Hiking Pinnacles in the Clouds

A couple of years ago on our last vacation to California we got near enough to Pinnacles National Monument to know we wanted to go back there.  We drove up the sort of scary road to the unpopular west entrance because we were killing time waiting for the Chalone tasting room to open.  It looked really cool.  Lumpish spires of rock soaring upwards with lots of trees and flowers.  The site is all that remains of an ancient and extinct volcano.  The Chalone Indians once used this as a seasonal gathering location, taking advantage of the amazing variety of plants and animals that thrive here.  When it got too hot, they would go back down into Salinas valley where the now famous Monterey Fog comes in and cools things down.

Everafter

We got to the park entrance probably just minutes after the ranger opened the gate and were on the trail by 8:15.  Two elements of good fortune were with us.  First – we were the only ones there.  Miracle.  Even on a Monday morning we expected a state with a population like California’s to produce a couple more people, but no, it was just us.  Sweet.  The second piece of good fortune was the low cloud cover.  The day before we’d been to a couple of our favorite wineries and the folks there agreed the weather was unusual; it was supposed to rain.  Typically it stops raining before May in Soledad and doesn’t rain again until the fall.  Well we didn’t mind.  The cloud cover kept it from being 90 degrees and miserable and the little sprinkles that hit us were refreshing and made the air smell fantastic.

Golden yarrow on the steep slopes

At first I was a bit disappointed with the fact that I would have such gloomy skies, but soon I realized that the colors – the shy and the bold – would show much better in this bright, but nearly shadowless light.  Plus the fog and mist over the far peaks added drama that would have otherwise been absent.  So I got happy.  Especially when a new flower presented itself about every 10 feet.

Pretty Faces

Seriously I think our hike took an hour longer than it would have if I didn’t stop every minute to ooh and ahh and photograph something.  It was amazing.  All along the trail-sides the flowers greeted us and seemed to wish us well.  The profusion is startling, we just don’t have flowers like this in New England.  Our wildflowers are woodland creatures by and large and much less showy.

Paying Court (no ID yet - unknown wildflower)
Allium Crispum aka Crinkly Onion - cool huh?

According to the guide, this next flower is called the Sticky Monkeyflower.  It’s our favorite because we’re dorks and kept calling it Stinky Monekybutt for the rest of the trip.  Take that middle age!

Stinky Monkeybutt aka Sticky Monkeyflower

These flowers really liked the rocky crevices and grew everywhere, high up and even in the most unlikely places.  They were a friendly presence when the trail got steeper.

Tunnel trail gets steep

Just above this set of cut steps it started to sprinkle and the next set was more like a ladder than a staircase it was so steep.  Luckily someone had also thought to put up handrails and the smell of our hands after hanging on to those steel pipes brought me right back to 3rd grade.  Remember the smell of your hands after playing on the swings or the monkey bars?  That’s what it was like and I didn’t even mind how slippery they got in the rain.  Then we came to this –

Could I have just a little more peril?

My head knew it was safe.  I mean it looked safe and probably 1000s of people had already crossed it so it would hold.  Yeah, sure it would.  Just look at it.  It’s all tight and straight, not a bit of warp or splintery bits.  In a way it was good no adult can get across this other than in a crouching duck-walk…looking down was —- woah! —— dizzy!

Well we obviously made it.  Not that the buzzards were happy about it.  I swear they kept circling around and laughing at us.  Stupid birds.

So on the way back to the hotel we stopped to see how the abandoned farmstead was doing.  I’d shot it in 2008, but somehow missed this awesome barn –

Run Straight Down

As you can see the clouds persisted, but I like them in this.  More interesting and dramatic than just blue sky.  I keep telling myself that anyway.

There are more photos (including one of Gary the headstanding beetle) in the Smugmug Gallery if you so desire.  This was only part of our trip to California.  We did more hiking and a lot of wine tasting, so more posts and photos are coming.

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