Let’s Go Exploring! High Peaks Loop – Pinnacles National Monument

The High Peaks Trail takes you through the heart of the Pinnacles rock formations.

The hike can be strenuous and is not recommended for children. Start at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and walk up the Condor Gulch Trail. This part of the hike offers some great views of the Pinnacles. Stop at the Overlook for some water but also drink in the views.

The trail continues to climb but loops back allowing hikers to see the Bear Gulch area below. In the distance are rolling hills and beautiful views. The trail moves through chaparral and to a sparse, yet beautiful area before joining the High Peaks Trail.

Walking along the High Peaks trail a large monolith rises to the north of the canyon. This is Machete Ridge, below it is the Balconies Cave – but that is another hike. This trail winds through strange finger-shaped Pinnacles rock formations. A sign tells you the trail will become steep and narrow. After a few minutes hikers are rewarded with a vista of the High Peaks.

Continuing down the trail the path becomes steep, then appears to stop. Here the trail becomes footholds carved into the rock; well-worn handrails beckons hikers higher.

At the top of the Pinnacles, stop. Enjoy the view.

As the trail descends keep an eye out for Condors gliding overhead.

The High Peaks trail drops sharply then levels out revealing even more bizarre rock formations that hint at the monument’s volcanic past.

Enjoying Condors at Pinnacles National Monument

California Condor

I saw a young California condor. It was 40 days old – it was also the first condor to be hatched in Pinnacles National Monument in over 100 years!

During a recent hike at Pinnacles National Monument, my family and I were blessed to see, just forty feet above us, a California condor with roughly a nine-foot wingspan glide over our heads. Whoa! It was over in several seconds but we were able to snap a picture (shown).

A few minutes later down the trail, we approached a trail junction. At the junction were spotting scopes pointed at an impressive rock wall about half a mile in the distance. Manning the scopes were biologists and interpretive volunteers helping visitors to see a young condor.

Looking through the scope I could see a light grey, fuzzy looking young bird resting in the crevice of a ledge. According to the interpreters, this youngster was about the size of a duck.

What is impressive about seeing these condors is that it highlights the work that has taken decades to accomplish.

After years of overhunting, Lead and Strychnine poisoning and habitat loss the condor population plummeted. In the mid 1980s, only 22 condors remained. The last condors were captured and placed in a captive breeding program to increase their numbers. In the mid 1990s releases began in California and have now expanded into Arizona and in Mexico. As of today, the total condor population is about 500 individuals; roughly 350 are in the wild while another 150 remain in the breeding program. Slowly the condors are returning to their historic territories, including Pinnacles.

We inquired about the condor that flew over our heads a few minutes earlier. According to the scientist, this was the hatchling’s Dad.

To learn more about the Pinnacles Condor Program visit:
http://www.nps.gov/pinn/naturescience/condors.htm

Let’s Go Exploring! Balconies Cave and Cliffs – Pinnacles National Monument

Note: This was produced several years before Pinnacles National Monument was renamed Pinnacles National Park. The references within the article and videos still use the term Monument.

The Balconies Cave and Cliffs loop is a great family hike at Pinnacles National Monument.

Start at the Chaparral Ranger Station at the West Entrance of Pinnacles National Monument to walk this easy to moderate 2.4-mile loop trail. The trail passes house-sized boulders and follows a small creek, gradually the trail funnels into a small canyon and the entrance of the Balconies Cave.

Balconies Cave is generally dry, but in the winter and spring wading might be required as you duck under boulders and scramble through tight squeezes. A flashlight is required. It is easy to imagine that this hidden trail takes you to a lost-world on the other side.

Just past the cave is the Balconies Cliffs Trail junction. Walk up the trail while keeping an eye open for a possible Condor or Turkey Vulture. At the top of the trail take a break and enjoy the breathtaking views of the surrounding area; in the background are the towering Machete Ridge and the immense Balconies Cliffs.

Walking down the path the scenery becomes greener. Enjoy the occasional wildflowers and great views. The Balconies Cliff Trail trail soon reconnects with the Balconies Trail and will return hikers to the parking area. Keep a watchful eye for the small waterfall on the left side of the trail during your return trip.

Let’s Go Exploring! Bear Gulch Cave – Pinnacles National Park

This is a great family hike at Pinnacles National Park.

Visitors can start at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and hike up a moderately inclined trail to the entrance of Bear Gulch Cave. The hike to the reservoir is a short hike of 1.3 miles (one way), but it is action-packed.

The trail pleasantly meanders past a creek, between the rocks and through the trees. In about twenty minutes we arrive at the entrance of Bear Gulch Cave.

Inside the cave, we hear water trickling and light can be seen streaming down onto the trail in several sections. As we move into some dark passages the sound of rushing water becomes louder. Then the cave opens up into a large room. A waterfall rushes next to us as we climb steps that take us further into the cave.

Depending on the season the upper section of the cave might be closed to help protect a sensitive species of bat and their young. In our video this section of the cave is open to explorers – here a flashlight is required. We sometimes have to squat down and duck walk through several narrow sections while wading in ankle-deep water. For an eight-year-old (and adults too) this is a lot of fun.

Soon we emerge from the darkness and walk below house-sized boulders that are jammed into the canyon above us. Then we see a staircase chiseled from the rock itself. We walk up and are greeted by a small reservoir. Walking around the reservoir we look back at the dam and several amazing rock features that rise into the sky.

Family Time at Bear Gulch Cave – Pinnacles National Monument

Family Time at Bear Gulch Cave’ was published in the June 2008 issue of ‘Bay Area Parent Silicon Valley’.

Pinnacles National MonumentMy seven-year-old daughter Anna was first out of the car upon arriving at Pinnacles National Monument, “Come on slowpokes, let’s go!” We walked up a meandering canyon trail to the entrance of the Bear Gulch Cave.

Pinnacles National Monument is a two hours drive south of San Jose. This natural playground includes bizarre rock formations, house-sized boulders, and my daughter’s favorite, Bear Gulch Cave.

We felt a cool breeze from the cave’s mouth. Anna instructed us, “Mama, Papa, don’t forget your flashlights.” My wife, Christiane and I smiled and followed our young adventurer.

At first, the cave was dark then our eyes adjusted to the low light. We appeared silhouetted against shafts of light that pierced the ceiling. Small rocks crunched nosily under our feet as we walked. A bat darted overhead. Being mindful of the bat’s home we walked more quietly and lowered the beams from our flashlights. In the distance, we heard a low rushing noise from a waterfall. Several minutes later we stood next to a gushing spray of water. Our lights illuminated the waterfall that disappeared twenty feet below.

Pinnacles National MonumentFurther in the cave the trail dove underneath enormous boulders that were interlocked between the walls of the canyon. “These are as big as the house!” exclaimed Anna. The trail snaked between boulders to reveal a narrow staircase carved into the canyon wall. We climbed the stairs and out of the cave. We were greeted by a small reservoir surrounded by amazing and awkward shaped rocks. My daughter spotted our favorite picnic area across the water.

We enjoyed lunch in a shaded area. Overhead a vulture, or a condor, glided on thermals. In the distance rock climbers carefully made their ascent up a stone monolith. A hummingbird zipped in close, startling us, then quickly sped off. The rest of the afternoon we continued to explore the many trails of this natural playground.

Finally, the sun became low on the horizon and signaled the end of our day. We returned to the cave and back to the parking area.

As the family car turned onto the highway I asked, “So Anna, what was best about today?” No reply. Our young adventurer was asleep.

To continue your own explorations of Pinnacles National Monument visit: http://www.nps.gov/pinn