The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 85: Orestimba Wilderness Updated

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

This very remote northern California wilderness is going to get a bit more accessible; is that a good thing? This week on The WildeBeat; an Orestimba Wilderness Update.

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

This is program number eighty five, an update of number forty four.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: A dozen miles outside of Silicon Valley, you'll find Henry Coe State Park, the largest state park in northern California. A quarter of this eighty seven thousand acre park is preserved in the Orestimba Wilderness. When I visit the Orestimba, I normally have to hike eleven and a half trail miles from the main park entrance, to get to the nearest edge of it.

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STEVE: In May of two thousand six, I visited the Orestimba with backcountry ranger Cameron Bowers in his patrol vehicle; a four wheel drive pickup truck. He's on one of his regular patrol trips into the area. Teddy Goodrich rode along with us; she's a volunteer park historian. We drove-in on the Kaiser-Aetna Road, a dirt and gravel back road that's closed to the public.

STEVE: [extended version] 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 met 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: [extended version] Leaving the Orestimba Corral, we drive-on, up the Orestimba Creek Road.

STEVE: [scheduled version] After about ten miles of rugged ups and downs, we turn north onto the Orestimba Creek Road.

STEVE: The Orestimba Creek defines the eastern border of the wilderness. We stopped for lunch on an overgrown fire road with a view into 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 little material culture. In some areas they did semi-subterranean 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: but a few weeks ago, I saw a press release from the park. It said that a section of the Kaiser-Aetna Road will soon be opened to the public. There's a new entrance station on the southeastern edge of the park. C. L. Price is a sector superintendent for California State Parks, responsible for Henry Coe.

C. L. PRICE: The May nineteenth is the opening, and what we plan to do is have it open weekends through the summer months, and into the fall. Opening Saturday and closing Sunday night. So if somebody wanted to, say, come in and leave their vehicle and camp overnight up in the park or up towards the wilderness, they could do that. And in the winter months we plan on closing it when the rainy season is here. So the original intent was to have the facility open during the drier periods of the year. So six months and weekends, and holidays.

STEVE: Is there going to be either a small ranger station, a visitor center, or some kind of a fee collection kiosk out there at the end of the road?

C. L. PRICE: There is... We'll have that staffed with a park aid, either a visitor services park aid or a state park volunteer that will be able to give people maps or direction or guidance, or our association will hopefully have water and sodas to sell out there as well. So there's restroom facilities, parking facilities, equestrian parking, and there will be somebody to collect the parking fees, which are five dollars a day.

STEVE: In my interview with Ranger Bowers, he said that fewer than one person per week, on the average, actually makes it back into that eastern Orestimba on most years, not counting the backcountry weekend. How is this going to affect the sort of solitude of that area, do you think?

C. L. PRICE: It may affect it a little, but just even with the closer location, it's going to take somebody that really wants to go to the Dowdy Ranch and park and take off on foot if they want to hike on up into the wilderness from there. So I don't think it's going to change it a whole lot... so there's still a lot of state park before you get to the wilderness area that will be accessible, more so than it has been in the past.

STEVE: What do you think about making this remote wilderness easier to access? If you've been there yourself, would you like to tell us about it? You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. You'll find links to information about the park and the wilderness, and an extended high fidelity stereo version of this show, on our web site.

STEVE: This edition was produced with funds provided by listeners like you.

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Next time -- using all fours.

Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. You can help assure future editions of this free service; please click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number eighty five. Thank you for listening.

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