Pinnacles National Park

Leaving family is never easy but it was time to head on back to Florida after being itinerant for 4 month and having logged almost 8000 miles of travel on an intensely active and varied journey. With a home sitting empty and several appointments on the November docket, I set out on Wednesday, October 18th. Though I had intended to leave a bit earlier, a trip to Oakland CA with my granddaughter Amara to visit my two granddaughters who live in Oakland took precedence. Since Amara wanted time with her cousins I chose to do the round trip from Ashland rather than going solo and heading on down through California with a visit en route. The plan was to return via a more southern route and hopefully avoid those cold nights in the tent I experienced in September last year when traveling through Lassen and Yosemite in California and Mesa Verde in Colorado. I had a two day frantic packing affair, including getting the car top carrier on; making decisions about which of my precious t-shirts I was going to leave and which to take (after all I really don’t need all 20 back in Florida where another 100 probably are rotting away in my absence); stocking up on camp food as if there were no stores along the way that i would come across on this journey (might this be called hoarding?); getting the car washed so it would look awesome on the dusty gravel roads I always manage to find; and most importantly getting to Starbucks for the Via!!! I then proceeded to poke my way out of town. I was at least an hour and fifteen minutes beyond my original goal. In most cases that would not make a difference, but I was heading to Pinnacles National Park and I did not relish the idea of setting up camp in the dark. Now I was pushing it.

I headed right back down the route I had followed on the week-end. My endeavor still is to avoid as many interstates as possible but there is no easy route through central CA that would get me there in any kind of timely fashion. Good old Siri suggested a couple of routes avoiding the interstate which would each take 12-13 hours. No thank you! I will tolerate the highway. The northern California selection of the drive from the state line through the Shasta Trinity National Forest and on down past Shasta Lake I must admit is scenic and lovely but once I hit Redding any semblance of enjoyment and appreciating the surroundings was a NOT! I all over again began to experience that hatred of Interstate with the fast moving cars darting in and out of traffic, the enormous number of enormous truck, the myriad of signs on very tall “stilts” so as to seen 5 miles back, the backsides of the small, medium and very large box stores, and fast food, and more fast food and gas, gas, gas! AND on this day there was a great pall of gray smaze/smoke hanging over the Coastal Ranges and Sierra Nevada Mountain Ranges on both side of the San Joaquin Valley. Some certainly was from the massive number of wildfires in CA. But the observing of it casted a very sombre tone to think that so much particulate matter from the cities, highways and farms affects so much of the grandeur of our country swell as plants, animals and humans

So I poked (well actually sped) on down Interstate 5 with pit stops just about every hour ( I had to speed to make up for these!) . I was trying to stay well hydrated and my body certainly was doing a great job of trying to dehydrate me. And of course there were the stops for three very short walks for the dogs. I was not in a patient place and by mid afternoon I knew I’d be setting up camp by headlight (assuming I could angle the car in a fashion to accomplish this. So i pathetically endured the drive but opted to head through Sacramento rather than back through Oakland. I hit my good old fashion and very endearing two lane roads at about the 400 mile mark. It took 400 miles of stress, smoke, piggy-back truckloads of garlic, back ups around cities, monotonous dry yellow fields of hay, etc, to get there.

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I still had about 90 miles to go but happily settled into a less frantic drive along the San Luis Reservoir and into the Diablo Range. Sunset was a panoply on pinks, purples and oranges and was very soothing and settling after the many tedious hours on the interstate. I managed to drive into Pinnacles around 7:30 and there was almost no ambient light so it was very dark and wonderful for star gazing. My car lights on bright however interrupted this dark space as the darkness didn’t make it easy to find the campsite, Somehow I had it in my head I was in campsite 86. The sign pointed to site 1-83 to the left and 84 + straight ahead. I could not find #86 and kept looping around feeling crazy while almost hitting two deer, dodging bunny rabbits, and shining my bright headlights into many campsites . All of the sites so far had signs on the primary road. Finally, after many turn arounds I decided to re-check my site number and came to discover it was 68, which had definitely passed at least thrice. Thank goodness it wasn’t 86 as the next morning i discovered it was in a loop of RV’S which appeared to be side-by side in a very open “parking” lot. Site 68 was very private, set in its own little “cul-de-sac with a long driveway leading into a nice little dining area and further in, past the bear box, was a partially fenced area for the tent surrounded by vegetation. I discovered in the morning the fence purposeful as without it I might have wandered out of the tent in the night and fell off a 15 foot ridge. It might also serve the very useful purpose of keeping deer and other critters from settling into our tent home.

it was not as challenging as I though setting upon the tent and all my luxury items since I was car camping . I could aim the car lights into the bedroom area and proceeded on. I decided to take a walk with the dogs to find a restroom and headed out to the right when I go to number 83 – the last one in this area with no luck I headed back and started out the other way. Of course it was not but 25 feet down from my site and set far enough back to not be noticed while driving my loopdy-loops. Since I was after hours there was no ranger handing out park maps. Interestingly this park seems to be on the honor system and at the entrance directs one to go to the information center and park store to pay fees,

I was under the impression that since I was close to 500 miles further south and not up in the high Sierra’s It would not be too chilly at night. I was expecting perhaps 50-55. I pretty much knew this was not the case as I settled into the tent and felt chilled. I actually had a couple of bouts of shivering in my sleeping bag, I checked the car thermostat in the morning said 39 degrees. With numb hands tried to open the S’Buck’s Via and light the Jet Boil. The canister was empty. Disaster was striking. Of course if this is the worst disaster I ever experience I am truly fortunate. I managed to get a new canister screwed on with my very numb fingers. Finally after all he fussing around I had a hot cup of coffee and was then willing to feed the dogs.who were of course cocooning in the tent and not silly enough to be out in the cold.

It was a lovely morning, though chilly, and after breakfast and a three mile walk around the campground, I decided to head over to the other side of the park SINCE THE DOGS ARE NOT WELCOME ON ANY OF THE HIKING TRAILS IN ANY NATIONAL PARK . The main road in the park does not go through so it is a 60 mile drive to get to the west entrance. I found the drive to be a great adventure as I was on a twisty, windy, hilly, dipping and twisting two lane highway with very little traffic. The scenery was varyingly beautiful and a clear sky provided excellent vistas of the near and distant mountains. The hills around were an array of domes, and at times peaks and pyramids, many extremely smooth and others dotted with chaparral and other scrub trees I kept imagining a great pile of gold, tan and brown velvet material having been laid upon this land and what resulted was graceful folds, curves, and shadows, on domes of many sizes. The road wove up and down like a roller coaster and at times I could see vast fields of vegetable in the valley below. At one pullout on a ridge above the valley I sighted a couple Condors soaring on the updrafts in the distance. This park is a release site for the condor which was listed as an endangered species. The rest of the time I am quite sure birds I saw of about the same size were turkey vultures! The beauty of backroads for me is that I feel so much more a part of the land. I can just pull off to the side and get an upfront and personal feel of the land around me, check out what is really growing that I had observed from a distance, and even touch the rich soils of these irrigated valleys. I don’t often see such vast fields of a variety of crops, all in different stages of growth. I was fascinated to be able to observe a field where busloads of pickers had been hired ,trucks with port-a-johns were on site, and hundreds of box loads of what appeared broccoli. This was so refreshing after the hundreds of miles of very arid bland cropland in central California. However, during along it was clear there is a lot of political controversy regarding water use and access. One sign I often spotted focused on the hypothetical question of “Is growing food a waste of water”.

CA 146, the road into the park was very narrow and winding and at times one lane. It is not a road for the faint heart. But that made it even more of an adventure and is fitting in this protected wilderness. Pinnacle National Park is one of the newest parks though it was a National Monument previously It became a park in 2013. Like so many of the parks it has a beauty all its own and the major landform from which it gets it name is a series of spires, ramparts and crags that are in direct contrast to the smooth golden rolling foothills in much of the park and surrounding area. The dogs and I were going to have a picnic lunch in the day use area just below the massive vault of spires but had to kept it brief as it was hot and full sun with no shaded tables to be found. So after appreciating the beauty of the spires which we were quite close and readily accessible (not so on east campground side), it was back on the roller coaster road home.

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“Home” becomes anyplace we decided to park our head for the night. I was relieved that this night was a toasty 46 degrees though there was a downpour in the middle of the night and everything was damp and wet. Fortunately I had not left much outside as this is bear country and things were either in the car or the bear box.

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