I am brave, and I am strong, and I have new shoes. Some of you may recall my mantra when I got myself in a spot of bother at the top of a ladder in Badlands. Far fewer of you will recall the first time I visited Pinnacles National Park and had a panic attack whilst trying to clamber up a tight cave passage. Well this visit was my chance at a rematch with prior defeats, only now de feets have much better shoes.
Friday we abandoned town, hoping that by heading south we might escape some of the smoke coming from the “Camp Fire.” Poor California is getting battered again, proving that nowadays even November can bring a summer blaze. It was a long drive and the last hour or so was in the dark. We did see a clear sky full of stars when we got there, so we knew the air quality was at least “better.” We got the same site we’ve had in the past, under a huge old oak tree. This time of year was a little exciting because we kept getting bombarded by an artillery of acorns creating huge thuds on the roof. I’m surprised there was no damage, considering how loud they were.
Saturday we took the shuttle over to the Bear Gulch Visitor Center and caught the trail through the Bear Gulch Talus Caves. This is a pretty easy way to go cave exploring. There are stairs and hand rails and the trail is very clearly marked. Along the way, you can see groups of rock climbers scaling the various peaks and we stopped to watch one of them attempt a particularly dangerous looking maneuver. It turns out the sound of colorful language carries quite far in a rock canyon and the guy got an enthusiastic ovation from the audience below when he made it to the top.
In the afternoon we both had nappy time, Richard indoory in Dory, me in my Nemo chair, wrapped in a blanket. It is getting chilly outside and the high technology of adding extra blankets is coming in handy. We tend to forget about technology around this time of year until one of us goes, “Oh yeah!” It’s always a joyful realization when we remember we can solve the chilly problem with things we already have.
Sunday we headed out early and confronted the Balconies Caves. I still vividly remembered the place where I really didn’t think I could make it up over a big, slippery boulder. It was after that hike that I invested in good hiking shoes. That was three yeas ago though, so I had to re-buy those same shoes in advance of this trip. This trail is about 5.5 miles round trip and the cave part is far more rugged. We liken Bear Gulch to a “Disneyland” cave experience. The Balconies feel more like the real deal. There is a section where it is truly light-less and it genuinely seems like the glow in the dark arrows painted on the rock wall are leading you into a dead end. But I remembered those parts and that made this time around more fun. In fact, even when I got to the place I had previously gotten stuck, I think the sheer knowing anticipation made it seem like no big deal. It was a good feeling to have vanquished the beast, and I rode that high all along the Cliffs Trail that took us back.
Of course, our eyes were drawn to the skies as we walked, on the lookout for Condors. I think it is entirely possible we spotted one. We’d been told by other hikers that there were two in the area and we definitely saw a Condor-like bird slowly circling around the peaks. I took a bunch of blurry pictures and showed them to the ranger when we got back. He wouldn’t fully commit since my pictures were so small, but my description of flight patterns and where we’d seen it did earn a nod and a “Yeah, that could definitely have been one.” So I’m going with it.
Monday was Veteran’s Day and we needed to find a dump station on our way home. The dump at Pinnacles is closed for maintenance and we had two options: the Tres Pinos Fairgrounds, or some place called Casa de Fruta. For some reason, Richard seemed excited about the latter, though I had no idea why. Once we got there, I realized it was well worth the side trip. Casa de Fruta is a whole little self contained RV “resort” world, out in the middle of nowhere, about ten miles to the east of Hollister. The place has got the branding game down. Before having lunch at Casa de Wine and Deli, we filled gas at Casa de Diesel. And ya gotta have dessert at Casa de Ice Cream, of course, where I picked up a gift of a Casa de Adventure Sluice, where you search for treasures in what is basically a bag of sand. I spent $5 on that and have no regrets. None. We never actually made it to the Casa de Fruta building, but we did enjoy watching the Casa de Train making its way through the outdoor …. gallery?… of old rusted out farm equipment. I’m telling you, this place was way more than I expected, peacocks and all. It was Casa de Crazy and I would give it five stars just for fully committing to whatever the hell that was.
Wonderful three day weekend!!
Total miles: 128.1, 17.4 mpg, 4 hours 16 min. Site 87. Electric hookups. Water spigots nearby. NO cell service, even boosted, though Verizon got just enough to make a phone call. Parking lots at the trail heads can fill up and rangers will close the roads to all traffic when that happens. The shuttle can take you to Bear Gulch, but not the Balconies trailhead. Get out early if you want a parking place and it’s crowded.