Coyote Lake – Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

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This hike was in the South Bay, in the hills just northeast of Gilroy, in the Coyote Lake – Harvey Bear Ranch County Park.  The trail I hiked currently comprises the most southeasterly segment of the Bay area Ridge Trail.

The morning of the hike the temperature was 55° and there was a fairly dense fog layer over the Coyote Valley.  As I drove to the trailhead I wondered what kind of a picture day it would be.  It was hard to imagine that the afternoon high temperature forecast was in the mid-80’s.  Having already invested an hour in the drive, I continued with my plan to start at the Mendoza Ranch entrance to the park.  As I left my car (around 9am), the picture on the left is how the beginning of the trail looked; the picture on the right was taken at the end of the hike about 3:45 hours later.

picture of trailhead area at the beginning and end of the hike (left and right, respectively)

Trailhead area at the beginning and end of the hike (left and right, respectively)

Like most of my hikes, this was an out-and-back hike.  But unlike many others, the total length of the hike was significantly less than twice the length of a point-to-point hike on the official Bay Area Ridge Trail segment, because I could omit hiking a 2.6-mile connector trail through the Harvey Bear Ranch at the north end of the segment.

GPS track

GPS track

The Bay Area Ridge Trail segment primarily follows the Coyote Ridge Trail.  About 0.7 mile from the trailhead there are two benches and a plaque that have been placed as a touching memorial of the crash of a small airplane carrying 2 adults and 2 children.  Since the benches face an otherwise unremarkable hillside, one can only imagine that the crash occurred near that location.  (The roughly parallel Mummy Mountain Trail appears to go over the top of the hill toward which the benches face.)

Although the trail rolls a bit, just enough that you know you are gaining and losing a bit of elevation, the total range of elevation is only about 250 feet.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The nearby hillsides are dotted with oak trees, some of which are magnificent specimens.

photo of a magnificent oak tree

Magnificent oak tree

At several locations I was treated to views across the Coyote Valley.  This “before-and-after” pair illustrates how the fog concentrates in the valley before burn-off.

image of Coyote Valley, initially obscured by fog and later clearly visible

Coyote Valley, initially obscured by fog and later clearly visible

After about a mile and a half, Coyote Lake starts to come into view.  There are several spots with nice viewing opportunities.  Here is another before-and-after pair.  On the outbound trip the fog was beginning to rise up off the surface of the lake.  Since this was my first visit to the park, I had to wait until my return trip to see the hills on the other side of the lake.  Remarkably, only about an hour and a quarter elapsed between my two visits to this viewpoint.  Once the fog burn-off gets going, it can proceed very quickly!

photo of two views of Coyote Lake taken only an hour and a quarter apart

Two views of Coyote Lake taken only an hour and a quarter apart

Here is a picture of the hills to the northeast (across the lake) just as the fog was starting to break up, perhaps 15 minutes after the previous picture on the left.

photo of he fog just starting to break up and dissipate

The fog is just starting to break up and dissipate

The trail kind of goes back and forth between the lake and valley sides of the ridge.  At one point I noticed a fence down the hillside, and I realized that it was parallel to a road on the valley floor (San Martin Avenue).  And if I stopped in the right location I could line up the fence and the road perfectly.

image of an optical illusion: fence as an extension of the road

Optical illusion: fence as an extension of the road

There were several gates as the trail passes in and out of active grazing land.  This cow seemed to be as curious about me as I was about her.

image of cow with hay on the vine: yum!

Hay on the vine: yum!

The north end of the Bay Area Ridge Trail segment is at the north end of the Coyote Ridge Trail where it tees into the Harvey Bear Trail.  After reaching this junction I retraced my trip to the trailhead.  Along the way I was reminded that I’d gotten an early start specifically in order to avoid anticipated heavy traffic to the Gilroy Garlic Festival, which was taking place all weekend.  On my return to the trailhead I could see the bumper-to-bumper traffic on US-101 – about 3 miles from my vantage point – heading south from San Jose and the Bay Area.  I allowed myself to feel a little smug that I had successfully avoided the festival traffic!

picture of bumper-to-bumper traffic headed for the Gilroy Garlic Festival

Bumper-to-bumper traffic headed for the Gilroy Garlic Festival

Looking across the green valley floor and to the south, I could imagine that I could see to Hollister and the Gabilan Range, with remnants of the overnight fog peeking over the hilltops.

photo of view south along the Coyote Valley toward Hollister and the Gabilan Range

View south along the Coyote Valley toward Hollister and the Gabilan Range

This turned out to be an outstanding hike, visually, in contrast to my concerns at the start.  I feel fortunate that the fog cleared shortly before I reached my turnaround point, so I was able to enjoy clearer views on my return trip, as well as some unique before-and-after comparisons.

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