Ok, let’s be honest, have you ever even heard of this place?
We’ve been in California for weeks now and this park wasn’t even on the list of National Parks we got off the internet (slightly outdated, unfortunately) when we began planning our trip. It was hours away and there were not many RV parks in the area. We really struggled with spending the time to get to this park. We even talked about how we would feel years from now if it turned out to be the only park in the lower-48 we didn’t visit. We went so far as to discuss the probability of flying out to CA to drive here at some future date.
We figured, not gonna happen! We didn’t really want to go now so why would we fly out here, rent a car and drive there in the future? Reluctantly, we made the commitment to go visit the place, using the Jeep and leaving the RV back in Coarsegold.
Pinnacles National Park, America’s newest national park, was created on January 10, 2013, encompasses 27,214 acres in central CA about an hour and a half east of Monterey on the coast or an hour south of Hollister. It provides a safe location for the return of the California Condor as this location was part of its historic range. This bird was near extinction in the wild in the 1980s and is now making a comeback due to the one-of-its-kind partnership between the Ventana Wildlife Society and Pinnacles National Park, both working with the California Condor Recovery Program, to reintroduce these condors to the wild.
After deciding to leave Our Way in Coarsegold, our first challenge was finding a place to camp in that tiny little tent, not too far from the park. We chose Casa de Fruita, located in the town of Hollister in the Pacheco Valley between Monterey and Yosemite. It’s about an hour from the park entrance and about two hours from Coarsegold. This place is a pretty amazing story in and of itself. It’s a family business started as a orchard in 1908 and is still growing as a major attraction that includes a gas station, truck stop, restaurant, inn, RV park, amusement park for the little ones and a huge fruit, vegetables and specialty foods store, candy shoppe, house made wine and beer and acres upon acres of orchards.
We got there early enough on Friday, June 23rd to pitch the tent and head off to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea (Clint Eastwood was once the mayor here). It’s a quaint little artsy town right on the Pacific Ocean that Siobhan really enjoyed, even though it was cool and cloudy. We walked around town checking out the shops and eventually found an Irish pub to sample some of the local brew and wings.
The next morning we were up early, broke camp and headed to the park. The Ranger there shared his favorite trail combination with us, one that amounted to more than six miles with some strenuous sections. This combo-trail included sections of the Condor Gulch Trail, High Peaks Trail and Pinnacles Trail. He even challenged us with a five hour timeframe to complete this hike. Of course we accepted that challenge and were very pleased to announce our under-four-hour completion time upon our return to the ranger station. Some sections were so steep that the park installed iron rails (wow, they get hot in the sun) anchored into the side of the rocks to assist with the climbs. While climbing the first steep section overlooking the Pinnacles we got our first glimpse of a couple of condors, floating on the air currents around the peaks. These guys have wingspans of up to nine-and-a-half feet, amazing!
This was a great hike and a pleasant surprise. We did not expect to have so much fun here. Another piece of empirical evidence, never judge a book by its cover.