Pinnacles National Park is the youngest park in the U.S. It was officially made a National Park in 2013. Before 2013, it was a National Monument dedicated to protecting the unique volcanic rock and the massive, and endangered, California condor. We were talking to a ranger and asked what changed when they received the National Park status. She said, “Besides the name, nothing.” She mentioned that they did see a slight increase of visitors, but really, not a lot.
Before we hit Bear Gulch reservoir, we made some quesadillas in the parking lot. Madison loves the little food processor that we use. It makes pico de gallo really easily – and doesn’t take any power. It’s awesome.
With our bellies full, we hit the trail. It was .7 miles up to where we could paddle, so we figured that we could get there relatively quick. We didn’t plan on navigating caves and tiny sets of stairs! It was more than we bargained for with what appears to be a TV on our backs. But we had a good time doing it.
We got to the reservoir and set up the kayaks. It was very peaceful on the water! We only saw a few other humans the whole time – it felt like we had our own private little lake.
Above photo by Justin Spyres
The goal of the trip was to climb, paddle, and bird. I really wanted to see some condors. I remember learning about them in grade school and knew that it was a once in a life time thing to see.
We had been told that the best chance to see the big birds was either at dawn or at dusk in the High Peaks area. So, that meant either we stay out and climb late, or we get up early in the morning. We decided to try our luck with the late climb. The thing is, the climb we wanted to do was on the other side of the park – 50 miles away.
We set out to climb The Citadel in the late afternoon. It is a four pitch climb, so we knew it would take us a while. We wanted to try to time the summit for sunset. That way, if we were lucky, we could see some condors from the top.
We timed it perfectly. Madison let the final pitch and got us to the top right as the sun was going down. It was beautiful. But, there were no birds in sight. Not a single one! I was sad.
We rappelled down in in the dark and got back to the RV kind of late. We were alone in the parking lot when we got back. We figured we would leave early in the morning to try and catch some condors at dawn, so we decided to sleep the few hours just parked there in the trailhead parking lot. I don’t think this was technically allowed, but we figured it was better than driving out 40 miles and then driving the same 40 back a few hours later.
We set out early the next morning to bird as hard as we could. I was struggling that morning – I wasn’t feeling super well. Which, actually, made it convenient to bird. I would sit down when I felt sick, and pull out the zoom lens and see if there was anything flying above me. Madison and I had a good time trying to determine if the flying animals were turkey vultures or condors. For most of the morning, we had only seen turkey vultures – which was rather discouraging.
Then when we finally made it to the top of the High Peaks trail, we saw a condor! It was huge! The massive bird was circling way above us in the wind, and it still looked large. I was snapping pictures with the zoom lens like crazy. It was awesome. And then – a sad thing happened – our SD card died. For some reason the card registered “corrupted” and everything was lost – including the 1000 photos I snapped of the endangered bird! I was very upset.
It was a magical moment for sure. Perhaps that is the reason the SD card broke – it was a moment that the universe wanted us to keep to ourself. The card failure did cause me to reflect on this idea as we drove out of the park. In the day and age of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat we share EVERYTHING. There really aren’t too many moments that get tucked away in the “just for me” folder of life anymore. In fact, some of those moments that should be saved, are the very ones that we are most excited to share!
It is a tough thing to balance, especially since we are funding our lifestyle by social media. But I do believe that there are things that should be saved for ourselves. I don’t know if the condor sighting is one of those moments, but it makes it easier for me to deal with the broken SD card to think that way. (Don’t tell the universe, but if you really want to see the condor, watch the vlog at the end of the post – a video clip on our other camera made it out alive.)
Later that evening, we hiked up to the caves in the northwest side of the park. The caves are talus caves, or openings made between boulders piled up on a mountain slope. Humans love to squeeze in little cracks.
The caves on the other side of the park were closed for the bats that live in them. Luckily we were able to explore these caves at least. It was a different experience from the Lehman cave tour that we did in Great Basin NP. We were free. We were on our own to explore whatever part of the caves that we wanted. There was no guide to tell us what to do. It felt good!
We enjoyed our time in Pinnacles. Mainly because we were alone for most of it. During the three days we spent there, I would say we saw a total of around 30 human beings – that’s only 10 a day! It was nice not to be right on top of other people as we tried to explore the park. When we came out of the cave, I saw this little puddle full of pond skippers. There were SO MANY of them. There was no space for these guys to move around. I realized that we were pretty lucky to be in such a nice place, and to have the space to enjoy it almost completely on our own. I thought of people in New York or in Moscow that compete for space like these pond skippers. It’s a tough fight! Life is so nice when you have your own area.
Vloggin’ the Pinns