ERSKINE: Eating crow at Frog Lake Loop

Ron Erskine

Getting Out: Last week, I lamented the dry, drab and dusty
condition of the inland portion of our coastal mountains this time
of year. The long dry summers here parch much of our landscape,
often turning a day out into an ordeal rather than a pleasant
escape. Today, I eat my words.
Last week, I lamented the dry, drab and dusty condition of the inland portion of our coastal mountains this time of year. The long dry summers here parch much of our landscape, often turning a day out into an ordeal rather than a pleasant escape. Today, I eat my words.

Another couple — good friends — suggested the idea of a morning hike together, and Renee and I jumped at it. Asked to make a suggestion of a suitable site, I mulled options, taking into consideration driving time, loop length and spectator value. Uvas County Park, Rancho Canada del Oro and Mount Madonna County Park were all great options, but since our friends had never been to Henry Coe State Park, we all agreed it was a good choice.

The 14-mile drive up East Dunne Avenue to Coe Park is viewed by many as an obstacle to visiting the park, but it is a lovely drive. With each mile, Lake Anderson and the valley floor drop further away, while the view up toward San Jose and south toward Fremont Peak grows more breathtaking.

It was a mild and still weekday morning as we left an empty parking lot and started up the Monument Trail toward the top of Pine Ridge. Once there, we took the short detour to Eric’s Bench. I have written about it before and should write about it a hundred times more to give proper emphasis to the magic of this spot.

Sitting on that bench under those majestic ponderosa pines, it feels as though you have driven many hours to a distant and exotic mountain sanctuary.

Ponderosa pines are the main conifers that make up the rich green belt that cloaks the middle elevations of the western slope of the Sierra. What are they doing here in the Mount Hamilton Range, detached from any nearby ponderosa community? And these trees are not runts or puny cousins of their Sierra relatives. It is a healthy community with seedlings and mighty monarchs alike.

Take my advice. Spend time among the pines at Eric’s Bench, and you will swear you are far from home, and you will feel the peace wash over you.

We marveled at the ancient and gigantic oak near the bench (you can’t miss it), lingered awhile, then descended Hobbs Road to the Little Fork of Coyote Creek, a dry gully this time of year. After a short side trip to Frog Lake, we returned to the Little Fork where the Flat Frog Trail offers an alternative route home.

Frog Lake is a big attraction for day hikers at Coe Park. It is the only cattle pond of any consequence near headquarters. For years, the only route there was the one we had just walked — up an over the top of Pine Ridge. About 10 years ago, volunteers and park staff built a new trail that contours on a level course around Pine Ridge, appropriately named the Flat Frog Trail. It is about a mile longer, but it is as flat as Kansas.

The forest cover along the Flat Frog Trail dappled the sunlight, curbing the intensity of the summer sun. We enjoyed great views across the Little Fork toward Middle Ridge and Blue Ridge. Our loop was a comfortable four and a half miles.

When choosing a destination for a day out, it is natural to look for something new and exciting, but this great day with wonderful company reminded me (again) that the familiar places close to home can hold all the charm and interest of the travel brochure destinations — even in the heart of a long, dry summer.

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