Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pinnacles with family

Pinnacles National Monument (March 20, 2010) – To fulfill the personal promise, I took Promila and Prem on Saturday afternoon to Pinnacles. It was a nice drive; however unlike last time, when we reached the gate in afternoon, there was a queue of cars. Officer came and told that parking lot is full and we have to wait till somebody comes out. Compare to last time, when we reached before 8 AM, this was way too busy.

Since there were more than one parking spot, I was wondering if I would get the one near Bear Gulch area which was most suitable to hike to caves. After about 10 minutes of wait, officer told us to go all the way to the Bear Gulch area.

Yipppeeee! Or so I thought.

Just 100 yards further from the gate, there was another officer, who I innocuously thought might be directing the traffic to different parking lots. Officer in the car pointed me to keep going forward by vigorously pointing the finger to go straight. I sped up, passed the officer’s car, thinking that they might want to clear the waiting cars behind me quickly. Soon, in rear view mirror police car was tailing me, flashing lights. I was still not sure if it was for me. I stopped. And checked in rear view mirror woman officer appeared to move towards me.

Officer : You were doing 30 in speed zone of 25 when you passed me. I pointed my fingers towards the ground to warn you to slow down, but you further sped up.

Me : (stammering) Ohhh! I thought you were asking me to go faster, by pointing your finger ahead.

Officer : (getting more upset by the seconds) Sir, do you honestly think that a law and enforcement officer would ask you to speed up when you are already above the speed limit.

I did not know that I had the same annoying effect on other women apart from Promila. More stammering, awkward explanations and then she ended my misery by asking for my license, registration and proof of insurance. She went back to her car to write me a ticket.

Promila was telling me that not to be upset, let’s enjoy rest of the day. And to my surprise, I was not upset. Looked like, somewhere during the journey, I had become mature enough to take such setbacks in my stride. It was one thing to know not ruin the rest of the day based on one bad event; and totally a different ball game to internalize it.

While I was pondering on that, officer came back, and told me that she was letting me go with a warning this time, however, would give me two tickets if she caught me again. I did not dare ask about which show/movie the tickets were about and whether I could have one extra for Prem.
Most of the details about the Pinnacles hike are in my earlier blog. We did the 2 mile loop twice.

As luck would have it, we saw one California Condor flying at less than 50 yards. It was huge and majestic and had a diamond shaped white patch under its wing. Prem and I did some climbing. Park was full of rock climbers. This time we were able to take some pictures inside the caves. This time pictures came even better as we had an expert photographer and much better looking people. For pictures, please click

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hike in Pinnacles National Monument

March 6, 2010 – Hike in Pinnacles National Monument.

I got a call on eve of hike from Paul, dragging his feet, citing that maybe we should postpone the hike as there was a 20 % chance of showers. He did not tell me the real reason till later that he had not slept properly for last two days because he was travelling. I pushed back, we ended up going in morning. Good thing that I was driving as he was tired and slept in the car.

Well, there was a personal reason as why I wanted to be out of the house for the day. Promila had started a big Home Project couple of weeks ago. She had made good progress, taking wall paper & baseboards off, taping the walls, then texturing the wall with mud and priming it. However, whole house was a mess. There were paint rollers, brushes, mud buckets; and I did not want to get into any sticky situation ( read argument). I have been telling myself, this is an opportunity to practice my patience to unprecedented levels. And I had to admire her quality that she could live in chaos for relatively long periods in order to accomplish her vision.

This hike turns out to be a pleasant surprise. I initially thought that it would be just some rock formation and caves. Well, it was exactly that, however the rocks were weathered over last 23 million years to make some unique structures and shapes. The rocks were made originally by volcanic eruption of unusual kind, i.e., a 45 mile long volcano which sputtered over the years instead of blowing off. With recent rains, we saw more than couple of falls, streams and reservoirs. Park was relatively empty. When we reached the peak, we met a volunteer, Dan Burns.

Though I had studied about the park before doing the hike, that March is the right time to hike in the Park as the upper portion of caves opens up for four weeks in March only. Caves are closed for most of the season because of Talus bats living in them. The bat colony in the Bear Gulch Cave is the largest maternity colony between San Francisco and Mexico. The male of bat species portrays eerily close to a typical human male behavior. They come to this cave for mating season, twice a year; and as per another park volunteer Ed, disappear for Football and beers, leaving mothers to do most of initial rearing of young ones. That was another reason, I was pushing to do this hike now than later.

Dan told us another fascinating story about Condors. Pinnacle was a sanctuary for Condors, which are now only 350 left in the world. He was sure about the numbers as Condors are protected species and all have radio transmitters on them. There were some vultures which were flying in the sky at that time, he mentioned that these are Turkey Vultures with 6-7 feet wing span, however Condors have 10 feet wingspan. Not that you would know the difference when they are flying at such a high altitude. The difference is that Condor has diamond shape white patch under their wings while Turkey Vulture has just a long white streak at tip of their wings. Curious me, I asked how did they catch all the Condors ? Dan mentioned that once a year they put some animals carcasses in open area. However, Condors does not have sense of smell, just very good sight. Turkey vultures on other hand had a very good sense of smell. Condors follow Turkey Vultures, that is how they get to food and subsequently get caught.

There are reported to be around 25 Condors in the park. Bring your binoculars. As per Dan, Condors are very social creatures. If you happen to go in summer, take lot of water with you; as you would not want to be in a situation where you have to be friendly with the Condors (vultures). There are a lot of warnings in the park about keeping plenty of water, it gets hot in summer. Recorded age of the longest living Condor in captivity is 77 years.

There were plenty of rock climbing opportunities in this park. I tried by hands on few. Water streams, caves, tunnels and falls made this hike a very pleasant experience. We ended up doing 11 miles hike instead of planned 7 miles. There are more than one loops you can do. However, Bear Gulch cave is within one mile from the start, so I am thinking of taking Prem (6 year old) with me. Since upper portion of caves are only open in March, I will be planning to do a smaller hike with him and Promila very soon. Email me if any of you are interested to come along.

Address is
5000 Highway 146
Paicines, CA 95043-9762

There is a car fee for $5. Before 8, the ranger may not be there, you are supposed to take the envelope and put $5 and your car number in there (envelopes are available there only).
Trail and Area Map is
I would recommend that you do at least this loop Condor Gulch Trail - High Peak Trail - Tunnel Trail - Juniper Canyon Trail - High Peak Trail - Rim Trail - Bear Gulch Cave Trail - Moses spring trail
The above loop is 7 miles with only 1500 elevation gain.
If you are going with kids, then you may consider Moses Spring Trail - Bear Gulch Cave Trail - Reservoir - Rim Trail (2 mile loop), and it will cover all the beautiful spot and water areas you saw in my photos.
Flash light is a must for cave. It is better to take one flash light per person.