PIN­NA­CLES NA­TIONAL MON­U­MENT

Hikes that you will love to a (San An­dreas) fault

Escalon Times - - LIVING - By DEN­NIS WY­ATT

PIN­NA­CLES NA­TIONAL PARK — A puz­zle to Cal­i­for­nia’s vast and awe-in­spir­ing ge­ol­ogy smor­gas­bord is just a few hours away.

And to en­joy the pow­er­ful forces that helped shape the Golden State you don’t have to bat­tle the traf­fic jams and herds of peo­ple in Yosemite Val­ley.

Pin­na­cles Na­tional Park — ar­guably one of the least vis­ited won­ders in Cal­i­for­nia — is just an easy day trip from the 209.

The 26,000 acres on the spine of the San An­dreas Fault is lo­cated south of Hol­lis­ter. It is home to a wide ar­ray of crit­ters. It is here riding the ther­mals of the early morn­ing and evening you have the best chance of spot­ting the ma­jes­tic and en­dan­gered Cal­i­for­nia Con­dors soar­ing above the high peaks above 2,500 feet. With wing­spans of 9.5 feet and weigh­ing up to 20 pounds, the birds that can reach speeds of 55 mph and take ther­mal up­drafts to heights as 15,000 feet are slowly com­ing back from the edge of ex­tinc­tion.

This is where the en­dan­gered Cal­i­for­nia red-legged frog — the largest na­tive frog in the western United States — is also mak­ing a come­back. The 26,000 acres are alive with count­less other species s well rang­ing from rat­tlesnakes and bats to 400 dif­fer­ent species of bees. You will not find an­other place in North Amer­ica with such a wide va­ri­ety of bees.

There are more than 30 miles of trails. To avoid what crowds there were, we skipped the easy hike of less than 1.4 mile round trip to the Bear Gulch Cave. The cave — as well as an­other on the western side of the park — are pop­u­lar in that you can walk all the way through it pro­vid­ing there aren’t par­tial clo­sures due to the bat mat­ing sea­son.

The talus caves are amaz­ing in them­selves hav­ing been cre­ated when mas­sive boul­der where shifted by earth­quakes and other forces to wedge among the rock walls of deep nar­row gorges.

We chose the Con­dor Gulch-High Peaks Loop. It con­sists of 5.3 miles with an el­e­va­tion gain of 1,300 feet. It is de­scribed as be­ing stren­u­ous tak­ing be­tween three to five hours to cover. Our party — con­sist­ing of my­self and two healthy 20 Some­things who aren’t ac­cli­mated to in­tense daily ex­er­cise — cov­ered the dis­tance in four hours with a lib­eral sprin­kling of stops to rest, take pic­tures, or ex­plore points just off the trail.

Do take am­ple wa­ter with you. There is none on the trail and you are ex­posed to the rays of the sun most of the time. This is rat­tlesnake coun­try with poi­son oak tossed in. If you’re not care­ful there are places along the trail where you can brush up against poi­son oak.

We opted to start on the Con­dor Gulch Trail first. It pro­vides the best sight-lines of the High Peaks where the crags, rock spires, and ram­parts pro­duced with the erup­tion of mul­ti­ple vol­ca­noes more than 23 mil­lion years ago. That is why the area was pre­served in 1908 by ex­ec­u­tive or­der of Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt.

Aside from the view of the High Peaks plus plenty of chap­ar­ral oak, dense veg­e­ta­tion and an oc­ca­sional vul­ture or hawk soar­ing above, the first two miles weren’t over­whelm­ing on the senses - at least for grand­daugh­ter Ash­ley.

But that changed as we neared the High Peaks and were able to seek unique rock for­ma­tions up close. There were also sweep­ing views that you could not see a sin­gle build­ing be­tween where we were at to the far­thest ridge some 20 miles away. Ac­tu­ally, you knew you were ap­proach­ing heaven on High­way 25 just be­fore the turnoff to the na­tional mon­u­ment when you spy a sign that pro­claims “no ser­vices for the next 65 miles.”

It’s a near per­fect place to soak in the soli­tude and vast­ness of na­ture for a quick recharge of the senses.

Af­ter two miles, each step be­came a visual joy of tak­ing in won­ders far and near you won’t find in one spot any­where else. Part of that has to do with the fact the ge­o­logic for­ma­tion be­fore you are pre­his­toric but the fact they are the rem­nants of a vol­cano that ex­ploded some 195 miles to the south­east. They were pushed north­ward by the grind­ing force of the San An­dreas Fault in a trip that started be­fore the ad­vent of mankind.

Once among the High Peaks, it is easy to see why Cal­i­for­nia con­dors nest there.

At one point ahead of us in a steep area that looked like it went into a dead end in a tow­er­ing crag we spot­ted an el­derly gen­tle­men hunched down try­ing to avoid striking his head. We mused that he must have gone off the trial ex­plor­ing. All three of us dis­missed it as not be­ing part of the trail. We were wrong. There is a seg­ment through the High Peaks where steep steps big enough for the front of your feet had been chis­eled into the rock. To make sure you don’t fall over back­wards or slip over the edge, a steel guard rail has been drilled into the rock.

How steep is it? You will find your­self grip­ping on to the rail with one hand and us­ing your free hand to reach down to bal­ance your­self against the steps a few feet above you.

At one point my back­pack wedged for a sec­ond against an over­hang­ing rock forc­ing me into a close crawl for about six feet.

Mak­ing that short stretch even more amaz­ing were the spec­tac­u­lar views we were able to see once we were on the south­ern flank of the High Peaks.

There are two en­trances to the mon­u­ment - the west and the east. There is no con­nect­ing road. The east has the camp­grounds and a small gen­eral store. Be­sides be­ing closer to the 209, it also ac­cesses more trail­heads.

If you try to Google di­rec­tion be warned. You will be di­rected to the western en­trance that adds a good 45 min­utes to your travel time.

The quick­est way is to take In­ter­state 5 and then travel over the Pacheco Pass. Once you get past the Casa de Fruta stay in the left lanes and take the fly­over to­ward Hol­lis­ter. When you come to the first traf­fic sig­nal —Fairview Road — you will turn left. You will travel a ways (to the sec­ond traf­fic light) where you T-in­ter­sect into High­way 25. A left turn even­tu­ally takes you to the en­trance road to Pin­na­cles Na­tional Park

Photo cour­tesy Na­tional Park Ser­vice

The unique ge­ol­ogy of Pin­na­cles Na­tional Park was forged by vol­ca­noes 23 mil­lion years ago.

Pho­tos con­trib­uted

ABOVE PHOTO: Stairs carved in rock along the Con­dor Gulch Trail. RIGHT PHO­TOS: Scenes along hik­ing trails in the na­tional park.

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