Pinnacles National Park Campground

Pinnacles National Monument was established in 1908 by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, and it became a National Park in late 2012 when President Barak Obama passed legislation and signed it into law on January 10, 2013. It lies about 40 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and is considered part of California’s Coast Ranges.

The park is located near the San Andreas fault line, and the geology of this area has had a hand in creating the unique rock formations that the park protects. The movement of the Pacific Plate along the fault has split a section of rock away from the main body of the extinct volcano and moved it almost 200 miles to the northwest. The pinnacles are believed to be part of this ancient rock formation because of the unique breccias that are found at the Neenach Volcano. Seismic activity is frequent in the park and the United States Geological Survey maintains two seismometers.

The wildlife is abundant, with 13 species of bats, prairie falcons, California Condor, coyote, skunk, wild turkey, gray fox, quail, and cougar. While camping there overnight, a flock of at least 14 turkeys rummaged among the fallen acorns all around Fred’s RV. I didn’t see a Tom but watched as one large and seemingly older hen kept a close eye out for the rest of them, and she appeared to call all the shots. If she let out a gobble, they would all take off in unison at surprising speed. They look so prehistoric and have long and powerful legs that can easily outrun a human. The turkeys are also quite vocal and would talk to one another constantly as they popped their heads up in search of danger. Quail were active too, and we saw a gray fox, mule deer, and the incredible California Condor when we hiked up to the pinnacles!

The campsite itself was spacious and we got the senior discount of only $18.00 per RV. What a bargain! There are no sewer hookups, but electricity is a must because of the extreme temperature variation. All the water faucets were frozen solid when we got up the next morning. Fred camped under a massive oak tree across from us, and while we watched the turkeys and quail rummage next to his RV, golden colored oak leaves fluttered down all around them. It was a beautiful sight to behold, with the weak sunlight filtering through the old and gnarled branches, and the leaves dipping and circling delicately, before falling silently to the ground.

I loved Pinnacles National Park, and our hike to see the condors along Condor Gulch Trail was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We didn’t stay but one night though due to the cold. Apparently, it is best to visit the park in the spring and fall.

Callie also thoroughly enjoyed watching the turkeys milling about, but only in the safety of our cozy RV dash and the front, look-out window. These birds were way too big for her to fantasize about capturing.

Stairway to Heaven

I had the good fortune to visit Pinnacles National Park on Friday, and after spending a chilly night (it got below freezing) we headed up the Condor Gulch Trail to the overlook and further up about 7/10ths of a mile in search of the California Condor. I have always been in awe of this prehistoric bird and felt so privileged that I was able to see them in the wild.

The California Condor is the largest North American land bird, and it became extinct in the wild in 1987. The San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo took in the last remaining birds, some say 22, others 27 in total, and developed a breeding program to reintroduce them back into the wild. Various components were responsible for their decline, loss of habitat, lead poisoning, power lines and Golden Eagles were the main culprit.

Contrary to most birds of prey, the female is smaller than the male and when the male reaches sexual maturity at age 6, he will seek out a female and they will mate for life. The male can have a wingspan of up to 10ft, and as we watched them soar over the cliffs, this became obvious. We witnessed them from far away, soaring so gracefully above the pinnacles, and these incredible birds could be seen with the naked eye. They have a lifespan of 60 plus years and are once again, with the help of programs designed to support their survival, are living in the wild.

This condor lacks true vocal chords, so can only hiss and make pathetic noises. They are eerily quiet and because their wingspan is so large, barely flap at all once a bird has become airborne. The California Condor is black in color, with white striations under the wing. These markings flash a bright white when they turn and bank, and it is this flash, and their immense size that separates them from the Turkey Buzzard. The male’s head ranges from pale pink to a deep orange in color once he is ready to mate. The legs are pale gray and appear white when flying, and hang straight down until the condor reaches a high enough altitude to begin soaring.

While we watched 3 condors taking off from a precipice not far from the trail, they flapped their gigantic wings in an attempt to take off. I was able to get a good glimpse of their comical faces as they veered away from us in a graceful circle, climbing higher and higher up into the sky. Fred thought we might have threatened their nesting site, and that it was a mated pair with a juvenile learning to navigate life among the pinnacles.

This hike was a true A+ for me and I highly recommend it. There is a fair amount of vertical climb, but I didn’t find it that challenging. We saw deer, quail, a gray fox, jays, woodpeckers and at least 9 condors. I recommend hiking in the early morning hours because of the heat. Even though it was freezing the night before, and very chilly when we first started our ascent, it became uncomfortably warm with our jackets and gloves on later in the day. By the time we were heading back to our respective RV’s, Fred, Michael and I had stripped down to shirts and rolled up our sleeves. Bring plenty of water and binoculars are a good choice too.

Callie was able to hang out in our awesome 24ft RV and nap while we hiked. This is such a good life for a cat who loves adventure and to travel. The dash becomes her really big screen TV!

Two condors can be seen roosting on the top of the pinnacle ledge to the far left.