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In the green hills southeast of San Jose, a giant ranch-park.

In the green hills southeast of San Jose, a giant ranch-park

"Sierra del Chasco,' de Anza's men called the mountains that make up much of Henry W. Coe State Park. "The mountains of the joke.' Small wonder. In April 1776, the Spanish explorer was seeking a short-cut to Monterey when he crossed this portion of the Diablo Range. Far from finding an easy path, he met three days' worth of ridges and canyons.

You may echo de Anza's words as you huff and puff the trails in this park east of Morgan Hill. Some are steep enough to make one ranger warn against hiker's hubris: "We tell people coming in, if they want to do an 8-mile hike to consider doing a 6-mile hike.'

Still, the up-and-down, pine- and oak-shaded terrain is lovely, and its very rigor lets you put yourself in de Anza's shoes and feel you're the first person to tred this landscape. So does the park's size: after Anza-Borrego, Coe is the largest state park in California. As you look east from park headquarters, virtually all that you see--ridge after ridge shading from green to slate blue to smoky gray--lies within the park boundaries and waits to be explored. This month's wildflower display is an extra enticement.

From ranchalands to parklands

Coe is named for a pioneer rancher whose daughter Sada in 1953 donated the 13,000 acres that formed the park's original nucleus. In 1980, the state purchased the Coit, Thomas, and Gill-Mustang properties, which expanded the park to 67,029 acres; a new management plan designates about 22,000 acres of the addition as wilderness.

Eventually, the eastern acreage may be made more accessible by a road in from Pacheco Pass. But for now, it's reached only by a long backpack in from the west. From U.S. 101 at Morgan Hill, follow E. Dunne Avenue 13 miles east to the park entrance (fees are $2 for day use, $3 for overnight). At park headquarters, nearby, exhibits show what ranch life was like in the 1880s, when the Coe family raised cattle here.

Day-hikes: with or without guide

Trail maps and natural history books are available at park headquarters. You might want to bone up on wildflowers, for with any luck you see lots of them this month: gilia, goldfields, hound's tongue, johnny jump-up, lupine, owl's clover.

Loop hike to Frog Lake, Middle Ridge.

This 6 1/2-mile loop is one of the most popular walks in the park. You begin your ascent immediately behind park headquarters, rising to Pine Ridge, where a short trail to the right leads to a monument to Henry Coe and the neighboring memorial ponderosa pine. Much of the trail is shaded by enormous manzanitas, which have grown to unusual size partly because the soil and climate are very favorable to them and partly because no fires have swept through to clear them.

You then descend steeply to the Little Fork of Coyote Creek and to Frog Lake, one of the small reservoirs left from when Coe was a ranch. Anyone with a California fishing license can try for bass and bluegill here, though you may have better luck at ponds father east. (The Middle Fork of Coyote Creek, one ridge over from Frog Lake, also supports trout; the season opens Saturday, April 26.)

After Frog Lake, you climb Middle Ridge, which offers views into the newer portion of the park. Proceed southeast about a mile, looking for wildflowers as you go, then turn southwest on Fish Trail. In many places, you'll see evidence of another park inhabitant: the holes and furrows in these slopes are the work of wild pigs, descendants of European boars imported for hunting and occasionally cursed as "nature's Rototillers' for the thoroughness with which they dig in the ground for grubs.

The trail recrosses the Little Fork of Coyote Creek and climbs back Pine Ridge to join the road back to headquarters; or you can head back via the Corral Trail.

Guided hikes. If you'd like to explore Coe with knowledgeable guides, the park's volunteer-staffed Pine Ridge Association sponsors hikes. These set off at 1 each Saturday and Sunday now through the July 4 weekend, starting from headquarters; in April and May, the Sunday walks are devoted to wildflowers. There are also nighttime programs Saturdays at 8, plus some additional hikes; for information, call (408) 779-2728.

Car campers will find 20 sites near park headquarters, available on a first-come basis. The original portion of the park also contains 31 backpacking camps; closest to headquarters is one at Frog Lake. Most are near water (boil or purify it before use). You'll also have to bring a stove, as gathering wood is prohibited in the park.

For backpackers, horsemen, even cyclists: trips deeper into the park

Though the western edge of park gets the most use, it's the new section of Henry Coe that gives it its sense of spaciousness. You can hike a long way here; a hike from headquarters to the park's eastern edge could take you 20 miles one way, traversing rolling ranchland that is to some eyes a little dull, but which holds Robinson and Orestimba creeks--pretty places to camp.

A more reasonable goal for the weekend backpacker might be one of the trail camps around Coit and Mississippi lakes and near Pacheco Creek, each of them a little more than 10 miles east of headquarters. In return for your hiking effort, you get more solitude than you can expect closer to headquarters; fishermen will also find better fishing.

Because the park is large and crisscrossed by ranch roads, it's also popular among horsemen and mountain bicyclists. (So far these two constituencies haven't been much in conflict.) At the four horse camps, fee is $6 per night plus $1 per horse. Especially popular with bicyclists are the 12-mile road to Poverty Flat and the more demanding 15-mile, not-for-novices Blue Ridge Loop.

Backpackers must obtain permits (free) at park headquarters.

Photo: Oak-framed vistas of southern end of Diablo Range are the backdrop at Henry Coe park campsite

Photo: Second largest California state park, Coe runs across Santa Clara County line (dashed line) eastward into Stanislaus County. Original park (shaded) has been enlarged to 67,029 acres

Photo: Ranch museum tells of days when cattle, not campers, roamed Coe's hills

Photo: Handful of bluegill at Frog Lake; other creek and reservoir swimmers include bass, rainbow trout

Photo: Purple owl's clover is part of April-May wildflower show
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Henry W. Coe State Park
Publication:Sunset
Date:Apr 1, 1986
Words:1081
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