How does a 15 mile wide, 8000 foot high, volcano simply disappear? Well, no prize for a correct answer. According to modern physics, its mass couldn’t really just cease to exist. Not even for Siegfried and Roy. But what about for Mother Nature? Extreme geological forces and plate tectonics can come close to approximating such a massive parlor trick. If that volcano is situated along the San Andreas Fault some 23 million years ago, it could be subjected to ancient plate movements that could render its imposing structure into a discrete collection of jagged rock formations, ripping it apart and relocating 75% its mass 195 miles north as though it were some gigantic house of cards. That’s a pretty good brief synopsis of what happened to create the curious collection of rocky peaks and spires known to us today as Pinnacles National Monument. Since then wind and water erosion have played their role in sculpting the rock.
Pinnacles was officially protected as a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps established and constructed trails, built bridges and tunnels, and the dam at Bear Gulch. Many of these original structures are still in good repair and in use today. This site is also critical habitat for a variety of animal and plant species. Among them are several species of bats, the endangered California red-legged frog, and over 400 species of bees (yes 400!). But Pinnacles is most notable because it is a natural nesting area, and was an important release site for the California condor. The great condors were very nearly extinct until literally brought back from the brink.
From the book Return of the Condor by John Moir:
“Down to only 22 individuals in the 1980s, the condor owes its survival and recovery to a remarkable team of scientists who flouted conventional wisdom and pursued the most controversial means to save it. Conservationists and scientists have fought what at times has seemed a quixotic battle to save the species. Theirs is a story of passion, courage, and bitter controversy, one that created a national debate over how to save America’s largest bird.”
This preserve is very popular for picnicking, camping, hiking, exploring, and rock climbing. This terrain is very hot and dry in summer, but with the coming of spring are brilliant displays of wild flowers, breathtaking views, and expansive green hills in all directions, making this the most popular season for a visit. For this hike we used a route that is roughly opposite of the way we normally do it, beginning at the Bear Gulch day use area on the east side and hiking up the high peaks trail. There were various groups camping in the park this weekend, probably boy scouts. I’m sure this route allowed us to miss a lot of foot traffic. Instead we would run into the other groups on our way around, but miss them otherwise. Weather was overcast and cold in the morning, but some sunshine fought its way through later. Buy the time we were leaving it was raining. Lots of wildflowers are beginning to show but still not in full bloom. The next few weeks will surely bring a flourish of life and delicate color. We spotted some California condors sitting atop the high peaks far away from the trail access, but as patient as we were, they would not take flight. We got a few pictures from a great distance.
This spectacular landscape here never fails to arouse the “awesome nature” vibe for me. The sweeping green vistas, intricate colorful shapes, sheer canyons, and the mysterious tortured character of the rock spires and crags, all harmonize well to inspire and uplift the spirit of the wanderer. It’s the type of place that can evoke a realization of the smallness of oneself amid the totality of the universe, and a sense of reverence for the natural world. For the seeker of wonderment, this isn’t just a hike. It’s more akin to a cosmic experience. You can browse my photo links below.
I have lots of photos:
Click here to see my photos from this hike
Click here to see Dave's photos from this hike with a topo map
Click here to see my Pinnacles photos from 2007
Click here to see photos from Chalone Peak in 2007