San Luis Reservoir shines in the mid-day sun

We know this tree made a sound when it fell

A creek on the road to Uvas Canyon, west of Morgan Hill

Hiking & Hockey

San Luis Reservoir, Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Henry Coe State Park,
Uvas Canyon, San Jose Sharks - January 24 - 27, 2017


Photos           Related Links          More Travel Reports


Westbound          Henry Coe State Park          Uvas Canyon

Sharks vs. Oilers          Eastbound


Westbound: Every year I try to attend a San Jose Sharks hockey game, usually with my grandsons. This year we planned our trip for the game against the Edmonton Oilers on January 26. It would be Johnny and his wife Brittany, Mikie and his girlfriend Lizzie, and myself.

In the early years it was just Mikie and I, and we would stay overnight in a motel in Morgan  Hill. When Johnny started going, he would drive, and we would return after the game, due to school or work obligations.

This year I decided to partly revive the old tradition, driving over by myself a day or two before the game, and doing some hiking in Henry Coe State Park, east of Morgan Hill in the Diablo Range. I've been wanting to explore this park for a number of years. During my advance preparation I looked up "things to see and do" in Gilroy and Morgan Hill. Most of them were wineries, which hold no interest for me, but I found three museums and a county park that offered good hiking in the hills west of the city.

I made reservations at the Quality Inn in Morgan Hill, one of the motels Mikie and I had stayed in previously. It hasn't been improved in the ten years since I was last there; the quality is in name only.

The way to San Jose is north on State 99, west on State 152 through Los Banos and over historic Pacheco Pass, then north on US 101. The state road joins 101 at Gilroy, then it's about five miles to Morgan Hill, and another 25 to downtown San Jose. It was mostly sunny from home to the place where Highway 33 joins 152 from the south, then I got into fog. Visibility was good most of the time, although there were a few thick spots where slower speeds were required.

Highway 152 goes by the San Luis Reservoir, a large "off-stream" storage lake where the road starts up hill from the San Joaquin Valley, and it was sunny from this point on. Most of the water here comes from northern California through the California Aqueduct and the Delta-Mendota Canal. Thanks to a record rain year, everything there is green, and the lake is nearly full - a special delight since it was at a historic low of 10% capacity only last year. I made the first stop of my trip at the Romero Visitor Center, which offers displays explaining the California Water Project, as well as views of the lake and hills (and not coincidentally, a bathroom).

I took some photos of the water, trees and green hills, then went another mile or so and stopped for more pictures beside the road where I had a good view down into one of the many small canyons that run into the lake.

I had plenty of time before my 3 p.m. check-in, and had decided to visit the Gilroy Museum. I have driven through Gilroy on the highways many times in the last 20 years, but had not been in the downtown area for decades. I followed my GPS instructions into the old part of town, where I recognized an old building with a clock tower that I had seen when I changed buses near there on my way to Fort Ord for basic training in 1962.

It was not far from there to the museum, which is located in the old Dale Carnegie Library, dating back to the early 20th century. Among the things I learned there was that the building with the clock was originally the city hall, and is now a restaurant. I also found out where the name "Gilroy" came from. John Gilroy was born in Scotland in 1794, and arrived in Monterey in 1814. He learned Spanish, became a Catholic and Spanish citizen, and eventually worked his way north to what is now the Santa Clara Valley. He worked at a ranch there, married the boss's daughter, Maria Ortega, and had 17 children. How could the town NOT have  been given his name?

The woman who greeted me when I entered the building was also part of the history of Gilroy. Betty went to work for the telephone company when she finished high school in 1947, earning 49 cents per hour. In the museum there is an old-style switchboard, and on the wall next to it a photo of Betty and other operators seated in front of a similar board in 1949.

After looking over artifacts from the past and displays of photos and other information, I got back on US 101 for the short drive north to Morgan Hill. I got settled into my room, and heated some leftover takeout in the microwave for my supper. I took a short walk down the street in front, through an area that includes a soccer complex, an aquatic park, a mobile home dealership, a Harley dealership, and at least six other motels. I spent most of the evening getting caught up on reading, and got to bed early to be ready for my big hike of the next day.


Henry Coe State Park: The temperature got down below freezing overnight, and when I left at 9:15, I actually had to scrape ice off the windows of my car. Finding the way to the park was easy - the first street north of my motel was Dunne, which goes all the way across Morgan Hill and right into the park. The trip  was short in distance but long in time. The road rises 2,000 feet in elevation in only ten miles, on a steep, narrow, winding road where the  usual safe speed is 20 MPH. It was also a very scenic drive, past a lake and a waterfall, through canyons filled with oaks, bay, madrone and other trees. Because of the heavy rains, there have been slides all along the road. Everything had been cleaned up, but I could see where dirt had washed down in places as much as 100 feet long.

I arrived at the park entrance and visitor center, situated at about 2,200 feet, and parked where I had a fantastic view of hills to the south, or maybe southeast. I always forget I have a compass in my car. I talked with the ranger on duty about the trails I thought would be best for me, and was advised that there are some wet spots, and maybe a tree down across the trail. The entrance fee was $8, so I decided to buy an annual state park pass, since three park visits will more than pay for the $20 cost.

Where I arrived at the park is the Coe Ranch entrance. There are a number of other entry points, some of them open only in certain months. I'd like to check out the Dowdy Entrance, which goes in from Highway 152 near Casa de Fruita, at the bottom of the grade below Pacheco Pass. This would be about 30 miles closer to home, but it's only open weekends from May to September.

My route was to be a loop on the Forest Trail and Spring Trail, which are reached by first taking the Corral Trail right across the road from the visitor center. This trail runs along the southwestern contours of Pine Ridge for a half mile, mostly through shady, heavily wooded terrain, crossing several creeks. It comes out to a more open area with valley oaks and blue oaks just before the junction with several other trails. You can take the Spring Trail to the right, or cross the dirt Manzanita Point Road, where there are three choices - the Fish Trail, the Flat Frog Trail (very temping just for the name), and the Forest Trail. It is called "Grand Junction," but maybe it should be 3-F Junction.

As planned, I took the Forest Trail to the right, first picking up a copy of the trail guide that identifies trees and plants marked by numbered posts along the way. I immediately left the grassy oak savannah and entered a shady area of large and small trees and bushes. One off the more interesting aspects of this hike was seeing the huge bay trees. In the Sierra foothills we call them bayleaf, and they are small, multi-trunk bushes, rarely more than 20 feet tall. In the mountains near the coast and in northern California;, bay trees may have a base six or eight feet in diameter, with several large trunks a foot in diameter rising up 50 feet or more.

Another typical sight in this terrain is the red trunks of madrone trees. When I first saw them back in the early 1970s I thought they were a type of manzanita, and they are related. Both trees have reddish brown bark, and both shed bark in strips in the summer. Madrones, however, have large trunks and grow to as much as 80 feet in height, while manzanita is more like a bush. Even so, in this area and some other places I've been, there are some extra large examples of the latter. Other frequent trees along this trail are black oaks, live oaks, bull pines and a few ponderosas. Ponderosas rarely appear below 3,500 feet in the Sierra, but it's believed the moister coastal air in the Diablo Range allows them to survive here.

The Forest Trail runs high up along the canyon of Coyote Creek, the main drainage of these mountains, and I was told at the visitor center that it has been up to 40 feet across in some areas. Fourteen inches of rain will do that. The trails I was on do not get close to the creek, but I presume all the small streams I crossed run into it.

The trail was relatively level throughout, with some gentle ups and downs, but never any steep sections. It was also very narrow, making it difficult sometimes to place my hiking poles. It was also virtually deserted. I believe I saw four other solo hikers, and a group of five or six on the entire route.

Just before crossing Manzanita Point Road again and meeting with the Spring Trail, the Forest Trail emerges from the deep woods into more open, grassy terrain, again with many blue and valley oaks. There are a number of large oaks that have lost a big branch or two, some that have fallen, and some that are dead but still standing. In every condition they area a delightful part of the scenery.

At one place along the Spring Trail I passed by what I thought of as a "tilted meadow." This was a grassy slope above the trail, with water running and seeping on to the trail in several places. Water-loving plants like dock were growing along the edge. This is obviously one of the springs that gives the trail its name.

There are benches along the trails in several places, and I took advantage of one to rest, then set up my mini-tripod on it and took a photo of myself on the trail. After putting the tripod away in my backpack, I was forced to get it out again to get a photo of myself standing beside a huge fallen oak tree.

From this spot it was only a short walk to my final trail junction, the one I had passed near the start of my hike, so I was back on the Corral Trail with only a half mile to go. It's a truism of hiking that you will notice something going one way on a trail that you missed going the other way. This included several plants I read about and saw in the Forest Trail guide, including toyon, whose red berries cause it to be called holly in some parts of California. When I'm on a "one-way" trail, I try to remember this "two way" rule and turn around. You should also look to the right and left, and up once in a while.

When I got back to the trailhead, I went first to my car and changed out of my boots. I went into the visitor center and bought two magnets and a copy of the Forest Trail guide book, which proved very helpful in writing this report. With a walk of 3.85 miles, I felt I had put in a long, hard day of fun. However, looking at the map of only the Coe Ranch area, my trail covered a tiny fraction of that section, and my map showed maybe one fourth of the entire park.

There was quite a bit more traffic on the road back down, probably due to the people who live in these hills returning from work in the city. I made one stop, by the Oak Flat Ranch. This is about the only place that is close to level along this road. There are big, gently rolling meadows, and old ranch buildings set up against the hills that rise to the east. Of course, I did not actually step onto the ranch property, but I had a good view from the road.

I had eaten a fairly good breakfast, and had a snack on the trail, but by the time I got to the bottom of the hill I was quite hungry. I had my phone locate the nearest Denny's, and instructed my car's GPS to guide me there. I had a chicken and sausage skillet dinner, which was enough to also provide my lunch for the next day.



Uvas Canyon: Since I would not have to leave for the hockey game till about 6:30 Thursday, I had searched for another place to hike during the day. West of Morgan Hill in the Santa Cruz Mountains is Uvas Canyon County Park, a drive of only thirteen miles from my motel. It had a fairly long loop trail, but I could just hike as far as I wanted then turn back.

Once I got out of the city, the drive led through green rolling hills, with oaks and small creeks just like the other side of the valley. However, when I got to the last turn, Croy Road, there was a sign saying that Uvas Park was closed to all users. It was another four miles from there to the park entrance, so I decided to drive as far as I could.

This proved to be a good choice, since I was soon enjoying views of Uvas Creek, a very large, rushing stream, lined with oak, madrone and coast redwoods. I stopped to take pictures where Croy Creek, another good size stream, crossed the road and joined Uvas Creek. This was also the site of a slide that had not been cleaned up yet, with mud and tree branches covering almost all of one lane. Traffic was very light, so getting past it was no problem.

Eventually I came to the barricaded park entrance and turned around, enjoying the drive through the same terrain in the opposite direction.

With lots of time left in the day, I decided to go to the Morgan Hill Museum, a quest that turned into a comedy of errors and frustration. At the location given on the web site there was no museum, but I was right by the civic center, so I went into the Chamber of Commerce office to see what I could learn. They said there was no museum in that area, although there was a historical house. The museum was "somewhere" on Monterey Avenue.

Back in my car I finally located an alternate address, and found the museum. Would it surprise you at this point to learn that it was closed?

Having learned more than I had planned about the layout of the City of Morgan Hill, I returned to my motel, heated up the previous night's leftovers, and had a late lunch. The rest of the day was spent resting and reading and looking forward to the game.



Sharks vs. Oilers

Back of the days of Wayne Gretzky, the Edmonton Oilers won four Stanley Cup Championships (plus one more after he was traded). In recent years they have become bottom feeders, which means high draft picks, and they selected first in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015, and in the top seven for 2013 and 2014. This embarrassment of talent didn't lead to a playoff spot until (probably) this year. With Connor McDavid, the 2015 pick, leading the way, they have been in the top three of their division most of the season. This high rank is also "Sharks Territory," so a game between the two teams can make it possible for one of them to move up a spot past the other in the standings.

The rest of my party was driving over after work/school and we planned to meet at our seats inside. I arrived 45 minutes before game time, and the parking lot was full, only the second time that has happened. There was equally expensive parking right across the street, so it was not a long walk to get in. The others arrived just before the opening face-off, and we settled in for what we hoped would be the Sharks 7th straight victory. They have won at least 2/3 of the games we've attended, but this was to be the exception. The Sharks scored first, but that was the end of their offensive success, and Edmonton put in a total of four, the last one into an empty net.

Despite the loss, we all enjoyed the game and getting together. After slowly making out way out along with the other 17,000 fans, we went in opposite directions to our cars. They did not get home till 1:30 a.m., while I was back at the motel and in bed long before that.



The breakfast at my motel left a lot to be desired, but I had brought some food of my own. On Friday I took three slices of French bread down to the dining area, toasted it, and picked up some butter. I then enjoyed a breakfast of fruit and leftover cold cocoa in my room.

Since I had nothing on my schedule, I didn't leave till about 10:30, and made a couple of photo stops along the way. A few miles east of Gilroy there is a large area of water, source unknown. I have seen it up to the road like this before, but not for maybe 15 years. Usually it's a small, distant pond. I stopped and got pictures of this "lake," as well as a couple of old barns.

After I got over Pacheco Pass, I pulled off in a large dirt turnout beside the highway where people park to walk down to San Luis Reservoir. There is a trail that parallels the lake, but I walked up a path that went up and around a hill, then made my way down the other side. Here I joined the level trail, and walked back to the car, enjoying the sight of the first wildflowers of the season.

Although I was ready to get home as soon as possible by this time, I knew I was out of certain food items, so I practiced self-discipline and went to the grocery store first.

I enjoyed the entire trip, and will definitely be returning to Henry Coe State Park again.


--Dick Estel, February 2017


Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window) 


Clouds and green  hills
at San Luis Reservoir

One of many little canyons
leading into the reservoir
Gilroy Museum sign
The museum, a former
Dale Carnegie Library
A long time before cell phones! Morgan Hill from a
mile up Dunne Avenue 
Small waterfall along Dunne Bay leaves Bridge on the Corral Trail
near Henry Coe visitor center

The wet climate produces thick moss

One of many creeks along the trail

Ridge to the west of the Corral Trail

Lots of blue oaks

A hiker passes under a big valley oak

Another view of the tree
Where decisions must be made The start of the Forest Trail These flowers were
common along the trails
A huge manzanita specimen Looking across at the Fish Trail

Bay trees reach a
huge size in this area

There are ferns everywhere Madrone trunks The top of a madrone
Some of the oaks are leafing out Branches on a fallen
oak become new trees

Coyote bush beside the Spring Trail

Looking to the south Afternoon sun streaks this row of ridges

The park headquarters
from out on the Spring Trail

Dick contemplating the
view on a delightful day
We know this tree made
a sound when it fell
Colorful trunk of a dead oak
Most of the trail is narrow
and runs along steep hillsides
A gooey looking fungus Maidenhair fern
Toyon, often called holly The view from the visitor center Oak Flat Ranch, dating back to 1877
Oak Flat is the ONLY flat
place on the road to the park
A creek on the road to Uvas
Canyon, west of Morgan Hill
A gnarly old blue oak
Slides were frequent on
all the roads in the hills

Where Croy Creek
runs into Uvas Creek

Lake or flooding west of Gilroy
Barn along Highway 152 Where a little creek runs
into San Luis Reservoir
Rock along the trail near the reservoir
The first wild flowers of the season San Luis Reservoir shines in the mid-day sun Wind turbines on a ridge above the reservoir
My walk was the green loop
marked on the left center
Enlarged view of the area where I hiked Trail forks at Grand Junction
Related Links
San Luis Reservoir 2016 San Luis water level More about San Luis
Gilroy Gilroy Museum Morgan  Hill
Henry Coe State Park Diablo Range Pacheco Pass
California Aqueduct Madrone Trees Uvas Canyon County Park
San Jose Sharks Romero Visitor Center  

Madrone trunks

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