I can feel hints of autumn seeping through the last days of summer. We will have more warm weather, but there is a chill in the morning air, and August took a big bite out our long sunlit days.
If you are an immigrant from the northeastern hardwood forests, you will understandably scoff at the notion of fall color in California. In all but a few places, our fall foliage is a timid version of eastern forest fireworks. It is a subtle beauty, but beauty nonetheless.
Surely, our local wineries have the best fall color in the area. But if you prefer to explore the back roads and the trails, look for sycamore, big leaf maple, white alder, and Fremont cottonwood. These trees prefer a home along streams, often interspersed among conifers and other evergreens. So, we rarely see them in pure stands. Instead, they scatter flashes of yellow here and there amidst the still-green creekside forests.
The sycamore trees in Coe Park’s Hunting Hollow seem to have a knack for autumn elegance. Perhaps it is the wisps of lichen dangling from the branches or the way streaks of sunshine backlight the leaves against a shaded background. They seem to have a special glow. Just steps into the hollow, look for one trailside monarch that steals the show. As if thumbing its nose at the law of gravity, a massive trunk rises six feet before making a ninety degree turn from vertical to horizontal. What keeps this tubby trunk from falling? It brings to mind an Olympic gymnast holding the iron cross on the rings—continuously. The strain must be excruciating.
I have three favorite spots along the Coyote Creek bike path between Morgan Hill and San Jose where I can step into the riparian forest and forget that Highway 101 is just steps away. Sycamores and cottonwoods light up the trail near the bridge just a short walk from the trail’s bottom end in northwest Morgan Hill. A rarely visited spot is at the end of Burnett Avenue beyond Sobrato High School. Farther north, park in the lot just beyond Metcalf Road and walk back toward Coyote Ranch. From each of these spots, you can step into a dome of color.
Above the creeks and cascades at Uvas Canyon County Park, the autumn color of bigleaf maples and sycamores light up an otherwise dark and shaded forest. Even along the road to the park, maples and white alders decorate Uvas Creek in a way that invariably pulls me to the side of the road and out of the car.
Like the road to Uvas Canyon County Park, Hecker Pass Highway climbs the same Santa Cruz Mountains through stands of bigleaf maple that make simply getting to Mount Madonna County Park a great fall experience. Once you reach the park, look for more color on the Blackhawk Trail.
Let your New England refugee friends brag about the fall colors they left behind. Winter is next, and they never brag about that.
The Hunting Hollow entrance is located off Gilroy Hot Springs Road. Take Highway 101 to Leavesley Road and go east over the highway. Turn left onto New Rd. and then right onto Roop Road. Roop Road turns into Gilroy Hot Springs Road. The Coyote Creek entrance is 2 miles past the Hunting Hollow Parking lot and does not offer any parking.
For more information, go to: coepark.net/pineridgeassociation/
Above the creeks and cascades at Uvas Canyon County Park, the autumn color of bigleaf maples and sycamores light up an otherwise dark and shaded forest.