2004 Pinnacles Trip - Day 1
See also my photo gallery from this
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The large mission must have had eight busses full of schoolchildren running about (a fine place for a field trip!). We spent a while walking around the mission, its museum, and gardens. The latter had one of the largest cactus I've seen, towering way above our heads. The woman at the mission store said it was a couple hundred years old, and I don't doubt it. After taking in our fill of the mission, we walked through quaint downtown San Juan Bautista. Being a Thursday afternoon, not a lot was open, and the antique stores that were seemed very overpriced (I guess it's too close to the Bay Area!).
Leaving San Juan Bautista we zipped through Hollister, then enjoyed a lovely drive two-lane Hwy. 25. This 30-mile drive was very pleasant, with many wildflowers in bloom and green hills surrounding us as we drove through the narrow Bear Valley. We arrived at camp before the 3:00 check-in, but a fellow watering some plants said we could set up anyways and pointed us to our site.
Pinnacles Campground, Inc. is a pretty private campground located just outside of the east entrance to Pinnacles National Monument (and is the only campground anywhere near Pinnacles, the one formerly located inside the monument having been destroyed in the El Niño storms of 1997. There is no plan to rebuild it (this is probably not a bad thing). Our spot was nicely secluded and there was nobody at any of the sites near us (this, of course, would not last). We set up our obscenely big 10x14' tent and spent a while struggling to fill our queen-sized air mattress before realizing that its valve was closed - d'oh!
Once camp was set up, we drove into the Monument (my National Park Pass having more than paid for itself by this point!), took a quick look at the small visitor center, and hit the trail at 3pm to get in a short hike before returning to camp (we had only a 1-hour window, between 4 and 5pm, to buy anything at the camp store, the only one for 30+ miles).
Moses Spring/Rim Trail hike:
We hiked on a small path parallel to the road for 0.3mi through what was probably originally the campground inside the monument, now a pleasant picnic area along burbling Bear Creek. Arriving at the end of the road, we continued on the Bear Gulch/Moses Spring trail for a couple tenths of a mile then bore left at the junction with the High Peaks Trail.
Miner's Lettuce lined the trail profusely, and we saw scattered milkmaids and shooting stars, but that was about it, flower-wise. There were numerous signs indicating paths to popular rock climbing routes, including one (the first) named "Tourist Trap." In once place, the trail was drilled/blasted straight through the rock in a short (~10-foot) tunnel. We shortly came to the junction with the Bear Gulch Caves and veered right on the Moses Spring Trail (we'd be hiking through the caves on Saturday).
We must have gone past Moses Spring somewhere around here, but we sure didn't notice it. This short stretch of trail was enjoyable, set into the steep hillsides, and featuring nice views of some of Pinnacles' namesake rock formations. Rejoining the Bear Gulch Cave trail as it exited the caves, we climbed a very narrow trail made of steps cut into the rock and arrived at lovely Bear Gulch Reservoir.
The reservoir is framed by large red spires jutting out of the chapparal, and has a quaint little stone dam at its outlet. Since we'd be back at the reservoir both Friday and Saturday, we didn't stay too long, and headed back via the Rim Trail.
The Rim Trail had lovely views down the Bear Gulch valley and occasional peaks of the High Peaks area. Irregularly-shaped rock formations abounded, some reminiscent of Alabama Hills, but many were pointier. Along the trail we saw a bush poppy, indian warrior tucked under manzanita bushes, more scattered shooting stars, several clumps of blue nightshade, and a couple flowering vines of wild cucumber. After just under half a mile we came out on the High Peaks Trail, took a right, and soon were back at the Bear Gulch/Moses Spring Trail, where we re-traced our steps back to the ranger station.
This was a fun little hike, suitable for just about anyone with its low mileage and modest elevation gain. It gave us a nice taste of the monument and the hikes to come over the next three days.
Back at camp we stocked up on a few things (most importantly, ice), snacked, and walked around. There were an astonishing number of songbirds, scrub jays, quail, and yellow-billed magpies, making for a melodious evening! A confused oregon junco caught sight of itself in my car's rear-view mirror and repeatedly attacked its reflection with such ferocity I had to fold the mirrors in for fear it would hurt itself. We made use of the pay showers, I journalled, made a campfire, then we prepared a tasty dinner of sausage burritos.
After the sun set, a trio of aggressive raccoons, intent on stealing our food, nearly made off with my REI camping kitchen kit (I guess the oil in it attracted their attention). Despite my yelling at them, rushing towards them, and waving my arms, they were unperturbed until I was just a couple feet away. Silly (but cute!) critters. We finished the evening sipping wine by the campfire before retiring to our palatial tent and its queen-sized air mattress - ahhhhh!
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08 February, 2011 MST
Copyright © 2009 Adam R. Paul
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