Pinnacles National Park

 

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I intend to visit all the National Parks in the contiguous US within the next ten years. The US has fifty-eight National Parks. Hawaii has two and Alaska has eight, which leaves forty-eight parks in the contiguous US. Until last week, I had seen only two of them: Yosemite and the Channel Islands. Last week  I visited my third, Pinnacles National Park, leaving me forty-five to go. Pinnacles is about 3.5 hours south of my home in San Rafael, small, and uncrowded.

Route

Pinnacles is the nation’s newest National Park. In 2013, Congress upgraded it from National Monument. It is known for it’s rock formations (duh!), the place where the California condor was released, and for the largest amount of species of bees in the world. It is supposedly a rock climber’s paradise, but a rock climber I am not. With my National Parks Senior Pass, I got 50% off the campground site and free entry to the park. I paid $18/night for the campsite.

California was still having a heat wave. Daytime weather fluctuated between 102 and 108 degrees during my two-day trip. The air was also hazy from all the wildfires in California and Oregon. Not so great for taking photos.

I left civilization after driving through Gilroy, known for its garlic. I passed this industrial area with a line-up of trucks full of the pungent bulbs …

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… followed by a block of market stands selling garlic braids and other local produce. I bought a basket of Bing cherries thinking I was supporting the local farmers. Turned out they came from the state of Washington. Oh well.

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The road from Gilroy to San Benito County, where the park is, consisted of farms and golden fields of grassland.

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I passed the San Benito County fairgrounds, where, interesting to me, there was a sign saying that RV parking was available.

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A sign as I entered the tiny town of Tres Pinos (population 500) let me know it was the last place I could purchase gas. I had already tanked up at the Costco in Gilroy.

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After more grassy hills, I came to the RV campground, which is not within the pinnacles, but about a mile east. I pulled into the parking lot of the visitor center and parked right next to a Roadtrek version of Ramsey.  Roadtrek is the major competitor to PleasureWay, the company that built Ramsey on a Dodge Promaster 3500 truck chassis. The Roadtrek was also built on that chassis. You can see they are cousins!

2444-RamseyRoadtrekI checked in at the visitor center with my Senior Pass in hand. It was blissfully air-conditioned in there.

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It was about 1:00. The park let me in earlier than their formal check-in time. Annie and set up camp at spot number 106, which was the far eastern end of the loop.

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Then we returned to the Visitor Center, this time with my National Parks Passport in hand. One ranger held Annie’s leash while another ranger took this video of me stamping my first National Parks stamp in my passport.

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After that, we returned to the rig. It was so hot, there was nothing more we could do than crank the air-conditioner to full speed, read, and eat the cherries, which had been cooling in my fridge.

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Around 4:00 we took a tour of the campground. I looked through the telescopes that aim at the hills where the condors live. Placards explain that the difference between the condors and the turkey vultures is a white patch under their wings. I saw a lot of dark blobs in the trees, but nothing I could clearly identify as a condor.

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The ranger said wild turkeys often roam the camp but I saw none. I did spot this deer and a wild hare. Quails scurried everywhere.

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It being too hot to take a hike, I purchased an ice cream sandwich at the visitor center and sat on the porch to people watch. The dog friendly visitors kept Annie well petted.

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From the east end of the campground, it is possible to hike to the pinnacles area. There are two major places people hike. One is a shortish walk through Bear Gulch that takes about 45 minutes. The other is to the highest pinnacles known as the Balconies. That takes much more time. There is very little parking, maybe ten spaces, at the beginning of the trails. Most people take a shuttle from the Visitors Center to the trail head and hike from there. The shuttle leaves every 20 minutes, starting at 9:00 in the morning.

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Pets are not allowed on the trails. Since I didn’t want to leave Annie in the rig and take the shuttle, I decided to take my chances and drive Ramsey to the parking lot by the Bear Gulch trail head early in the morning and leave her there. We left at about 8:00 am.

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The parking lot was mostly shady, and the temperature cool and overcast. I felt secure Annie would be comfortable.

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My destination was the small Bear Gulch Reservoir, which one reaches through a trail encrusted with boulders and caves. My three-year old grandson, who loves to climb steps and rocks, would have been in Paradise. Bats live in many of the caves, but the areas where they breed are closed off at this time of year.

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Fortunately, I had learned ahead of time that I would need a flashlight for some of the caves. There were a few that were completely dark.

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I climbed the steps in the photo above and came out to the pretty little reservoir.

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The clouds began to clear, which meant time to head back before it got hot inside Ramsey.

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A few more caves and I was on the road for home.

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