Travel Stage: After San Francisco Area, Before Ventura
Date Range: December 7-14, 2016
Summary: We stayed just down the road from a lesser-known National Park called Pinnacles National Park.
We were staying about 30 minutes away from a little known National Park called Pinnacles National Park. It is little known because it really is in the middle of nowhere in California’s Central Valley. It is the product of thousands and thousands of years of a fault line moving through the valley – you may have heard of it, it is called the San Andreas Fault.
We knew little about the park to begin with, except that it must have pinnacles – rock formations that spire up and out of the ground. We looked at pictures online and they were slightly underwhelming – tan boulders on hillsides. We did learn that there were caves you could walk through though. We arrived and grabbed our map, then headed for the Bear Gulch Caves.
One of the reasons you may not have heard of this park is because it is actually very new. Pinnacles National Monument was established in 1908 by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Pinnacles National Park was created from the former Pinnacles National Monument by legislation passed by Congress in late 2012 and signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 10, 2013.
The park’s namesakes are the eroded leftovers of the western half of an extinct volcano that has moved 200 miles (320 km) from its original location on the San Andreas Fault. There is no through road that connects the east and west entrances to the park, and we entered through the east entrance. The east side has shade and water, the west has high walls. The rock formations provide for spectacular pinnacles that attract rock climbers. The park features unusual talus caves that house at least thirteen species of bat. The park is also a release site for rare California Condors that were hatched in captivity.
Bear Gulch Caves
We were utterly and completely surprised by the awesomeness that was the Bear Gulch Cave trail. It literally takes you through this gully full of gigantic boulders, rock walls, caves, and passageways, up stairs built into the rock. Flashlights are very much suggested if not required! It is dark and here, and wet, and super cool.
These caves and the Balconies Caves on the west are called talus caves, which are deep, narrow gorges and shear fractures that were transformed into caves by large chunks of rock falling from above and wedging into the cracks leaving an open area below.
We followed this trail for a mile or so until we got hungry for lunch. We picked out a decently epic place to plop down and refuel.
We continued on to the top of the ridge and through the tunnel on the “Tunnel Trail” – which took us through some beautiful scenery! And the pinnacles! The pictures online and in this blog post do NOT do the place justice. It really was very beautiful, and we would highly recommend it to anyone traveling through this area. We’d love to come back and do the High Peaks Trail and the Balconies Caves.
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