Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park is a new, fairly small park. It was raised from National Monument to Park a few years ago. It sits on the San Andreas fault, south east of Salinas, CA. The highlights of the park are two talus caves, and the high peaks region. The high peaks has many rock formations. It is also one of the places that California Condors are being released back into the wild.

On Saturday, 3-28 I went hiking with a bunch of friends. After getting up earlier than we wanted to on a weekend, we met up at Levi's Stadium to carpool down. The drive south of Hollister was rather scenic and fun. We did a loop from the east side of the park. The trailhead lots were full when we arrived, and there was an hour wait for the shuttle to them, so we had to change our plans and leave from the visitors center. From there we walked to the Old Pinnacles Trailhead, getting our first views of the rocks along the way.
First View of the High Peaks.
It was a pleasant walk along the Old Pinnacles Trail to the Balconies Cave entrance. The trail was mostly in the trees, but with plenty of breaks to see up at the rocks. Before entering the cave we stopped for lunch, then donned headlamps and entered the cave.
Balconies Cave entrance.
There are gates at either end of the cave so they can be closed when the bats come to mate. It was dark inside, and I discovered that my headlamp batteries were dying. This was no problem, however, because there were so many other people in the cave it was rather bright. At the other entrance a few of us went climbing up a slope, and while looking for a different way down saw a giant swarm of bees. This was interesting, but they were blocking the best path down. On the other side of the cave, and park, we stopped by the parking lot to use the facilities and fill up on water.
Near the parking lot on the West side.
Thus refreshed we headed uphill to the high peaks region on the Juniper Canyon Trail. This trail went through the eponymous canyon, and it was beautiful. There were lots of switchbacks, which I still think are a novelty. There were also a few climbers, which are fun to watch.
Somewhere in Juniper Canyon.

Looking up Juniper Canyon.
Coming down the hill were a large number of boy scouts. I think that there were three or four troops in the park that weekend. At the top of the hill, we turned right onto the High Peaks Trail. This is the section that is steep and narrow, and has the best views. There were many birds flying around, including a number of California condors. I remember first learning about them at the Grand Canyon, at a ranger talk. The ranger had a cutout that was the size of one of the birds, and it was big. It was really neat to see them in real life, and fairly close.
Thankfully, no one was afraid of heights, so the high peaks section went by without incident.
Steps cut into the rock.

A bridge. Don't look down!

Condors

Looking South

The condor flew right overhead!
After the excitement of the high peaks, the walk down was pleasant, on the shady side of the mountain. We took a break, and I took the chance to fly my mini kite.
Heading back.
When we got to the Bear Gulch trailhead we took the shuttle back to the visitors center, then drove back to the bay area. Overall, it was a great hike, and I would recommend checking out the park if you have a day and are in the area.
Smile!
P.S. - After returning to work on Monday I found out that my boss had gone to the park the same day, and we only missed him by an hour or two. Its a small world.

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