The fact that’s there’s not much to recommend a hike at the new Coyote Lake — Harvey Bear Ranch County Park is, oddly enough, reason to go anyway.

Santa Clara County bought the old Harvey Bear Ranch a few years back, presumably to add more open space to its campsites and limited hiking trails at Coyote Creek Reservoir. Now the park and the ranch total around 4,600 acres, most of which are open hills with a few scattered oak trees. Though a dozen miles of new trails are planned, right now it’s all former ranch roads.

The park is right at the foot of the hills rising east of Morgan Hill, which means you have a suburb on one side and a bunch of unremarkable hills on the other. The distant roar of Highway 101 traffic is a constant. Trails top out on a ridge above Coyote Lake but it’s not much of a workout getting up there — maybe 800 feet of climb, tops.

And, oh yeah, there are still cows on the ranch — which means dodging cow patties (interesting that the parks people will insist that people stay on the trails but will let cows spread their feces far and wide).

No cool canyons, no trickling waterfalls, no towering pines, no redwoods, no catching sight of the High Sierra when the light’s just right. But because it lacks all these things which attracts hiker/gawkers everywhere else, it also has very few people.

Another upside to the lack of visual splendor is your ears finally get a chance to show their stuff. Without much to look at I found myself noticing far more bird calls. I also heard a couple frogs croaking back and forth, halting their conversation only when I stood right over the top of them. I’m sure our frogs talk about wine rather than beer, because, you know, this is California and we have higher standards.

I did take a few pictures, though they seem to look pretty much like all the other pictures I’ve taken in these hills.

Old ranch house

You can tell the folks in the old ranch house lived well, because their bathtub was in the front yard. This is right at the Harvey Bear Ranch trailhead. Expect to see horses and mountain bikers out here when the trails are dry.

Oak trees, it has

See what I mean? An oak tree here and there; hills; blue sky. Has a been-there-done-that vibe. (Even so, a walk in the hills beats the hell out of a walk in the mall, or the office, so while I’m whining, I’m not actually complaining.)

Coyote Lake reservoir

A couple miles of walking up into the hills reaches the Coyote Ridge Trail, with Coyote Lake Reservoir in the distance. The high ridge on the far shore is where the Diablo Range begins in earnest, and climbs to the leg-numbing heights that make Henry Coe State Park, just a few miles distant, such a joy.

The ranch still has cows

An example of the aforementioned cattle. I had three yearling Angus bulls take an interest in me — wandering in my direction as if they expected me to feed them or something. Eventually they remembered they were standing on grass and there was plenty to munch on right where they were, so they forgot about me.

First clouds

The first clouds of an approaching storm system decorate the skies to the south of the park. Just what these old dirt roads need: more rain.

Mild  hills

More rolling hills.

Poppies popping up

Could be a good season for poppies this year. All these open hills could be full of interesting wildflowers this spring, provided the cows don’t eat them all. (Come to think of it, all the poppies could explain the stoned looks on the cows’ faces. Except that cows are born, live all their days, and die with that same empty look.)

Sun, clouds and oaks

The right combination of sun, clouds and oak trees bent in improbably arcs will generate an interesting photograph if you happen to be standing there at the right moment.

Two things I mentioned bear revisiting: Coyote Lake and Henry Coe State Park. Henry Coe’s Hunting Hollow entrance is a 10-minute drive from the campground at Coyote Lake, which means you could easily combine a car-camping trip at the lake with more adventurous hikes at Henry Coe, without the 13-milies-of-mountain-road drive that drains some of the joy from any Coe encounter. Nice thing about the Hunting Hollow entrance is you start out in a valley and get all your climbing out of the way first (mind you, the climbs are diabolical, but they much are more doable at the beginning a hike vs. the end).

So that’s the story on the new Harvey Bear Ranch section of the park. Right now it’s more ranch than recreation area but it’ll probably be much nicer once the new trails are built. Till then you’re apt to have the place to yourself, which is a pretty good excuse to stop by.