Take a Hike . . . with Mike Monroe: Follow Anza’s footsteps and learn the ‘Myths and Legends of the Coyote’
Published in the March 15 – 28, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Mike Monroe
Driving up Roop Road to the Mendoza Ranch entrance of Coyote Lake County Park, you will notice signs alongside posting the auto tour route for the Juan Bautista de Anza Expedition.
In early April of 1776, with the Spanish colonists resting in Monterey, a small party comprised of soldiers and a missionary priest had completed their explorations of the San Francisco Peninsula and decided to venture to the Bay Delta. They had observed the Sierra Nevadas and had thoughts of crossing into the valley beyond, but the marshy conditions forced them to turn south. Anza decided to return to Monterey.
More than 250 years ago, the route through the Diablo Range was rough going. Anza noted in his journal his “disappointment due to the difficult passage” and referred to the many ridges as “Sierra del Chasco” — Mountains of the Joke.
It was from the headwaters of the Arroyo del Coyote in what is now Henry W. Coe State Park that they followed the creek past what later became the Gilroy Hot Springs resort. Near the creek’s confluence with the Canada de los Osos they camped on April 6, 1776. Father Pedro Font recorded the name of the creek as “Coyote” because of the continuing presence of coyotes during their journey. Font also wrote in his diary on Easter Sunday April 7 that “10 or 12 Indians came out on the road (descending from the hills into the Gilroy Valley) to salute us, from a village which was near there, on the banks of a lagoon (Soap Lake). They gave us amole (a plant used for soap) and two fish.”
The plan for our walk is to link into a ranger program that will be starting from Coyote Lake at 10 a.m. The subject for the talk will be the “Myths and Legends of the Coyote,” which will be fun and informative for all ages.
The first peoples who have lived in southern Santa Clara County for at least 5,000 years are sometimes referred to as members of the Ohlone language group. Their territory extended from the Monterey Bay to the San Francisco Bay, with the Diablo Range as the eastern border.
More accurately, it was the Amah Mustun who lived in southern Santa Clara County and northern San Benito County who welcomed the Anza party. Anthropologists have identified the tribelet residing close to Coyote Lake and the Canada de los Osos as the Ausaimas.
Native American people passed from generation to generation their creation stories that include familiar animals and birds such as the Eagle, the Coyote and the Hummingbird. Mt. Umunhum, according to the Amah, is the “resting place of the Hummingbird.” Many stories are told of how Hummingbird acquired fire for the people. Hence the ruby red throat of an Anna’s Hummingbird. Coyote was the ancestor of humankind and is portrayed as a trickster whose antics are told as life lessons, teaching people survival skills and living in community. Several religious traditions have the story of the deluge in which the world is covered with water, and for many Ohlone tribal bands the Hummingbird, Eagle and Coyote restarted civilization.
We tend to view coyotes today with suspicion, sometimes with fear or as a nuisance. Certainly they are aggressive predators and have adapted well to an onslaught of control measures that we have employed to control their populations.
We trap them, poison them and shoot them. But because they are extremely smart animals, our lethal efforts have not been able to remove them from the landscape.
Researchers have concluded that our extermination strategies have resulted in actually increasing coyote populations as their breeding practices quickly adjust.
According to Project Coyote, the best approach is respectful coexistence as the coyote is comfortable in most habitats — country, mountains and city — as long as there is adequate shelter and food.
As our residential developments and agriculture operations have expanded into more rural and rugged territory, we need to acknowledge that this landscape is also home to mountain lions, coyotes and bobcats. We, too, should utilize adaption strategies that aim to protect wildlife and, in particular, accept and appreciate that coyotes are an integral part of our healthy ecosystems.
Gilroy resident Mike Monroe is a Morgan Hill business owner and naturalist. He is a docent for Santa Clara County Parks.