Henry Coe State Park is like a supermodel girlfriend. Difficult, at times impossible, yet impossible to stop looking at. And gorgeous from every angle.

I found another of those angles on Saturday at the grand opening of the Dowdy Ranch Visitors Center. Getting there requires an hour’s drive south from San Jose, crossing one of the deadliest highways in the region and rattling one’s ribs for another half-hour along 7.3 miles of curvy, hilly, dusty gravel road. But of course, it was worth it.

The visitor center has been in the works for over two decades. First the state parks people had to buy the last couple miles of road to Dowdy Ranch, then it had to find funding to build the visitors center, then it had to find volunteers to staff the center, since the state generously provided money to build it and ingeniously provided no money to staff it. In any case, all the ducks were in a row on Saturday when then the ribbon was cut.

So let’s take us a look at some pictures:

Big cat country

Upon arrival, we notice this cool sign cautioning people that big cats roam these hills.

Here we are

Melissa scopes out the countryside. Having Melissa along gave me an excellent excuse to hike here on another day (like, say, November, when the weather starts to cool down).

The new visitors center

Behold the Visitors Center. I’m told it was built a year ago but it took all this time to make the final adjustments to get it ready for public consumption. It has running water and flush toilets — borderline plush for these parts.


A horse named Secret await a rider. Equestrians will probably be the most frequent users of this end of the park, I’m guessing.

Oak, sign

An old oak tree and a sign directing hikers, bikers and horse riders to share the trails and register at the headquarters so they’ll know where to send rescue teams.

Overlooking the center

The view from a knoll overlooking the visitors center.

Old-timers checking the Coe map

Guys look over the map and discuss the good old days when they could ride horses back here to their hearts content. I couldn’t help noticing 80-90 percent of the crowd looked to be over 50, which sorta makes me wonder who’s going to take care of this park after they’re gone.

Full parking lot

I’m hazarding a guess this is the last time this parking lot will ever be this full.

Ranger Guy

A ranger reads from a prepared speech to dedicate the visitors center. If anybody got lost in a California state park yesterday and couldn’t find a ranger, it might’ve been because they were all here for the grand opening. “I’ve never seen so many rangers,” somebody told me.

May I have a show of hands?

Ranger asks for a show of hands. This is one of them.

Cutting the ribbon

Finally, the ribbon-cutting. These two girls performed admirably, though I couldn’t help noticing the bigger of the two had an exasperated “geeze, the things my parents put me through” look on her face after it was over.

J.T., hearty hiker

J.T. is a hiker we met; he had been camping in the park since Wednesday and hiked over here for the grand opening.

While J.T. and I were gabbing and watching the opening ceremonies, Melissa was sitting on a park bench in a shady glade, just checking out the scenery. When J.T. and I approached, she shushed us: she was watching a big snake make its way through the brush about 15 feet away. Before that she’d seen a deer trot through, and a bunch of quail dash across the hillside in that way only quail can dash.

Henry Coe is dependable for delivering moments like that, in ways no other park in the Bay Area can.

(For you Coe-philes, here’s a page by a guy who tried to hike all the trails in the park in 40 days. He did all but 50.)