Mustang Peak
Pine Springs Hill
Horseshoe BM

Sun, May 31, 2015
Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPX Profile

It had been more than a year since I was last at the Dowdy entrance to Henry Coe State Park, not for lack of desire but lack of opportunity. The entrance is not open most of the year and this year, due to budget cuts, the entrance was not opened until May and then only on Saturday and Sunday (the previous year it had been open on Fridays as well, a more convenient day for me). It was getting warm towards late May and the Sierra was beginning to open up, leaving Henry Coe as more of a backburner project. But I had a free Sunday and the weather report predicted temps in the 70s, so I decided to pay it a visit. I had in mind a handful of summits located along County Line Rd, running roughly east to west along the crest of the Diablo Range separating Santa Clara and Stanislaus Counties. The furthest peak was some 20mi from the start and the total gain would be more than 6,000ft. At one time I might have contemplated doing this as a hike, but unfortunately I'm not getting any younger. Almost all of it was on good dirt roads so a mountain bike seemed in order.

I was at Bell Station gate off SR152 just before the official opening time of 8a (the actual opening time is usually about 30min earlier), drove the seven miles of sometimes washboarded but generally good dirt road, paid my $8 to the ranger at the Dowdy Visitor Center and was on my way before 8:30a. There were a few other cars in the parking lot when I had arrived, but I'm pretty sure those were from backpackers that had come in the previous day. There was some thin overcast clouds that helped keep the temperatures at bay, and combined with breezy conditions most of the day, it was near ideal weather. It took about 40min to cover the five miles distance north on Kaiser-Aetna Rd to reach the junction with County Line Rd. I had ridden this same section of road several times the previous year on my way to the Orestimba Wilderness and a few of the peaks found there. I turned right and started up County Line Rd. I was concerned that it might be too steep to ride but was pleasantly surprised to find it is one of the better graded dirt roads in the entire Diablo Range. Even the Kaiser-Aetna Rd, a superhighway of dirt roads, had places too steep for me to ride. By contrast, County Line was a pleasure. Not that it didn't have a lot of climbing - it does, as the road undulates a number of times, but all of it was rideable. I spent about 40min riding to saddle just west of Mustang Peak, and another 5min climbing the last steep bit to the summit on foot. As it turns out, there is a good use trail on the east of the peak that most folks appear to use, the west side being a little brushy but no big deal. A stick with some flagging and a rusty horseshoe attached marks the highpoint. Like most Diablo summits, no register. The views stretch west and north across the state park, east across the range to the Central Valley (on an exceptionally clear day one could probably see the Sierra Nevada), and south across the Pacheco Creek drainage to the higher peaks east of Hollister. I recognized about a dozen summits and there were probably more whose summits I had previously visited. This wasn't my first visit to Mustang Peak - I had been here sometime in the late 1980s when I used to do a lot of mountain biking in the park. Back then, the Dowdy entrance was not available and it was necessary to ride from the park HQ located at the far west end - some 20mi of riding, one way, up and over half a dozen significant ridge. At the time, and for some years to follow, it was the most remote location I'd ever been to. I had no memory of the views or the route I had taken to get to it (though I could piece together my probably route by looking at a park map), but that feeling of being so far away from other people, all by myself, had never left me.

I returned to the bike and continued east, following the road as it traverses around the north side of Mustang Peak. A grader is found here, probably owned by the state, along with a gate marking the boundary of the park - sort of. County Line Rd runs along the park boundary for the next several miles, with some of the road outside the park, some of it inside, none of it clearly marked - this part of the range sees few visitors. I had to lift the bike up and over a number of gates. One section had signs marking Mustang Canyon and Bitch Ridge (that one has a nice ring that sort of rolls off your tongue), possibly as an aid for hunters (maybe part of a hunting club?). At another section I would find one of the ubuquitous Henry Coe trail signs. Not long before 11a I reached an open, grassy section of the ridgeline marked by a huge No Trespassing sign that cannot be mistaken. I had seen this same signage on a previous outing, a night hike I had done starting from near Pacheco Pass and guessed (correctly) that this was one huge ranch. Up until this time, the road outside the park had shown very little evidence of usage, none of it recent. Here it was different - the road was well-graded, the hillsides mowed short by cattle, vehicles had been here recently. I scanned the landscape below me to the south but saw no sign of buildings, cars, or cattle. So far, so good. 20min further I reached a saddle between Pine Springs Hill and Horseshoe BM. A sign marked Pine Springs Hill as a RAPPING AREA. A closer look showed someone had removed the leading "T". Great - all I needed was to step on a bear or coyote trap. Thankfully there were no traps after a minute's walk to the highpoint. I was surprised to note that the unnamed point just to the southeast was higher (Horseshoe BM). Looking east, I could view Crevison Peak across the Quinto Creek drainage. It would be much easier to reach from the east, being less than 7mi from Interstate 5. The last peak I had planned, Bone Spring Hill, was 3mi to the southeast. Herein began my worries.

Looking east down into Quinto Creek I could see what looked like a good-sized ranch complex about 1,200ft lower in the canyon. A road leading to it goes right over the crest I was following, roughly halfway between Pine Springs Hill and Bone Spring Hill. Judging by the enormous sign(s) that someone went to great lengths to erect, this did not seem like the sort of landowner I wanted to come across. Back on the bike, I started down the road, coming across the expected junction after a mile. It, too, showed signs of regular and recent usage. Worse, the road coming up from Quinto Creek and the ranch doesn't simply cross over the crest and down the other side, but joins County Line Rd for more than a mile before descending the crest to the south. I nervously followed this section of the crest, wide open to observation, for another mile before coming to a small herd of cattle. By now I was seriously doubting the wisdom of continuing. I was just under two miles from Bone Spring Hill, but I no longer had the confidence that I could talk my way out of a confrontation. Ranchers are not hot on trespassers disturbing their cattle and up until this point I had held out hope that maybe they weren't grazing them in drought conditions. Looking up the long NW Ridge to Bone Spring Hill, it was obvious that I would be open to observation for nearly its entire length. In the end I decided it didn't mean that much to me (at 899ft of prominence, it just slips under my arbitrary cutoff of 900ft that I've been using in my prominence quests). Maybe some other day when I'm feeling braver or luckier. Perhaps as a moonlight ride some weekend when I stay overnight in the park. In any event, I turned back.

I was happier once I was back up near Pine Springs Hill and no longer observable from below. I went up and over Horseshoe BM just in case LoJ has that one listed as a summit (it does, as it turned out), then returned back to Dowdy Ranch, taking another 2.5hrs to get me back by 2:15p. I had to push the bike up about a mile of the Kaiser-Aetna Rd which had me pretty worn by the time I got back. I logged some 35mi on the GPSr, not bad I figured considering none of it was paved. I would go back and look for another way to get to Bone Spring Hill, but it would be well towards the bottom of my mental list of future adventures...


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Kelly comments on 09/08/16:
"...not be able to talk my way out of a confrontation" with a rancher. How would that escalate? They call the sheriff?
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