I’ve driven the stretch of Hwy 101 between San Francisco and San Luis Obispo, oh, a few dozen times, often noting with curiousity the turnoff leading to Pinnacles National Monument. I’d always been on appointment schedule, so never took the bait. A March hiking bulletin announced that several California Condors had recently been released into the Pinnacles, which peaked (pun intended) my interest once again. Enticed by the recent rains and hoping for abundant wildflowers, an impromptu weekend trip was scheduled.
After a leisurely drive through Hollister and south along Hwy 25, we found a campsite just outside of the East Entrance to the park. The lead-in trail along a streambed provided long-range vistas of the sights to come – rolling hills dotted by dramatic upshoots of spires and monoliths. The first day’s hike was a ~9 mile loop around the eastern approach and up into the High Peaks region where, nearing dusk, we saw a fantastic display of wild avian life – many daredevil crows, easily a dozen spiraling turkey vultures, and – I swear – at least one condor in flight. A park service biologist encountered on the route identified the cry of perigrine falcons, as well.
Day two was a steady ascent along the southern approach to High Peaks, with a turn off towards Bear Gulch Reservoir and the adjacent Bear Gulch caves – formed by toppled chunks of the monoliths. Only a portion of the caves was open to hikers (we missed the route by mere days – sections are closed after March 31 to protect the bat population) but even the short route was well worth the slippery scramble through.
For more info – Pinnacles National Monument