52.6 F
Hollister, CA
Friday, April 28, 2017
It is said that nothing can be all things to all people, but every rule has an exception. Point Reyes National Seashore is the exception to this rule. Jutting boldly into the Pacific Ocean in western Marin County, Point Reyes and its surrounding communities have something that will excite and please everyone.
He fought to blink his eyelids open against the night's crust of “sleep.” Through the cinched-down opening in the hood of his sleeping bag, he gazed up at a slate gray sky. A new day was about to begin.
There is more to a natural landscape than meets the eye. We stand in awed reverence beneath Yosemite Falls or on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Who wouldn't? The grandeur is overwhelming. But what about those ho-hum areas that we pass without notice? Are those places empty wasteland, or do they hold some importance beyond our ken?
Autumn is a close second to spring as an ideal time to tromp our local hills. While the green grass and flowing creeks are gone, autumn possesses a special languid peacefulness as nature prepares for the arrival of winter.
It was day two. Deep in the wilderness of Sequoia National Park, we stood with a ranger on the small entry porch of her backcountry cabin looking down at a map discussing alternatives to our original itinerary.
My purpose in writing this column is in the title: Getting Out. As you recline on your sofa and read it, I hope your leg will mysteriously begin a barely perceptible twitch that ripens into a full body spasm of energetic excitement. You can't help it. You simply must snag your day pack and your low hikers and head out the door.
Yes, California’s golden (read: brown) hills are lovely, but even in non-drought years our mid-summer landscape seems coated by a dusty dinge that makes me long for a cool verdant setting. Fortunately for us, medicine for parched souls is just over the hill.
If I were to rate Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve based on my first visit, I would award it just two stars out of a possible five. But that was four years ago and things have changed.

Pinnacles National Park is just far enough away to place it beyond the "Hey, let's go for a hike this afternoon" category. It's more of a "We gotta get down to Pinnacles sometime this spring" place. And often, we don't get around to it.

 

My visits are so rare that I generally return to the usual attractions: the caves and the namesake spires along the High Peaks Trail. They are beautiful, indeed, but the park boasts many miles of trails I have never seen.

 

Few men love the outdoors more or know our natural history better than Barry Breckling, the now retired ranger who worked 30 years at Henry Coe State Park. A couple years ago, we hiked up North Chalone Peak at Pinnacles when Barry mentioned his favorite loop in the park. I filed away that remark until a couple weeks ago when I emailed him for the details.

 

Barry's route presents a bit of a predicament, because it doesn't end where it begins. To span the two miles between the start and the end of the loop, one needs to either hitch a ride or, dare I say, walk. On a recent weekday morning, I parked my car at the Old Pinnacles Trailhead and walked back down the road to a park maintenance yard I passed on the way in. Several young park employees were chatting near a pickup before heading off to work. I asked if they were heading to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and, if so, could I bum a ride. Yes and yes. Jackpot!

 

The Condor Gulch Trail edges up toward the park's remarkable spires and crags. These volcanic ramparts are part of the Neenach Volcano born 23 million years ago near Lancaster in southern California. Riding the San Andreas Fault, the pinnacles have traveled 195 miles north to their current location.

 

Wooded, green and cool down below, the Condor Gulch Trail popped into open chaparral when I joined the High Peaks Trail two miles and 1,100 vertical feet later. It was a perfectly still and clear morning; the views stretched for miles in every direction.

 

After the climb, I welcomed the High Peaks Trail's gentle traverse along the shaded north side of the ridge. Shooting stars, saxifrage, larkspur, Indian warrior and miles of blossoming buckbrush joined forces for an impressive floral display that never dimmed. Past the Tunnel Trail, I reached the exposed portion of the High Peaks Trail. Railings and steps cut into the rock secured me along narrow ledges in the volcanic rock.

 

On the Juniper Canyon Trail, I turned down the back side of the pinnacles toward the Chaparral Trailhead parking area where westside visitors enter the park from the Salinas Valley. As I zigzagged down through an ever-changing array of rock spires, overhead I saw a huge bird lazily riding the morning air. Could it be?

 

 

Sure enough. One, two, three California Condors drifted overhead and landed on the rocks above me. One turned toward the sun, stretched his wings wide and basked in the sun's warming rays. What a show for an audience of one.

 

After a bite to eat at the Chaparral trailhead, I started down the Balconies Trail toward home. Lacking a flashlight, I bypassed the Balconies Caves and followed the gentle drift of Old Pinnacles Trail back to my car.

çPinnacles National Park is just far enough away to place it beyond the "Hey, let's go for a hike this afternoon" category. It's more of a "We gotta get down to Pinnacles sometime this spring" place. And often, we don't get around to it.

My visits are so rare that I generally return to the usual attractions: the caves and the namesake spires along the High Peaks Trail. They are beautiful, indeed, but the park boasts many miles of trails I have never seen.

Few men love the outdoors more or know our natural history better than Barry Breckling, the now retired ranger who worked 30 years at Henry Coe State Park. A couple years ago, we hiked up North Chalone Peak at Pinnacles when Barry mentioned his favorite loop in the park. I filed away that remark until a couple weeks ago when I emailed him for the details.

Barry's route presents a bit of a predicament, because it doesn't end where it begins. To span the two miles between the start and the end of the loop, one needs to either hitch a ride or, dare I say, walk. On a recent weekday morning, I parked my car at the Old Pinnacles Trailhead and walked back down the road to a park maintenance yard I passed on the way in. Several young park employees were chatting near a pickup before heading off to work. I asked if they were heading to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and, if so, could I bum a ride. Yes and yes. Jackpot!

The Condor Gulch Trail edges up toward the park's remarkable spires and crags. These volcanic ramparts are part of the Neenach Volcano born 23 million years ago near Lancaster in southern California. Riding the San Andreas Fault, the pinnacles have traveled 195 miles north to their current location.

Wooded, green and cool down below, the Condor Gulch Trail popped into open chaparral when I joined the High Peaks Trail two miles and 1,100 vertical feet later. It was a perfectly still and clear morning; the views stretched for miles in every direction.

After the climb, I welcomed the High Peaks Trail's gentle traverse along the shaded north side of the ridge. Shooting stars, saxifrage, larkspur, Indian warrior and miles of blossoming buckbrush joined forces for an impressive floral display that never dimmed. Past the Tunnel Trail, I reached the exposed portion of the High Peaks Trail. Railings and steps cut into the rock secured me along narrow ledges in the volcanic rock.

On the Juniper Canyon Trail, I turned down the back side of the pinnacles toward the Chaparral Trailhead parking area where westside visitors enter the park from the Salinas Valley. As I zigzagged down through an ever-changing array of rock spires, overhead I saw a huge bird lazily riding the morning air. Could it be?

 

Sure enough. One, two, three California Condors drifted overhead and landed on the rocks above me. One turned toward the sun, stretched his wings wide and basked in the sun's warming rays. What a show for an audience of one.

After a bite to eat at the Chaparral trailhead, I started down the Balconies Trail toward home. Lacking a flashlight, I bypassed the Balconies Caves and followed the gentle drift of Old Pinnacles Trail back to my car.

There are few eight-mile loops that match the magic and beauty of this one. Shoot for the cool freshness of an early spring morning. The season will be gone before you know it.

Ron Erskine is a local outdoors columnist and avid hiker. Visit him online at www.RonErskine.com, his blog at www.WeeklyTramp.com or email him at ronfoxtail@msn.com.

I am delighted at the success of Ron Erskine's group hike to Clouds Rest. It has been my great privilege to hike to Clouds Rest twice. I never attempted Half Dome, and have no regrets. Looking down on Half Dome and Yosemite Valley was unforgettable. I can think of no single vista in my 75 years that surpassed this one. I remember wandering through a marshy area (this was spring) and thinking we would never find the trail. GPS has probably solved that issue.

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A Japanese cultural celebration

By Laura Barreras Once used to issue military commands and in religious ceremony, Taiko, or the traditional Japanese-style instrument meaning “fat drum,” will take center...