The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 44: The Orestimba Wilderness

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

A wilderness just outside California's Silicon Valley gets fewer than one visitor a week; twenty three thousand acres you could have all to yourself. This week on The WildeBeat; The Orestimba Wilderness.

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News from the WildeBeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number forty four.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: A dozen miles outside of Silicon Valley, is the largest state park in northern California. Henry W. Coe State Park was established in nineteen fifty eight. A quarter of this eighty seven thousand acre park is preserved in the Orestimba Wilderness. The most direct route to the edge of the wilderness is eleven and a half trail miles from the main park entrance.

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STEVE: Today, I've rode-in with backcountry ranger Cameron Bowers in his California State Parks truck. He's making one of his regular patrol trips into the area. Teddy Goodrich, the volunteer park historian, rode along with us. Along the way, we stop at a camp site called the Orestimba Corral, just outside of the wilderness.

TEDDY GOODRICH: This was a site of one of the earliest homesteads in the park. There was a man in here in eighteen sixty nine named Orrin Dowdy.

STEVE: So this wasn't, uh, Henry W. Coe's land?

TEDDY GOODRICH: Oh no. Henry Coe only had the original thirteen thousand acres that his daughter gave to, well she gave it to Santa Clara County first, and they didn't want a wilderness park, so they sold it to the state for ten dollars, about four years later. It's retained the name even though the state has acquired these other huge parcels of land.

STEVE: Here, we meet Bob Bambauer and his friends. They've been exploring the park on horseback.

BOB BAMBAUER: We're camping one night. These gentlemen here are not, well one of them is retired, I guess. We're all seventy and plus. They have to be back to work where the other one and I don't.

STEVE: What do you expect to explore while you're here?

BOB BAMBAUER: Well, we've explored a lot, and I'd like to make it all but we we can't. The Mississippi Lake is a beautiful spot. We're going to miss out on that one this trip. We're going to probably, I can't remember the name of the trails, but there's one that goes up off the main road here and gives you a high ridge view over towards Dowdy and we'll probably take that trail today. So, you know, two or three hours and we'll be back. But I enjoy the quietness and the backcountry atmosphere.

STEVE: Leaving the Orestimba Corral, we drive-on, up the Orestimba Creek Road. The Orestimba Creek defines the eastern border of the wilderness. We arrive at a point on an overgrown fire road in the heart of the wilderness.

CAMERON BOWERS: We're in Red Creek now. And it's kind of in the middle of the wilderness area, the Orestimba Wilderness area.

TEDDY GOODRICH: It's a nice broad valley, with a lovely stream wandering through. Along the edges of the stream are yellow mimulas. I can hear birds. There are gray pine, oak trees, surrounding the valley. Nice peak to the north of us there. I can see the remnants of owls clover, it was blooming, I know in abundance here in the springtime. Just very pastoral, very peaceful, lovely.

STEVE: So how would the average member of the public who wanted to see this area, how would they get back in here?

CAMERON BOWERS: There's a couple of entrances they could take. They could, if they wanted to go the route we took they'd have to come by a horse, mountain bike, or by foot. Coming from Bell Station, you have a couple of climbs of approximately eleven hundred feet, in about three miles, the biggest climb is. And then once you hit the park boundary, and you drop down to Pacheco Creek crossing, it's a fairly level hike. During the summer, real dry, very little water. Spring you have lots of water in the creeks; several springs will be running. And then once you hit the Orestimba Corral area, from there on, you're pretty much following a creek bed all the way to the Red Creek area. So you're figuring about twenty miles from Bell Station to get out here.

STEVE: And then from the other park entrances, what's the distance and terrain like?

CAMERON BOWERS: Pretty close to the same. You're looking about twenty miles to get out here. The terrain coming from headquarters on the Morgan Hill side is a much rougher. You'll go by a few more lakes, so water would be more readily available coming from the headquarters side.

STEVE: So there's a season in this park. I mean, you could almost call this a desert park in the summer, correct?

CAMERON BOWERS: We have a lot of high desert, especially this area. You can consider this almost like a high desert terrain. Our big season is spring, of course, because of the availability of water, and the green grass and the wild flowers, of course, a lot of people come for. Between March and May is probably our biggest visitation time. For the actual wilderness area it starts slowing down April. People will start making trips out here as early as, it'd be November we some trips out here.

STEVE: How many people head back into here?

CAMERON BOWERS: I'd say, no more than probably about thirty people a year will plan a trip out here. Our annual event, the backcountry weekend, which is held the last weekend in April, I'm not including that group into that. They drive-in the twelve miles and they park at the corral and their hike is only about a six or seven miles hike to get to the wilderness area.

STEVE: So, you could have this place to yourself, just about?

CAMERON BOWERS: Yeah, yeah. If people who come out here, usually that's what they're coming out here for. I've had several backpackers that registered, and that told me that, "If I hear you coming or I see you coming I'm going to hide." Because they want to get away from people. Because they don't want to be found, they just kind of want to get out here and be by themselves.

STEVE: Some of the listeners are probably familiar with the headquarters part of the park. That's the most visited...


STEVE: ...entrance for sure. How is this area different?

CAMERON BOWERS: It's a little more gentle as far as the terrain goes, but it's different in the sense that you don't have as many oaks, you have a lot more pines. You get different wild flowers out in this area than you do at the headquarters area, and the biggest thing that people will come out here for is the seclusion. It's secluded.

STEVE: What's different about the wildlife? Or is it just, you're more likely to see it with fewer people?

CAMERON BOWERS: You are more likely to see it, but we do have a few differences than you will find at the headquarters area or in that area. You have a better chance of encountering elk, tule elk on this side of the park, with a herd not that far away. You're more likely to encounter snakes and things like that. You'll find the turkeys, the deer, the mountain lions, bobcats, all the other animals will be here.

STEVE: Does a traveler back into here have to worry about the big cats?

CAMERON BOWERS: No. Coe has never had any signs or any reports of a cat showing any threatening behavior to a person. And that's a testament to abundant wildlife we have in the park. But the deer is the main source of food for the mountain lion, and as long as they're around, that's going to be what they're going after. And I've always told hikers that when you come to the park and you don't see any wildlife, and you're not seeing any deer, that's when you might want to worry a little bit, because then the mountain lions are going to look for other things to eat. But, as fars as right now goes, the immediate future, I don't think we'll have any problems with the deer population in the park.

STEVE: Who lived in what is now Orestimba Zone of park?

TEDDY GOODRICH: Well, that's debatable among archeologists. Some say the Ohlone, which are basically a San Francisco Bay area group, were all the way to the San Joaquin river. Others will say that this was territory of the Northern Valley Yokuts. So, we can't prove it one way or the other. No one remembers. No one bothered to ask them.

STEVE: Are visitors back in here likely to encounter evidence of indigenous human habitation?

TEDDY GOODRICH: No, they're not. California indians had very few personal possessions, very material culture. In some areas they did semi-subterranian housing, but most of that is pretty eroded over and the average person wouldn't recognize that as a village site anymore.

STEVE: The Orestimba Wilderness is more remote and difficult to get to than many of the more popular wilderness areas in northern California. But that makes the rewards of solitude, and connection with nature even greater.

STEVE: You can find links to information about the Orestimba Wilderness of California's Henry Coe State Park, and download an extended high-fidelity stereo version of this show, on our web site.

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Next time -- Backpack Gear Test reviews rain pants.

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please see our website for ways to support future editions of The WildeBeat. Contribute your comments to webmaster at wildebeat dot net, or call our comment line at 866-590-7373.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number forty four. Thank you for listening.

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