GETTING OUT: Enjoying the fall in Hunting Hollow

Hunting Hollow

Last weekend, a restless itch sent me out the door to Hunting Hollow, Henry Coe State Park’s closest and most accessible entrance. I wasn’t in the mood for a long hike, just a place for a quiet stroll. To my surprise, while I was there, I found fall.
The Hunting Hollow entrance is on Gilroy Hot Springs Road about 3 1/2 miles past the entrance to Coyote Reservoir. This valley and the Redfern Ranch property to the north were acquired by the state in the 1990s, adding more than 12,000 acres to the park. For the first time, local folks had handy access to the park. What’s more, the three-mile trail to the end of the hollow has a quality hard to find at Coe – it’s level!
I confess that the prospect of a Hunting Hollow hike doesn’t always excite me. I prefer ridge tops and wide views to enclosed valleys. But I soon realized I had forgotten the hollow’s subtle charms. A short way down the trail, the amazing treescape along the stream erased any thoughts of distant views.
Any sycamore tree is worth a close look. From a distance, their trunks and branches appear white. Up close, the bark is a beautifully mottled pattern of gray and white that peels in paper-thin layers. Like valley oaks, sycamore branches trace a wide and artistic pattern, often resting some large branches on the ground.
The resident sycamores in Hunting Hollow are large in size and brilliant in color. A quarter-mile from the car, I audibly gasped when I rounded a bend and stood beneath a high arching dome of brightly lit yellow leaves. The low angle of the fall sun added a special brilliance to the light that intensified the colors. One very large trunk, with complete disregard for the laws of physics, reached out level to the ground for a distance so great that it seemed that it must collapse under its own weight.
The size, the color and the twisted character of nearly every tree on the trail caused me to stop and stare. As I neared the windmill, not yet a mile from the car, thick wisps of lichen dangled from the sycamore branches swaying in the up-valley breeze. In the dense stands at the base of the hill, low streaking light ignited portions of the yellowing canopy against a dark and shaded backdrop. It was a breathtaking high-contrast light show.
The Hunting Hollow trail crosses the creek several times. Right now, the creek bed is dry, but as winter progresses, hiking the trail will involve some rock-hopping or wading, so be prepared. If you wish to climb above the hollow, several trails climb Steer Ridge up to Willson Peak where fabulous views await. Most of these trails are old ranch roads and very steep, but thanks to ongoing work by park volunteers, the new alignment of the Jim Donnelly Trail takes you up on an easy grade.  
If you think a tree is just a tree, Hunting Hollow will make you think again. In any season, these trees are monarchs to admire, but right now the power and might are adorned in bling-bling.
‘Yosemite Epics’
Matt Johanson will talk about his new book “Yosemite Epics: Tales of Adventure from America’s Greatest Playground” at 2 p.m. Dec. 8 at BookSmart, 80 E. Second St., Morgan Hill. It is a compilation of first-hand accounts of close calls and hairy outdoor exploits from some of Yosemite’s best-known climbers and adventurers.

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