“The earth has music for those who listen,” – George Santayana
Pinnacles, established in 2013, is the newest National Park and, with several renovations still under way including changing the signage to reflect its upgrade in status, we found that it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. The park is comprised of two entrances; we entered from the east as this location boasts the only campsites in the park. To get to the west from the east is over an hour drive and, inexplicably, this is where the park built a new and we would like to think state of the art visitor’s center. But, the road to it is not recommended for RVs, so we can only guess.
We arrived around noon to a sweltering 105 degrees (warm even for Texas!) and went into the (old) visitor center, located in a general store, to inquire about a campsite. When we inquired about a visitor’s guide the ranger replied: “maybe we should make one up!” The campground is basically a parking lot but as there were few campers we managed to nab one of the few campsites with plenty of shade to aid the air conditioner in its burden. Despite the heat, or perhaps because of it, fall colors appeared on full display.
Our plan was to beat the heat and the relentless sun by exploring the park in the morning and the evening.
Setting off early, we hiked a little over six miles up the Bear Gulch Cave Trail, which winds through some wonderful talus caves continuing up to the BearGulch Reservoir, climbing up the High Peaks Trail and then returning by way of the Condor Gulch Trail.
The hike was strenuous, especially as the morning wore on and the heat engulfed us in its furnace like grip, but it was one of the best hikes yet!
The spectacular spires and rock formations give Pinnacles its name.
The High Plains trail is steep, narrow and leads to some absolutely stunning vistas.
We found a ranger at the top with what looked like a huge microphone tracking the California condor. Pinnacles is a nesting area and one of a few release sites for the condor. With a wingspan of 9 ½ feet we are relatively certain we would have known had one been spotted but, alas, it was not to be. Arriving back in camp sweaty and dusty we longed to take a dip in the swimming pool (closed for the season the day before we arrived, sigh) but had to settle instead for a long cleansing shower. Electric hook-ups and showers are definitely benefits of this park.
Through improper planning we set out in the late afternoon to the Balconies Caves and didn’t reach them until near dusk. We entered the caves flittering with bats but, although sorely tempted with the full moon enticing us with a false sense of security for the return, decided to head back before we reached the end of the cave trail.
This was the first time we were out at night and we could sense the slither of snakes, the watchful eyes of mountain lions and the long hairy legs of spiders. Even innocent birds roused from the bushes by our swift pace startled us.
Missing a turn towards the end of the trail we were lucky it led to a small bridge that we knew we hadn’t crossed on the way out and were able to quickly double back to the truck arriving in full darkness save the moon. Back at the camper, we marveled at the starry skies, spotted with little twinkling lights from horizon to horizon, and felt the next park beckon.
Next Up: Channel Islands National Park