Byline – C. Otaguro
Having three of the most popular American parks, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, and Sequoia / Kings Canyon in California, it’s easy to overlook the newest national park, Pinnacles. Luck for us, this gem can be found right in our back yard in the Gabilan Mountains just east of the Salinas Valley. This enticed 16 NSCers and guests to make the 1.5 hour trek on March 30th to visit Pinnacles, America’s 59th national park.
The threat of rain showers almost cancelled our trip, but our worries were unfounded as we headed out under light overcast skies. Hoyt drove us (Morgan, Greg, Tony, Karen, and me) from his home heading south of San Jose then through Hollister. As we neared the park, Hoyt suggested that we first meet at the east entrance instead of the original meeting place, Bear Gulch Visitor Center, just in case the parking lots were full since it was the Easter weekend. Entering the east entrance, Hoyt’s foresight came true as we saw a long line of visitors waiting for the shuttle bus after parking in the overflow lots. David Tom soon drove up with Bev, Jenni, and Michelle. We didn’t see David and Amy there, but assumed they were already waiting at the Bear Gulch Visitor Center since they left before us. After parking, we deliberated whether it would be faster to walk or take the shuttle 2 miles to the start of the trailhead. Taking into account that there were 2 shuttle buses carrying approximately 20 – 25 people, the number of people waiting in line, and a pick up time of around 15 minutes, we decided the best choice would be to wait for the shuttle.
After a short wait, we boarded a shuttle bus and rode to Bear Gulch Visitor Center where we spotted David and Amy. Luckily, they managed to get one of the few remaining spots at a lot closer to the center. The original plan for the day was to hike the High Peaks trail counterclockwise then hike to the Bear Gulch Caves, time permitting. However, since the majority of the group desired to see the caves, we opted on a clockwise route, planning to double back from the High Peaks trail if we ran out of time. We also decided on a lunch stop at the Bear Gulch Reservoir, next to the caves as it was already past noon.
We started hiking on the Bear Gulch Caves trail which climbed steadily, running parallel to a road along a narrow canyon. Trees provided shade as we hiked toward the caves. We walked alongside a small stream as we entered the talus caves – tunnel-like caverns created when massive boulder toppled into the narrow ravines. I pulled out my headlamp to explore the darker spurs, hoping to catch a glimpse of bats which colonize these caves.
We climbed upwards, passing water spilling over boulders, a small pool, and saw shafts of sunlight slipping past huge boulders overhead. Marked arrows led us deeper into the caves, where we were forced to squeeze through some tight sections. A four-story climb up stairs cut from the side of a rock wall led us out from the caves to a reservoir which opened up towards the western side of the park. Eventually everyone from our group left the caves and joined the throng of hikers who had stopped for the view.
I found a spot near the reservoir and unpacked the bentos that I was carrying for Karen and myself. The homemade bento consisting of chicken, musubi, and Spam musubi was very satisfying! A ranger came by and played an Indian song on a flute and then proceeded to give a history of the Pinnacles.e throng of hikers who had stopped for the view.
The Pinnacles volcano came into existence an estimated twenty-two to twenty-three million years ago. It slowly grew over time to nearly the size of Mount Saint Helens. However, the steady movement of seismic plates of the San Andreas Fault slowly destroyed the volcano over time leaving one-third of it in Southern California and moving the other two-thirds of it in Southern California and moving the other two-thirds to the current park location. The volcano slowly sunk and eroded over time by wind, rain, and ice, forming ravines and monoliths and colonnades alongside massive walls and lonely pillars. Boulders fell from lofty recesses to top narrow stream channels forming the talus caves.
We estimated that we had enough daylight to finish our planned route, so we continued on the High Peaks Trail after lunch. The trail wound around some pinnacles then headed northwest. A few miles later, we reached the base of the High Peaks where we encountered a series of switchbacks. Jenni identified the patches of Manzanita with its characteristic red bark and stiff, twisting branches that we saw alongside the trail. We were rewarded near the top with a view of condors leisurely riding the thermal updrafts. At the top, we enjoyed the views as we waited for the rest of our group. David and I scrambled up some rocks to a higher vantage point and were rewarding with a fantastic view of the park. Everyone showed up except for Hoyt and his neighbor friends. We conjectured that they may have decided to double back on the trail, returning to the trailhead, so we decided to hike on.o the current park location. The volcano slowly sunk and eroded over time by wind, rain, and ice, forming ravines and monoliths and colonnades alongside massive walls and lonely pillars. Boulders fell from lofty recesses to top narrow stream channels forming the talus caves.
The trail continued along the ridge of the High Peaks. We climbed up and down some narrow or steep sections with cable railings. As the trail headed east, we enjoyed stunning views of the Balcony cliffs. Wildflowers such as Indian paintbrush, Parry’s larkspur, and Peak rush-rose dotted the trail. The light started slowly fading as we headed down switchbacks towards the end of the trail. Fortunately, we reached the Bear Creek Gulch Visitor Center before the shuttle service ended for the day, so David Tom was able to shuttle down to the outer parking lot returning to pick up Bev, Karen, Jenni and Michelle. A stranger offered the rest of us a ride so Greg, Morgan, and I rode down with him to the park entrance. David and Amy hiked to the nearby lot, picked up their car, then drove back and waited at the trailhead for Hoyt and his friends.
Once we got to the park entrance, we only found Hoyt’s van there – his friends van was nowhere to be seen. We started worrying since Hoyt could now be hiking by himself. Much to our relief, David and Amy saw Hoyt hike out and returned with him back to the park entrance. We found out from Hoyt that his friends had doubled back to the trailhead, but he had hiked on, completing the difficult loop back on the High Peaks trail – what a trouper!
Jenni suggested having dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Hollister, so we drove there after Hoyt returned. Recounting our day’s adventures over a delicious dinner of tamales and tacos was a nice end to a tiring, but enjoyable day. Thank you Hoyt for planning another memorable hike!