Beyond the Golden Gate: a short hike through Pinnacles National Monument, California

Most of our hikes have been within about a 70 miles radius from the San Francisco peninsula, so this day trip to Pinnacles Monument, 145 miles to the South of San Francisco and just East of the Salinas Valley, promised to offer something different. Well accustomed as we are to the greenery of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (G.G.N.R.A.), I was particularly keen on visiting what I expected to be a blend between the Bay’s woods and forests and the California desert.

Much of the landscape on the way there bears the marks of seismic activity spread over many centuries and Pinnacles itself is so named because of the spectacular jutting remnants of the long extinct Neenach volcano.

We arrived at the park after an early lunch in Hollister and promptly bought more bottled water at the visitors’ store as the sun was almost directly overhead by then. Even in March, and although it had rained in the previous couple of days, you can never have too much water outdoors.

In addition to some unique geological features, the park is also one of very few places where one can observe California Condors in the wild, thanks to outstanding efforts to re-establish the species. They remain one of the main attractions of the park and we spent a good while learning about them and conservancy efforts from the volunteers at the visitor center.

From the Bear Gulch visitor center, we set out onto the Moses Spring trail:

This took us to the Bear Gulch talus caves, which are the result of huge rocks tumbling down narrow gorges during massive earth tremors. Thankfully, it is possible to exit the caves in several places, since in some spots, water was ankle deep and the low ceiling would force us to our knees. Navigating, or rather, contorting through the narrow, claustrophobic passages, I kept thinking we might enact a 30 seconds or less version of “a bug’s life” with a tragic ending should the earth decide to move again, but at least it wouldn’t be thirst we’d die of:
And from there, we climbed up stairs to the Bear Gulch reservoir, a nice place to catch your breath and stretch, where the views are both serene and spectacular:

Hiking the Rim trail was an easy walk away from the reservoir, with plenty of interesting rock formations along the way back to the High Peaks trail, not to mention views very much reminiscent of old Disney nature documentaries. Although we took the High Peaks trail a couple hundred yards towards Hawkins’ peak, we managed to catch sight of only one Condor gliding high above, but were too unsteady to get a clear picture (sorry!).  For more information on this national treasure, check this National Park Service link:http://www.nps.gov/pinn/


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