Wild Recovery
San Jose, California
Full Moon Hike
Henry W. Coe State Park
Bell Station Entrance
August 16, 2008
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April photo (and a half-moon) of the view from the high ground near Dowdy Ranch, looking south.  It is always beautiful, but it is a challenge to predict the weather at any season because it is so close to Pacheco Pass.  We would think of warm nighttime temperatures for a mid-August hike, but you never know: sometimes the wind can come roaring up the pass from off the ocean, blowing unguyed tents flat and becoming downright chilly in exposed locations..  We'll situate ourselves accordingly, but the kind of clothes that can cope with warm temperatures or chilly winds can be a big help to you.

Full Moon Hike
Henry W. Coe State Park
Bell Station Entrance/ Dowdy Ranch

August 16, 2008

The Occasion, The Place

A popular Wild Recovery tradition is transplanted to a new location, within the same park, this year.  The Full Moon hike has always been wildly popular with newcomers.  One may suppose that, being with your recovery buddies, hiking under the sunset in the backcountry, enjoying a meeting as the full moon rises, and hiking back under its gorgeous silver illumination has something both exciting and cozy about it.  Yet, some have not found the return hike, a good uphill pull at the end of the night, so cozy.  We thought we would spare the newcomers, somewhat, this year and yet take them into the fresh and delicious air of recovery, outside the church basement, without running them into the ground the very first time out.

The newly opened Visitor Center at Dowdy Ranch allows for more flexibility in the choice of a hiking route that will scale well to the abilities that both our new, and more experienced members bring.  It takes us to a less-frequented part of Coe Park which is a truly beautiful area comprising the inner marches of Coe Park's famous and coveted Backcountry Weekend.  It is a longer drive to reach the entrance at Bell Station, then another six-and-a-half miles, uphill, on a winding dirt road that has a rightfully-posted speed limit of 25 MPH and because of the dust and road surface, it may be smart to drive more slowly than that.  Dowdy  is impossible to miss once you get on the road: it's the end of the road.

An afternoon shot, this time looking north toward Walsh Peak.  If we looked a little further into the top of the frame, into the hazy area, we could see part of the burn area from the fire of 2007, which burned the face off half the park.  If you wished to arrive earlier in the day before the moonlight hike, you could hike either within sight, or right into the burn zone.  In many places it is recovering well, already, with fire-adapted plants making a good comeback.  However, our regular hike will not take us into the burn zone.  

For those who wish to camp overnight, Dowdy offers a level area with picnic tables off the large parking lot, or you may hike in to camp, near or far.  There are restrooms with flush toilets, and hot showers.  Camp stoves are allowed, but no campfires.  Though some may see this as a downside, the truth is that with half the State of California already on fire this very dry season, it is greatly doubtful that open fires would have been allowed at the previous location either.  But, keep reading--- we have a solution.

You might like to camp at Dowdy Ranch, which for this event (though not regularly) offers drive-up camping and so it will be easy to do.  On the other hand, if you come prepared to backpack, even minimally, there are some wonderfully charming spots within a short hike.  This kind of camping is permitted regularly, so you could do it any time the Dowdy is open... or, if you can hike in, the park is never really closed to camping except in dire emergencies.  The rules are the same: camp stoves are permitted, campfires are not.  

Dowdy is normally not available for overnight camping and has been provided to us by special arrangement.  There are trash cans, but we are asked carry our own trash out as much as possible, as is the case with almost any backcountry park.  The Parking and Day Use fee is $5.00 per car, please bring enough cash to meet this modest expense.  Camping for Saturday night only is available for $10.00 per peson. Please contact our treasurer Diane T. (831) 462-0262 for reservations.

It will be very helpful, tactically and financially (both for you and the group), if you are able to carpool, within your margin of comfort... considering the length of the trip, the dirt road, and the fact that you may have camping gear.  But, with a couple of people in the car, the gas will be more affordable and you can split the cost of going through a car wash on the way home.  Your writer humbly suggests you just plan on it.  You'll see the value of this suggestion at the park's exit.

These wildflower species will not be blooming in mid-August, but you may recognize the entrance to Dowdy Ranch Day Use Area anyway from the split-rail fences.  If the Dowdy Visitor Center is open, which is only somewhat likely, you can buy a map of the park, highly recommended if you think to make any kind of a hike into the backcountry.  Never enter the backcountry without a map on your person, and it helps to have a compass in these highly-dissected canyons and drainages where directional clues can be harder to see.  Maps are available by mail order from the Coe Park website: www.coepark.org , from the Visitor Center at the main entrance in Morgan Hill, and at certain bookstores and backcountry outfitters.  

Getting There

From San Jose, take 101 South to Gilroy.  Take 152/156 East (Pacheco Pass Highway).  Beware of taking the wrong exit and going west toward Hecker Pass; if you find yourself headed toward Mt. Madonna, through downtown Gilroy, turn around.  Now, this end of Pacheco Pass Highway is very scenic, but can be somewhat of a problem to drive and the traffic can be quite slow.  There are only two lanes, there is road construction, and getting past the turnoff to Hollister, which crosses your path, can be time-consuming.  Allow two hours for this trip and you will  probably have some time to spare.  On the other hand, you could be in quite a pinch if you cut it too close.  However, we made an error in the advance information  when we said the park gates close at 6:00 PM.  Actually, they close at sunset, which is closer to 8:30 in August.  However, our hike will start at 7:00.  If you're late, at least you can get in the gate.

After the exit at Casa de Fruita Parkway, Highway 152 widens to four lanes.  About 5½ or 6 miles past Casa de Fruta, you will see an eroded volcanic throat on your right ( a knocker, if you  were to ask a geologist), which is the landmark for the Bell Station entrance to Coe Park, on the left.  There is a generous left turn lane, and from the road you can see a closed restaurant called "Bell Station Restaurant."  It's a dangerous turn all the same; you have to cross the fast-moving lanes of downhill traffic, which couldn't stop if they wanted to.  After you make the left turn, you will be able to see the park entrance sign, and can pull over into the small parking lot, where there are restrooms.  Pacheco Pass Highway used to be a toll road, and Bell Station is generally where the toll house was.  Before that, it was an Indian trail and trade route.

At this point, where you enter the park, the road changes to gravel and dirt, nicely engineered but only two lanes.  Initially, as it goes uphill fairly steeply, the road has some washboarding.  There are different schools of thought about how best to drive a road in this condition, but it is probably easier on your car, shocks, and butt to go more slowly.  Once the grade lessens, the road becomes smoother.  6
½ miles later, you will come to the Dowdy Ranch entrance, with a closed gate barring further travel down the road.

It would be difficult to overstate the need for caution and courtesy to other drivers when using this road.  Roaring down the track, raising a big rooster-tail of dust, and tailgating the next guy can really mess up your car and air filter, and possibly lead you into an accident on the steep grades and blind curves.  This is especially true coming down the grade, when you return home.  Do not be tempted to floor the accelerator, it can be quite hard to stop on the downgrades (the tires can't bite on the road surface, you just slide).  

This view looks south and east from the high point before the Dowdy.

The Hike

The hike will begin from Dowdy Ranch parking lot at 7:00 PM.  Remember, the park gates at Bell Station will be locked at sunset, so you have time to save yourself if the trip to the park doesn't go smoothly, but the hike will start at the scheduled time, with you or without you.  The map will help you catch up, if necessary.

Go downhill from the parking lot entrance, on the main road, for a couple of hundred feet.  The trailhead is on the left side of the road.  This is a shady single-track , which passes a little cut-off that leads to a small stock pond fed by a spring from further up the hill.  It is unlikely to have much water at this season, but this is the kind of environment, and the time of day, that mosquitoes like, so you might like to have on your 100% DEET.  In April, this area is jumping with wildflowers, and the last wildflowers of the season also grow here.  So, we may see Clarkia and Zantedeschia as we pass by.  You wouldn't think, looking at the rocky hilltops, that they would have much in the way of drainages or spring-fed anything, but it is a relative matter and wildflowers' needs and adaptations are not the same as ours.  About their outlook on life, who can say?

Shortly after the pond, the trail forks and we take the left turn, uphill.  It is a rough track for 4WD, high-clearance vehicles at this point, so you will be glad you have on your hiking pumps.  You may be able to see where they parked the generator truck and mast for the radio repeater, which serves communications at Backcountry Weekend.  The mast can just see over the ridgelines at this location, so that line-of-sight radio communications can work.  It is just after this small point-of-interest (to some) that the trail forks again, and this time we take the right turn.  This takes us across a fairly level ridgetop trail that goes toward Rock Springs, Center Flats (a serious misnomer, if you've been there), and Canada de la Dormida.  That more or less means Sleepy Canyon, and it is a lovely area, even in the summer.  There's some great backpacking over here.

You will see a modest high point with a track intersection leading to the right.  This is our somewhat arbitrary turning-around point, to try to keep the hike at a reasonable length, yet give a good sample of what this part of the backcountry has to offer.  Once we regain the point at which we turned off the main trail (near the repeater site), we turn right and continue uphill onto Burra Burra Peak.  There are two modest crowns, but I can't give you any very good reason why they would call it such a name.  This is a fairly well-beaten single-track that may have supported jeep traffic (or mule wagon traffic) at some time.  The exposure is to the south, with a wonderful big-sky view, and several ridges that finger their way off the (very modest) main route; there are some fine camping spots for those who have thought ahead and arrived early enough to find them.  But this is where we'll stop for the meeting, pretty near the spot marked M on the map.  By this time the sunset will have drawn down and the full moon will be rising.  Some may want to take the side track that leads up through the chapparal to the hilltop to see what they may, but there are nicer places to sit, with the size group we will have.  Everyone wants to sit in the back row and right in the doorway--- all meetings are like this--- but it will show some consideration for the speaker if we draw a bit closer.  Even the heartiest voice can only scream so loud.

No campfire this year.  If you brought one of those headlamps that has a strobe setting and fresh batteries, we could put a bunch of them together and it would make a nice, random flickering light.  Maybe not exactly like a real fire, but it could be worth a try.  Anyway, it's about the fellowship and the message of recovery, not the fire, really; the outer fire is only a reminder of the inner fire, in actual truth.

What do you know, we're actually quite close to the Dowdy once the meeting is over.  The track may be somewhat faint, so be careful of your footing.  Streptanthus grows by the trailside over here, a lovely sight in the silvery moonlight.  Its flowers are tiny, but jewel-like; in fact, its common name is Jewel Flower.  As you descend from the single-track onto the main road, cross over the dirt road into the green light woods behind the small hill, and turn to your left, downhill.  There is a trail that leads downhill, it should not be too hard to follow in the moonlight.  As we emerge from the very light canopy of the woods, there is a beautiful view of the ridges and draws to the north, covered with ghostly Grey Pine, a beautiful moonlight sight to draw our hike to a conclusion.

"To the Egress"     

This was a sign in Barnum's Museum; people may have thought they were going to see an exotic bird, but they ended up exiting onto the street... because that is what egress actually means.  They had to pay again to get back inside; it was only a nickel, but that was a lot of money back in those days.  

Those who are not camping overnight will have to be let out through the locked egress at the Bell Station entrance.  That means that about twenty minutes after the last people have made it back from the hike, your host for the hike will drive back down to Bell Station and open the gate, then after locking it, return to the campsite.  It will be tempting to many to form a caravan, each eating the previous car's dust plume and trying to make some time on the road home, but it would be very much smarter to do neither.  We know this is the case from Backcountry Weekend; we see it every year... people are simply too used to freeway driving. The return road is dusty, steeper than you might think, and has some tight curves (some of them also blind curves) that could result in a very bad accident if you were to go off the road, whose natural route follows ridgelines when it can.  And of course, it will be dark by this time.  And, where the road is steeper the tendency for it to form a wahboarded surface is much greater, and the bouncing of the wheels off the track lessens the traction--- and braking capacity--- they have.  Simple physics.

The smarter and more pleasant way to get down will be to allow enough space between cars for the dust to pretty much settle, and to take a moderate pace.  This will not only raise less dust, but may give you just that opportunity you need to save yourself if the road does something you're not expecting.  With a little luck, sometimes the wind will blow the dust to the side and it takes less time to get a clear view.  Going downhill, it helps to put your car in a lower gear rather than riding the brakes.  Going so far with a foot always on the brake can make them fail in service, or even catch fire.

Wild Recovery Meetings  |     What is Wild Recovery?
Trail Maps/ Park Info  |   NA Online Resources  |   Contact Us