A year ago Kelly and I completed our longest tow day ever – 11 hours on the road only to go nowhere. I’ve detailed events of that fiasco previously, but suffice it to say, I do not advise towing a fully provisioned trailer along a very crowded HW1 on the 4th of July, especially without a campground reservation securely in hand.
Determined not to make that same mistake this year, Kelly and I finalized holiday weekend reservations at Pinnacles National Park well in advance. This would be our second visit to America’s newest national park and our plan was to spend a few relaxing days hiking the trails we didn’t complete during our visit last fall.
Knowing the weather would likely be hot, our plan was to be on the trail by 7am each morning in order to be back at the trailer a few hours later, before temperatures rose to triple digits. Just as planned, the following morning we arrived to the trailhead around 8:30am.
Bathroom at the trailhead
I’d categorize the first trail as ‘ok’. The trail took us through rolling sections of tree cover and skirted some cool ravine areas before arriving to sketchy stairs carved into a rock face leading to a giant reservoir … which as far as I could tell, was inhabited mostly by snakes, frogs, and turtles. But mostly, the trail lacked in ‘wow’ factor. Perhaps I’m starting to become spoiled with the abundance of ‘wow’ scenery in California, but for me, this hike – while certainly pleasant, wasn’t the best I’ve seen, nor the best the park has to offer.
Headed over there somewhere
Kelly pauses for a look
climbing up towards the reservoir
Reservoir low on water – another victim of the severe drought conditions
Lots of snakes relaxing under the warm sun
Pinnacle rock formations
Day 2 started off a bit better – that is to say we arrived to the trailhead by 8am, but still sufficiently late for our 7am target (hey, it’s vacation, cut us some slack please). Anyway, our plan was to complete one of the larger loops which would take us to what one park ranger referred to as the “money shot” section of the park. Having seen the western side of the park during our last visit, I concur with the spirit of his comment – the area is stunningly beautiful, but I would prefer that ranges refrain from describing anything as being a money shot when conversing with me.
The weather seemed to be warmer than the day prior, and with no cloud-cover in sight, we knew to expect high temperatures for much of this unshaded hike. However, before we would face any of the high heat, we first had to navigate through one of the park’s three caves. Technically, these are not caves per se, rather hundreds … perhaps thousands of boulders which have toppled onto themselves, creating a cave-like effect. The result is a section of trail that is completely dark, damp, and very cool (temperature-wise). Oh, and a lot of fun.
The park literature and signage approaching all of the park’s caves strongly advise the usage of a headlight(s). Myself, I cannot imagine attempting to navigate the caves without lighting, but I’m sure some dumb-ass has tried.
Approaching the cave
Just inside the cave, looking back towards the entrance
The picture below was taken using a flash, but trust me, it’s absolutely dark in these caves. Note the guide arrow (pointing to the right) above Kelly’s left hand. Also, check out the size of the boulders – they are huge!
Kelly, cautiously making her way forward
Dave descending into the 2nd set of caves
Once through the cave section, the trail winds through a series of giant boulders and other rock faces before opening onto an expansive meadow. We then connected to a trail that winds atop some of the higher points (2500-ish feet) of the park, affording fantastic views. Total hike was about 8.5 miles. July isn’t the best time to visit – it’s crazy hot, dry, and much of the plant life is burnt to a crisp. With better planning on our part, I would expect springtime to be glorious … wild flowers blooming everywhere.
BIG rocks wedged everywhere
Transitioning from caves to meadows
More pinnacles as we hike towards the highpoint of the trail
Not long after we returned to the trailer, the air conditioning failed. Quickly, the inside temperatures of the Airstream soared to a sweltering state, but we managed to make the best of the situation … including Kelly’s usage of an ice pack to cool her aching head.
Turns out that the failed AC was caused by a tripped GFCI bathroom breaker … probably due to heavy load. Foolishly, I failed to consider this simple fact as part of my troubleshooting, so we had no choice but to sweat it out with many others for hours until the temps broke. Fortunately, I did notice GFCI after work today (Monday), which was easily reset with the push a button.
So it turns out the misery you see in the photo above could have easily been avoided had I noticed tripped outlet. Sorry Kelly.