Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Trekking: Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

A few weeks ago now I decided I needed out of the house but didn’t want to go far so I went to a trail head that I knew. But decided that I should try to get to the lake from this entrance. I have hiked around this area before a few times but have never done more than a few miles or more than the Mendoza Trail loop. The entrance I park at is the Mendoza Ranch Entrance which has free parking, but the only restroom is a port-a-potty. The Mendoza loop is great for a short 1 hour hike during a lunch break or just as a quick getaway.

This trip I did the Coyote Ridge Trail and looped back on the Valley Oak Trail. It is about 5.5 miles total. No major elevation gains, and once at the lake you can refill your water if you’re low. Also once at the lake there are picnic grounds and bathroom facilities as well as a fish cleaning station, if you are so inclined to fish there.

I was expecting the lake to be blue and beautiful. It was more a green-brown color and not so appealing. It is used mostly by people wanting to fish or jet ski or take their motorized boats for a spin. Not for sun bathing or swimming. It is not the cleanest reservoir due to the motor boats and that most of the park is a working cattle ranch.

Part of the hike I did is part of the larger Bay Area Ridge Trail system (Coyote Ridge Trail). The Bay Area Ridge Trail system is a large loop of trails through many parks that basically does a loop around the entire bay area. Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear is also the newest park in the Santa Clara County Park system, made in 2005.

The trails are moderate and are great for families who are not wilderness back country mountaineers. If you want exercise and don’t want to travel far from home to “get away”, this is a perfect place. Or if you are a novice camper... a great place to try out your camping skills. If you get scared of the squirrels and bugs, you can always drive home in minutes.

I enjoyed the hike. I am however used to the views by now so it is not breathtaking for me anymore, but don’t get me wrong, the views are gorgeous, it’s just that I have seen them a lot now. From the ridge trail you can see the southern Santa Clara Valley and the coastal range. Walking along the Valley Oak trail you are immersed in the oak woodlands walking under the canopies of Black Oaks, Valley Oaks, Blue Oaks, and Bay Laurels. In the spring there are wildflowers. On my hike, I passed one lady on her mountain bike and saw one boat and one jet skier on the lake. I saw plenty of wildlife: Deer, wild turkeys, hawks, quail, turkey vultures, and of coarse squirrels and lizards. The trails I took are well maintained, no risk of poison oak if you stay on the trails.

I did the 5.5 miles in about 2.5 hours and my camelback backpack held enough water for my trip. My only warning would be this: it is a working cattle range which means there are cows about. So when you cross a gate on the trails, please close it afterward. I’m sure the ranchers have their cows separated just the way they like them. And watch where you step. Squishing into a fresh pie may not be to your liking.
Some of my friends seem to think I'm crazy to hike by myself. When I do hike on my own, I choose places that I feel safe in. Sure bad things could happen. I could get mauled by a mountain lion or break an ankle in a hole, but those things could happen with a hiking buddy as well. I choose places that if such things do happen, help is not far away. And I don't go hiking at dawn or dusk when mountain lions are about. I'm not stupid. And I never stick earbuds in and listen to music when I'm out there. The natural world sends out messages, and I need to hear them and so do you.

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