Pinnacles National Park
Taking advantage of last weekend’s three-day weekend, Kelly and I spent a few days at Pinnacles National Park. Formerly designated as a national monument, Pinnacles attained national park status only a few months ago and is the country’s newest national. As compared to other national parks we’ve visited, Pinnacles is tiny, but located only 2.5 hours from our base in HMB, the location is hard to beat.
The park was originally a giant volcano situated about 200 miles to the southeast – near what is now Los Angeles. Estimated to be 15 miles long and 8,000 feet high, it was a big one. Unfortunately for the volcano, it was sitting atop the famously destructive San Andreas fault. Major earthquakes split the volcano, carrying two-thirds of the mountain up the coast to where is sits currently. Add 23 million years of wind, rain, and ice erosion into the mix, the site is now littered with huge spires and two rock caves.
We arrived late Friday to a surprisingly less than full park. The campground sites themselves are mostly primitive, with one loop shared between tents and RVs.
The RV sites offer 30 & 50 amp electrical, but no water or sewer. With daytime temperatures surpassing 90 degrees over the weekend we were thankful for the electric pedestals. Our air conditioner struggled to keep temperatures cool, but we managed to stay comfortable. For sure, we would have been miserable without the A/C relief.
Like much of California, wildfires are a big concern at Pinnacles currently. No fires were allowed and signs reinforcing the ban were posted all across the campground, including this one upon entering.
We had plans for trail hikes both Saturday and Sunday so we awoke early in the morning in an attempt to beat the heat. Comforted with the knowledge Lilly and Moo Moo would be cozy in the Airstream with the A/C blasting, we set out Saturday.
The destination of our first hike was the Balconies Cave. Roughly six miles in duration, the trail starts out mostly flat with some limited shade, courtesy of the high rocks.
About two miles into the trail, we began approaching the first of many spires.
Suddenly the mostly open trail contracted and Kelly and I found ourselves in a canyon-like area. Gone was the leisurely dirt trail requiring us to begin scrambling rocks and boulders before quickly arriving to the cave.
It goes without saying that visibility inside the cave is limited. Actually, there is no visibility – zero. As advised, Kelly and I brought headlamps. Within the picture above, the bright circle on the center is my headlamp … Kelly is further ahead, looking back towards me.
Comprised of thousands of boulders resting atop one another, the cave trail is about half a mile in length. Once we got past the eery thoughts of being squished like ants, we continued along the trail, scrambling over boulders and squeezing between narrow access points.
Once through the cave, the trail opens, continuing again.
We decided to connect to another trail on the return back to camp. This trail was completely exposed and with temperatures well into the 90’s conditions were crazy hot.
Not surprisingly, the spires lure many climbers into the park, including the guy in the picture below (see climber in white clothing near bottom right).
Perhaps due to the heat, Kelly and I had the trails largely to ourselves. The heat was a drag, but it is always nice to enjoy empty trails. I was a little disappointed with the cave itself, but overall, we had a really nice hike.