The book, From Under My Brim: Stories from the California Coast Range, is a compilation of pieces he wrote for the The Ponderosa. The book details the natural and cultural history of the area, and is a fun and light read—great for kids around a campfire.
*Photo by Tova Fleming