Thursday, September 23, 2010
Pinnacles National Monument
Pinnacles National Monument is a long 267 miles from Edwards - budget 5+ hours to get there. This park is accessible from the west (Hwy 101) and from the East (I-5), but there is no road running through the park. So you need to decide before you head out what you plan to do.
If you head to the eastern entrance, be fuel aware. The last gas en route is in Coalinga, some 62 miles from the park. Also, the only campground is at the east entrance (but hotel lodging is more readily available at the west entrance). Admission is $5, or free with the National Parks Pass.
Dan accompanied me up to Pinnacles for a 1-night camping trip. We drove up Saturday morning (left 8am, arrived 1pm) and hiked a 6.7 mile loop. High Peaks Trail to Condor Gulch Trail. Along this hike, you get to see great rocky 'pinnacles' and the Bear Gulch Cave. It's not a cave in the traditional sense, but a cave-like area created by boulders piling up. Take a flashlight and plenty of water, since the High Peaks Trail is mostly exposed.
We camped overnight in the Pinnacles Campground. It had pay showers (bring quarters) and a pool (very cold). The 8pm ranger presentation in the outdoor amphitheater was excellent. Note that when we went, no open fires were allowed. You had to bring a camp stove on which to cook.
On Sunday, we drove over to the Old Pinnacles Trailhead parking lot and did a 5.3 mile out-and-back to the Balconies Cave. This cave is longer, with more bats, and is darker than the Bear Gulch Cave. And this trail was mostly level, as it follows the West Fork of Chalone Creek.
Why is Pinnacles neat? From nps.gov, here is a good summary: Pinnacles National Monument began as a volcano that first erupted about 195 miles south of its present location. It has traveled northward along the San Andreas Fault, and currently moves at a rate of about 2 - 3 centimeters per year.
Other than hiking and tame spelunking, this park does not offer much. But it was very refreshing to find a park with a 6.7 mile loop trail (you can make this loop longer, too).