Indian warriors, wildflowersMy enthusiasm for hiking San Jose area trails is still outstripping my ability to actually hike them. I’m pretty much the least fit member of my hiking group, but that didn’t stop me from signing up for what was billed as a “moderate” hike at Henry W. Coe State Park. The big lure was seeing the bloom of Indian Warriors. Well, I can see those any time with less than a mile hike from the barn in Sonoma. But I was intrigued to see the park, which, surprisingly, is the second largest park in California, surpassed only by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It also has the reputation of being one of the toughest parks to hike. After we were several miles out on the trail and there was no easy turning back, our fearless leader informed us that regular Yosemite hikers consider Henry Coe much tougher terrain. Coe also has the historical lure, for me at least, of being part of the historic De Anza Trail, the path the Spanish took around 1774 up from Mexico to found San Francisco. Surely, if they routed themselves through Henry Coe, they were going out of their way to find the toughest terrain, given that they could have jogged easily up the flat Santa Clara Valley just to the West. A more logical use for Coe was as an alleged hideout for famed bandit and model for Zorro, Joaquin Murietta, that is if he actually existed.

In any case, Coe is steep ridges and deep ravines. There is no flat land. You hike up, you scramble down, mostly on narrow deer paths. Add to that our fearless leader, Dave, who also happens to be a docent at Henry Coe, kept the group moving briskly. Even more amazing, Alan, who had to be the oldest member of our group was blazing ahead at a blistering pace. Every time I made it to what I thought would surely be the top of a ridge, there was the tiny figure of Alan disappearing over the horizon 200 feet above me.

alan, hiking Henry Coe park

Here is an amazing picture of Alan because he’s sitting down! After awhile, I stopped worrying about collapsing. I figured Alan would be able to pick me up and carry me back to the trailhead without breaking a sweat.

So, in short, Henry W. Coe is hard, hard, hard. And the trails we took are deemed to be the “easiest”. But it is so worth it. Even if you just drive up the windy road to the Park Headquarters on Dunne Road. Do that and you’ll see amazing ranchland, wildflowers, gorges and, at the top, magnificent views. Coe Park also has no non-native stands of trees so the landscape looks pretty much as it would have in De Anza’s day.

One of the relatively flat bits. But this was on top of the ridge after a hard climb.

One of the relatively flat bits. But this was on top of the ridge after a hard climb. Except it wasn’t hard for Alan, who is out front.

More typically, the trails looked like this. Only steeper.

More typically, the trails looked like this. Only steeper.

Still, we were rewarded by views like this. I'm told, on a clear day, you can see Yosemite's Half Dome.

Still, we were rewarded by views like this. I’m told, on a clear day, you can see Yosemite’s Half Dome.

At Henry Coe, you are so far up, there are Ponderosa Pines.

At Henry Coe, you are so far up, there are Ponderosa Pines.

We came to see Indian Warriors and we saw an amazing display of them all along the highest trail.

We came to see Indian Warriors and we saw an amazing display of them along Manzanita lined trails.

The Indian Warriors were on the warpath everywhere!

The Indian Warriors were on the warpath everywhere!

Also my favorite, Henderson's Shooting Star. Which everyone knows is a "perky little charmer".

Also my favorite, Henderson’s Shooting Star. Which everyone knows is a “perky little charmer”.

The only things non-native around here were the turkeys, a few wild pigs, and some bullfrogs at Frog Lake.

The only things non-native around here were the turkeys, a few wild pigs, and some bullfrogs at Frog Lake.

Amazingly, near the end of the hike, some of us could still smile.

Amazingly, near the end of the hike, some of us could still smile.

It was great to get to the top. And indulge my new-found discovery of the panorama feature on my camera.

It was great to get to the top. And indulge my new-found discovery of the panorama feature on my camera.

You might even see a Mountain Lion. At the small but interesting museum at the Park Headquarters.

You might even see a Mountain Lion. At the small but interesting museum at the Park Headquarters.

The Deets

Park: Henry W. Coe State Park

The Trails: Up Monument Trail, a brief side trip along the Ponderosa Trail, before descending Hobbs Road to Frog Lake. Then Frog Lake Trail to the Middle Ridge Trail, return to the trailhead via the Fish Trail and the Corral Trail

Best: Absolutely stunning views and a “wild” feeling as you walk along deer paths

Worst: Lung-burning climbs and knee jarring descents.

Facilities: Nice facilities and an interesting little museum at the Park Headquarters.

Why I’ll Go Back: The most beautiful park I’ve been to so far with a wild, uncivilized feel.

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