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Posts tagged ‘Pinnacles National Park’

Avoiding Groundhog Day

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

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

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

Kelly, cautiously making her way forward

Dave descending into the 2nd set of caves

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.


Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park

Entering the 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.

Our site Friday evening

Our site Friday evening

Saturday, the campground beginning to fill

Saturday, the campground beginning to fill

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.

fire danger is high

Fire danger is high

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.


The low lands of the Old Pinnacles Trail

About two miles into the trail, we began approaching the first of many spires.


The first set of 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.

Approaching the cave

Approaching the cave

Entering the Balconies Cave

Entering the Balconies Cave

Low ground on the Old Pinnacles Trail

Inside 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.

Exiting the cave

Exiting the cave

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.