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Discovering Wild Coyote Creek

Unbeknownst to some, Coyote Creek contains an orchestra of meandering tributaries, towering boulders, pristine swimming holes, and curious critters. This might be difficult to picture if you’ve only seen the river (yes, Coyote Creek is a river) down in Santa Clara Valley in the South Bay. As Coyote Creek runs from the Diablo Range through Morgan Hill and San José and out to the San Francisco Bay, it stays shy under dense canopies and behind fences. For a little perspective: I’ve lived in San José for over 20 years and I only discovered Coyote Creek five years ago thanks to Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful. However, if you do journey into the Diablo Range, you’ll discover a majestic, wild, and untamed Coyote Creek. In fact, that’s exactly what I did three years ago.

A sleepy Coyote Creek visible under a canopy in the heart of San José.

In 2016, I backpacked into neighboring Henry Coe State Park as a part of Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful’s annual backpacking trip. This community activity brings folks out to learn about and experience Coyote Creek’s headwaters. This river has two chief forks: the east fork meanders down from the chaparral-covered hillside south of Isabel Valley while the middle fork originates from below Castle Ridge. Fortunately, I got the opportunity to explore both forks. I really didn’t know what to expect at first; however, I quickly came to learn many things about Coyote Creek.

White water currents moving down the combined Coyote Creek forks.

For starters, I discovered how truly wild and untamed the river really is. Except for the occasional sign post and friendly hiker, the river remains largely undisturbed in all her majesty. One can’t help but enter a state of zen when you hear the clean flow of water against the peppy peeps of titmouses (a small North American songbird). Coyote Creek must have been this way for thousands of years, providing sustenance and nourishment to the land and its creatures. It felt like stepping back in time. The experience was surreal, to say the least.

The peaceful and undisturbed Little Coyote Creek tributary.

Secondly, I was surprised how varied Coyote Creek’s composition was. From basins to slopes and canyons, the river’s texture and character varied dramatically with each new terrain it passed. Parts of the creek harbored gentle tributaries feeding shimmering swimming holes. Other areas had dramatic waterfalls falling down immense boulders. I find it funny that this watershed was named a ‘creek’ when during the rainy season the rapids come down with brute force and you can hear Coyote Creek roar with all her archaic might.

A cascading waterfall among large boulders.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how much wildlife inhabits the wild parts of Coyote Creek and her shores. Things may look and sound quiet from a distance, but once you get close to the river you’ll likely spook some kind of critter and see it scatter away into either shrubbery or the river itself. For example, a plethora of amphibians occupy the calmer parts of the creek: California red-legged frogs, westerern toads, western pond turtles, and aquatic garter snakes just to name a few. For a person that rarely sees snakes, I was surprised by how many aquatic garter snakes I saw. I’ve seen up to twelve of them scurry away at once! If you’re lucky enough (I wasn’t), you might see such a snake flick its tongue above the water to mimic an insect. It does this lure small fish--how cool!

In addition to aquatic garter snakes, we were fortunate enough to hear an orchestra of western chorus frogs. When it’s time to find a mate, hundreds of these critters leave the safety of their homes in the middle of the night and croak with all their might. Their green vocal sacs expand to a tremendous size and it’s quite a sight to behold. While this was a really cool experience, I must admit that it was hard to sleep in my tent with all the croaking (these guys can be heard from up to half a mile away)!

A western chorus frog with an expanded vocal sac.

These are just some of the many creatures I discovered during my short backpacking excursion; however, if you spend just a little time outdoors (especially during the right time of year) you’re guaranteed to find all manner of wildlife. For example, Coyote Creek harbors many fish species, such as rainbow trout, California roaches, Sacramento suckers, and pike minnows (which can grow up to two feet long!). Maybe you’ll even spot a California floater, a native mussel.

After my backpacking trip concluded, I found myself with a new perspective on Coyote Creek. Coming back to San José and seeing the river in Santa Clara Valley again made me realize just how important it is to protect, restore, and revitalize Coyote Creek and bring it back to its former glory. If you want to learn about Coyote Creek yourself and experience all her majesty, I highly recommend that you come out to Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful’s next backpacking excursion and see what all the fuss is about!


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