Henry Coe Park: Mississippi Lake

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Henry Coe Park Headquarters to Mississippi Lake October 02-04, 2004 Trip mileage: approximately 30 miles

I arrived at Coe Park headquarters just a bit before 8AM on October 02, 2004. I quickly registered with the staff and inquired about the event that was being prepared for, tarantula-fest. I confirmed my suspicion with the staff member about the presence of tarantulas in the park and asked no further questions of them-I didn’t want to know any more. I headed out with a brisk pace down the Corral Trail, which, shortly met up with Manzanita Point Road. I followed the road quickly as I wanted to make a fast pace while I could before the mid-day temperatures really slowed me down. I came to Bass Pond at approximately 8:30 am. I quickly noticed that Bass Pond was not as pleasing to look at as most of the water sources in the park. It seemed to be not much more than a hole dug out of the earth filled with water. I went a bit closer to the water, and spooked a few fish away from the shoreline. I quickly inhaled a few power-bars while I scooted along down the trail. I arrived at the Manzanita Pont Group Camps and saw the marker indicating mileage for China Hole, the next stop. I had planned on taking the switch-back filled China Hole Trail, but reviewing the map one more time I decided to head down the Madrone Soda Spring Trail instead. I figured would certainly be more steep than the China Hole Trail, but since it was down hill this way I would give it a try. So down the steep Madrone Soda Spring Trail I went, noticing that there seemed to be quite a bit of shade down this slope unlike a lot of the hot hard hills I’ve been up/down in Coe Park. I hit the bottom of the hill at 8:50 AM, making very good time for the trip so far. Then I made my way towards China Hole on the Canyon Mile Trail where it was shady and cool.

There were a few isolated pockets of water still left from the creek that had been flowing earlier in the year. These pockets of water reassured me that the water report was correct and China Hole would still have enough water for me! I walked by what appeared to be an old covered bridge across the creek that was in shambles and also a stone room set in the side of the canyon wall. China Hole came up quickly at about 9:30 am and thankfully there was plenty of water. My plan was to stock up on water here and hope to last all the way to Mississippi Lake as most of the springs were dry according to the water table. I was at China Hole only a few minutes before spotting what I thought were trout in the shallow water. I didn’t expect to run across any fish other than bass, so bass gear is all I brought. I did throw on the smallest plastic worm in my box, but with no interest from the fish.

I filtered 2.5 liters of water and left China Hole after a nice break at about 10:00 am. I walked by the campsite at China Hole and noticed a fire ring made of stones and underneath one of the stones was a note “No Open Fires –Park Rules.” Then I made my way through the Narrows, a creek-bed hike at the base of a canyon. There were also a few pools of water here as well, many with small green frogs and a few with minnows. I saw one pool with a fish of about 6 inches in length. It was in a small pool so I got a good look at its fishy inhabitants and thought that they really didn’t look much like trout, but what could it be? Then I remembered thumbing through the Fishing Guide to Henry Coe Park and recalled a minnow-type fish called a Sacramento Squawfish. That must have been what these fish are and most likely the same for the fish back at China Hole. I continued through the Narrows and reached Los Cruzeros. It was starting to turn warm and I knew that the major climb of my hike to Mississippi Lake, Willow Ridge Trail, was coming up fast. I remember looking up at the trailhead for Willow Ridge Trail and thinking “time to go up!” And up I did go, up and up and up. As I climbed up the steep ridge and narrow path through the bushes I was getting very hot. I stopped a lot for small breathers but I was still sweating an incredible amount. It must have been about half-way up the Willow Ridge Trail when I decided to take a break for a few minutes and stripped down to my boxer shorts. The breeze felt nice and I decided that since I wasn’t going to see anyone anyways, I might as well do the rest of the trip in my flower-embossed shorts-so I did! I reached the Willow Ridge spring and found it pretty gross as expected. I was glad to know that I was nearly to the top. When I arrived at the Willow Ridge Road trailhead it was 11:30. I sat down in the only shade I could find next to a chest-high bush and had a break. I drank more water and had lunch as well. I knew that I was about half way to the lake and only one road left to follow. From the map it appears that Willow Ridge Road out to Mississippi Lake involves some pretty weak elevation gain and losses, looks pretty flat comparatively. But I think the fishing guide book describes it pretty well as “a roller-coaster of a ridge” with no shade. It was a very hot hike up and down this roller coaster ridge. I kept saying to myself “just keep walking” and that’s what I did.

Somewhere along this road I came across the tiniest horned lizard I had seen and just had to take a closer look.

From Willow Ridge road the views were amazing. At the peak of this ridge is a large boulder off the side of the road you can climb up on and get a 360 view of the park. Also along the side of this trail is a giant steel ball perhaps 4 feet in diameter. It was on this trail that I noticed that my legs didn’t just feel tired, they were actually sore and hurt! After a long hot hike down this road at 1:00 pm, a short glimpse of Mississippi Lake not so far away brings a feeling of hope and reward. While walking one the shore-line road of Mississippi Lake I spotted the first tarantula of the trip –it had been squashed dead on the road by a deer or perhaps someone on a mountain bike.

It was a pretty small guy, perhaps 2” long but had some impressive fangs tucked underneath its body. I arrived at my campsite, called “The Ramada Inn” by one source at 2:00pm. I was beat, sore and probably a bit dehydrated as well. I got myself some water and relaxed for a while. I tried my luck at fishing, but decided that it was too hot and I was too tired for fishing, so I settled for a nice shady nap under a tree instead.

During my two-night stay at Mississippi Lake I caught more bass than I could count. During the daytime, the fish preferred to stay in the deep water so weighted baits were best. Near dusk, the fish really hit hard and stayed near the surface. The largest of fish I caught there was approximately 15” in length.

The nights were bright with the moon lighting up my campsite. So bright a flash-light was not needed; even shadows were cast in the moon’s intensity. During my stay here I saw one other tarantula, a large specimen that must have been nearly 4” across in normal stance-unfortunately my camera was back at the campsite. I also gathered a few grass-hoppers in a plastic bag to use as bait in China Hole during my return trip. On the third morning of my trip I woke up at 5:30, hoping to make the most of my early schedule in order to ‘beat the sun’ on the long hike back to headquarters. I had expected there to be plenty of ambient moonlight but was surprised to see that a dense fog had drifted in and muffled most of the light and visibility. I had breakfast, packed up the remainder of my gear and headed out at 6:10 am in the spooky, dark fog towards headquarters. Once there was a bit more light I decided that this fog was really nice, it was completely masking the sun from beating down on me on the shade-less Willow Ridge Road that I had all but roasted on two days earlier.

Unlike two days earlier, the roller coaster ridge didn’t seem so bad this time. The cool fog and watching the next hill come into view seemed to keep me amused. At moments the fog seemed to fade away, getting my first glimpses of the morning sun. It wasn’t until I nearly reached the highest point on Willow Ridge Road that I realized that the fog wasn’t breaking because it was fading away, but because I was actually climbing up out of its reaches. I snapped this photo at 8 am.

On this morning the views from this ridge were absolutely spectacular. The sights on this portion of my trip were worth every aching muscle alone! It’s difficult to describe the beauty I saw there that early October morning. It seemed like I reached the trail-head for Willow Ridge Trail quickly, and I headed down the steep grade towards Los Cruzeros. The constant downhill travel was beginning to make my legs feel weak. I would have even liked to go uphill a stretch to break up the long journey down this trail. Soon I was at Los Cruzeros and headed through the narrows. The sun was still fighting off the fog and it made for easy travel. I arrived at China hole and ate lunch (was still early though). After stealthily scoping out the hole for the fish I had seen two days earlier, I rigged up one of the grasshoppers that I had carried back from Mississippi Lake and tossed it in the small pool. Just as my grasshopper hit the surface of the water there was a splash and a fish was on my line. I pulled this Squawfish to shore.

I released this fish back into China Hole at 9:40 am as the sun began to shine, and packed up my gear for the rest of the trip to Coe Headquarters. From here I knew that even though the hike up to Manzanita Pont would be steeper up the Madrone Soda Spring Trail than China Hole Trail, at least it would be shady for most of the way. So I made my way back up the Canyon Mile Trail and slowly up the Madrone Soda Spring Trail. I reached the Manzanita campground at 11:00 am and was thankful that the long climb out of the canyon was over. I welcomed the fast dusty road and trail to Coe Headquarters and ended my trip at 12:00 noon by pouring the rest of my water on top my hot head. On the drive down the twisty road to Coyote Lake, I noticed another tarantula in the road.

Some things I learned from this trip:

  • When the palms of your hands start sweating, it's time for a break!
  • Fog can be really nice when you want it, but can be a problem if it's wet and cold
  • Mississippi Lake is a good, long hike!

    Last updated: 03/31/05
    Copyright 2005, Greg Miller