Thursday, June 16, 2005

Pinnacles National Monument

In our never-ending quest to spot the elusive California Condor (population: 156 captive, 118 wild), we took a trip to Pinnacles National Monument this past weekend (June 10-12).

But, before we get to the story, we bet that you're wondering about the differences between a National Monument and a National Park. Basically, a Nat'l Park must be approved by Congress, while a Nat'l Monument can be declared solely by the President. Here is a good explanation, if you're interested.

Sarah was in lovely Houston for work, so Jay picked her up at the airport around 8:30 PM on Friday, and we continued south on the 140-ish mile drive. We were quite tired, but managed to get the tent up and get to sleep by 11 PM or so. (We'll skip the story about the campground gate being locked at 9 PM, and us having to lay down a piece of wood and drive over the "severe tire damage" spikes in the exit lane.)

During the night, there was quite a bit of wildlife out and about. It was just like being in San Fran, except the fire engines and the police sirens were replaced with strange squeals and various rodent-types rooting around our tent. Sarah commented that, "those things sound like pigs!?!?" To which Jay replied, "Whatever. It's probably just a big 'possum."

The next morning, as we went to the bathroom, we were both confronted with signs on the doors that read: "Please pack all food in your car. Wild pigs are in the area." Well, not only was Jay disgusted at the fact that Sarah was right about the animals outside and he was wrong, he was equally disgusted at the fact that these signs weren't placed at the entrance to the campground! That would have been a good fact to know before morning...

Anyway, we headed to the park in hopes of seeing the elusive California Condor. The weather was beautiful, with the temp around 85 and one tiny, lonely cloud off in the distance, but otherwise "Enchanting Crystal Blue" skies. (Sarah brought paint chips along, so the normal Roy G. Biv colors no longer have meaning in our world!) While paying our fee, we asked the ranger where to go to see the elusive California Condor. She gave us a look and replied something like, "Oh, you never know where you can see them. They like to ride the thermals." Gee, thanks for the detailed info.

At the tiny visitor's center, we asked the other ranger where we might have the best chance to see the elusive California Condor. (Mind you, the combined age of these two ranger chicks was about 35.) Her reply was something like, "Oh, they're around. They like it high up." Two rangers and a visitor's center and we're no closer to seeing the elusive California Condor than we were in San Fran.

So, we headed off on the High Peaks trail - a ~5-mile loop through the volcanic pinnacles and spires, hoping to get at least a glimpse of the elusive California Condor. The rangers did point out one tidbit about identifying the birds, which was very evident in the photos in the visitor's center: look for the giant red number tags on each wing!

As you can see from the pictures below, Pinnacles is quite a sight. It looks like a rock climber's dream, and even though there were a few trails marked with a carabiner logo (evidently a sign of good climbing), we only spotted one small group of climbers, and they were about 30 feet from the parking lot. We did see tons of birds, including a group of Violet-Green Swallows that gave us quite the entertainment during our lunch break, and a bunch of Turkey Vultures (for which Jay had to point and yell "Condor!" every time one flew over).

Probably the highlight of the trip - other than the stop at the Gilroy Factory Outlets - was the close encounter with a bobcat back at the campground. As we sat reviewing paint chips and debating our preferences between Rosemary Seafoam Mist and Garden Glow, watching a squirrel cavort about and a rabbit hopping 10 feet away (not to mention the woodpeckers pecking, the other birds chirping, and some other bird building a nest in a tree hole), Sarah jumped and screamed "MOUNTAIN LION!!!" as this bobcat came running between us and the tent, honed in on the unsuspecting rabbit.

As Sarah sprinted to the car and Jay jumped up on the picnic table, the rabbit ran away, the squirrel dove into his hole, and the bobcat never even noticed our presence. It just walked over to a tree about 30 feet from our picnic table, hopped up into a "V" in the split trunk, and proceeded to nap, yawn, clean it's paws, and pay absolutely no attention to us. You can see some good pictures below, but it was quite a scene for about an hour or so.

This marks our second venture in tracking the elusive California Condor, with the first being Big Sur back in February, '03. We'd like to get back to Big Sur, and maybe take a hike up into Ventana Wilderness in our continuing search for the elusive California Condor. But, maybe we'll head to the LA Zoo instead. They have 30 elusive California Condors, including 7 chicks! We're sure they'll be easier to spot there!

So, the bobcat and the wild pigs made for quite an interesting trip, not to mention the fabulous time reviewing paint chips. We're still sad that we didn't get to see the elusive California Condor, but the trip was pretty fun anyway.

Let us know how you like the pictures!!!

1 comment:

BSB said...

So question - where does one find a piece of wood large enough to cover tire spikes and drive over at 11 o'clock at night? :-) Sounds like a fun, fun trip. WOW - a bobcat!