Wednesday, December 24
After a slow morning spent puttering around inside the RV and a leisurely walk around the campground to admire more of the redwoods at Big Basin, it’s time to pack up and move out.
Last night at the visitor’s center we’d gone up to the ranger desk to try to find an easier way to leave the park. There was one person in front of us in line, and he was asking the same question.
“There’s this road here, how is it?” He asks, pointing to the squiggle of Bear Creek Road. I wince in remembrance.
“No, don’t take that one.” The ranger responds. “I took that road home from work once when I felt like a challenge, never again. Take this one instead.” She points to where Route 9 curves south out of Boulder
I can’t help but pipe up from behind him. “Oh, thank goodness, we had the same question. We came in on Bear Creek Road-“
“Ooooh.” The ranger winces.
“-pulling a 17 foot trailer-“
“Oooooh”, The ranger winces again.
“-And we were really hoping there was a better way.”
She gives us both a little printout map with the right road highlighted to make it easier. From across the parking lot another member of the man’s party gives a shout. “Don’t worry, we found the way out!”
“No.” the man says, now informed. “You only think you did.” All of us smile.
Route 9 ends in Santa Cruz at Route 1, a road I have heard is very scenic and worth a drive. Julie and I only get 16 miles of it today before we cut across further east, but I’ll be back someday to do the whole thing.
We cross Hwy 101 and hit the much smaller and more rustic route 25. Hardly anyone is traveling on this two lane road that follows a green valley between rolling hills. We needed to be on this road to ensure we enter Pinnacles National Park from the east entrance, the two entrances to the park do not meet up with each other, and the campground is on the east side.
Pinnacles is the newest national park, having been a national monument up until a few years ago. As the name might imply, the big draw are the rugged spires of rock jutting up from the ridge that runs through the middle of the park. It’s a smaller operation than many national parks and is not heavily staffed this time of year. We go into the visitor’s center to check in, we paid online in advance.
Our site for Christmas has 30 amp electric and costs $35 a night on top of the entrance fee (waived for us because I bought the $80 annual park pass last summer – it’s a good investment for RVers who are going to be visiting a lot of national sites in a year!).
The campground isn’t anything special. The area is dryer being farther inland and not as green as other parts of California we’ve been driving through. The loop that has electric has no grass, very few trees, and the sites are pretty close together. There’s a quite a bit of construction going on in the area and the campground looks unfinished. Maybe when it’s done it’ll look better. Not that it’s a horrible campground or anything, I’m just use to national park campgrounds being more scenic than this. Still though, it’s worth it to have electric for the holiday. Julie and I will be able to watch TV shows on the computer, warm up hot cocoa in the microwave, and run the heaters overnight.
We take a drive up the only road on the east side of the park into the hills to the trail heads.
Farther up the hillside the beauty of Pinnacles becomes more apparent. Giant mossy stones litter narrow gullies, trees are more abundant, and the view of the valley below and the ridge on the other side draws an appreciating grin.
We hike the short but neat Bear Gulch Cave trail, which is about a mile and a half in length. Pinnacles National Park has two pretty special caves called talus caves. A talus cave isn’t formed by water or wind carving out rock, but from rock falling into a narrow canyon, creating a roof over it.
Both of Pinnacles caves have running water in them which deepen the canyon. The trail enters along the stream under huge fallen boulders. During periods of heavy rain and flooding the caves are closed, because the caves are under water, flashlights are required for hiking in the caves at all times.
The trail twists and curves, following the sound of water which is often not visible deep below. The imperfect way the boulders overhead have fallen against each other do allow some light to sneak in between cracks, offering tantalizing glimpses into this secret world. In places where the roof is too low or the climb too steep, the trail has been carved into the boulders to allow people to pass, but even for smaller hikers there is some stooping involved. If you aren’t good at bending over or get nervous squeezing through tight places, this probably isn’t the hike for you.
Outside of the cave, the mist from this morning seems to has finally caught up with us. As we climb back down the hills the fog and light rain play across the landscape offering us fleeting views and adding an air of surreality to the surroundings. The few day visitors have all left with the end of day, dropping temperatures, and precipitation. All is still. I take back what I say about Pinnacles being nothing special, it’s just more well hidden than at places like Big Basin.
Thursday, December 25
Today is a hiking day.
Julie and I picked out the 5.3 mile Condor Gulch/High Peaks loop for today’s hike, which goes higher than the two cave trails and allows for better views of the pinnacles themselves. It’s rated as strenuous with over a 1,000 foot climb in elevation, but after Angel’s Landing at Zion and the waterfall trails at Yosemite, this shouldn’t be too hard from us.
I have my Christmas present to myself along today, a Camelbak backpack with a water reservoir. It’s something I’d wished for the entire summer at Zion, but which I didn’t feel comfortable with buying until I had a little extra money again. I’m sure I’ll get my money’s worth from it.
The pinnacles are neat. Erosion has ate away at the softer rock on this ridge and left behind the harder rock in some pretty fantastical shapes. The weather is clear if still a bit cold, and traffic on the trails is light. I say Merry Christmas to the people we pass, and smile. As far as holidays go, this is a pretty awesome way to spend one, much better than Christmas last year when I was stuck at Amazon still because of an ice storm.
After the hike, which takes a good chunk of the day since we’re dawdling for pictures and not in any hurry, Julie creatively cooks a Christmas dinner using all three of my appliances. The chicken is cooked on my tiny George Foreman, the stuffing is done on the stove, and the frozen peas are in a special pouch that can be microwaved. We catch up on TV shows we’re behind on while eating and enjoy a drink. I have a very merry Christmas, I hope you all did too.