Fields of Gold

Hiking, Photography


Well, actually, you have to work a bit before you get to the fields of gold.

Before that, there’s a 7 mile washboard road that’s a field of dust and gravel. Especially if you find yourself 50 yards behind another car that’s heading to the same place. It’s part of the adventure, let’s say.

I’m heading into the Henry W. Coe State Park from what is known as the Dowdy entrance. This gateway to the park is a just-barely-marked, fast turnoff from Hwy 152, which is also known as Pacheco Pass. Gravel and dust aside, the views of the surrounding countryside get pretty good after just a few minutes on the dirt road. And I’m still in the Honda, with the windows up driving through a dust storm courtesy of the guy in the Isuzu 50 yards in front of me.


Eventually I checked in at the visitor center, paid my 8 bucks, and considering that I got a late start, decided to head out on the shorter Burra Burra loop trail, which runs about 2.5 to 3 miles. I was annoyed with myself for having to settle for a shorter trail, which I assumed was for lightweights and probably didn’t have too much worth seeing.

Wrong on both counts.


It was a great workout, without being too harsh on a guy who spends a lot of time pushing pixels around an iMac at UC Santa Cruz for most of the working week.

But along with this modest investment in fitness, you are also rewarded with a series of green and gold vistas that are the essence of the California low range landscape. Now I see why it’s called ‘The Golden State’.  Cut to the video….

I start these hikes in the late afternoon because I want to catch the lower sunlight in that part of the day. It helps define the texture of the land, giving some depth to pictures that are really just flat images. Lighting notwithstanding, that might also explain why I almost always have these parks and trails to myself. The smart people have come and gone in the cooler part of the day. It’s the photogs who are lingering for the light and suffering for their art.  🙂


But as you can hear in the video, there was plenty of fresh wind to keep me comfortable throughout this hike. It just funnels up the open hillsides, twisting the golden grass and animating the leaves in the oak trees, creating this soothing sound something like the more familiar wind in the pines. I suspect the afternoon heat creates thermals that set the air to moving much more than it might in the morning. Good break for me.


So I took a couple of hours, stopping every 50 yards because I found still another view that was better than the one 50 yards back. The uphill parts do reward you with these wonderful vistas, and even on a short hike like the Burra Burra Loop, you get a taste of what this section of the park is all about. So you will get a little of the ‘lungs uphill, knees downhill’ pain-disguised-as-fitness action I find so exhilarating (just kidding) (again, I sacrifice for my art), but nothing like the torture you’ll get on the Toyon Ridge Trail at Toro County Park closer to Monterey.

The trail was well marked, easy to follow and the print out they give you at the visitor center is very well detailed. I also suspect there is some interesting geology going on as well. You’ll get a little taste of that underfoot on this short trail, but that leaves another 87,000 acres to explore within the park’s boundaries.


There’s so much more to the park that I can even begin to write about here. There’s even a high point in the park where it is said you can see from the Sierra all the way to Monterey Bay.

There are two other entrances to the park, both coming from the Morgan Hill area. I’ve been into the park from that side, and it’s also quite a car ride from the valley floor up to around 1600 feet before you even get to the gate. It’s fun to look back down to the valley floor at all the heat and chaos of the 101 freeway from your perch high up on East Dunne Avenue. There’s also a small museum at that entrance.


The park has access for hikers, bikes and horses, and has many wide dirt roads that can give you almost as good an experience without committing to a narrow trails hike. It’s a clichè, but there really is something for just about anybody. Except for the guy in the Isuzu Trooper dust machine, who amazingly pulled into the Dowdy ranger station, made a quick loop of the parking lot and, without even getting out of the car, drove right back out. I mean… well, forget it.

But that was OK with me, as I wasn’t behind him on my return trip back to Pacheco Pass:

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Kid Factor: (+) There are picnic tables, clean restrooms and a variety of trails for you and the kids at the Dowdy entrance.  Check to see if this entrance is open when you decide to go; it’s a seasonal opening throughout the Summer .  Otherwise head up to the entrance off of East Dunne Avenue (Morgan Hill) where there are the same variety of trails and a small museum and barn display. (-) As always, bring plenty of water and keep an eye out for poison oak.

Fitness Factor: This is a chance for all fitness levels to enjoy a great day outdoors, something much more invigorating than you’ll get at the local dog park. Because of the variety of trails, you can take as much or as little of the hiking and biking as you want to. If you want to grind it out running or shred it out on the pegs, have at it. If however, you simply want to get outside and walk or hike among the oak trees, Henry Coe park will work for you as well.

Photo Factor: I was up here a few years ago after a reasonably wet winter and there were flowers everywhere. Not so this time of year.  But the landscape looks relatively unscathed by the dry conditions.  This hike is full of wide stitched landscape opportunities.  Make sure you set your camera to the same manual setting, so the series of images you shoot has a matching exposure.  Also shoot raw, so you’ve got a fighting chance to pull some of the stitched image out of the shadows. Otherwise, its classic California vistas, oaks, some deer, and of course, fields of gold.

Here’s a map of my track for this trip:

Here’s a track of the access road into the park off of CA152