Sunday, November 11, 2007

07Nov09 – Pinnacles National Monument

We arrived at Pinnacles National monument(south of Hollister, CA) this weekend, just for the official changing of the guard as the private campground owner( turns over operations to the National Park Service ( There were more than usual park rangers on hand to watch how campground reservations were handled and to offer helpful advice for hiking activates. This summer the park was extended all the way out to the highway and in general the place is getting spruced up. Within 5 minutes of parking the camper at our favorite spot (#12), we were greeted at our site by about 10 California quail and then a flock of more than 10 wild turkeys. The females were being herded around by 2 other Toms as they scratched in the dry foliage for grubs. We grabbed the camera and headed out for a quick hike before sunset. The trail passes through stream bottom land and groves of very old growth oak and chestnut trees. The missile shaped acorns littered the ground, and bird calls were continuously punctuated by woodpeckers at work on the older limbs and trunks. We were then treated to a marvelous 2 point, white tailed deer grazing in the meadow along the trail. All through the walk we encountered cat scat in the trail, some very fresh, indicating at least one bobcat frequents this area. The campsite and entire park are surrounded by a very sturdy wire fence which was erected to keep out the feral pigs – which are not indigenous to this area – but problematic in the surrounding rangeland.. We are camped at the far end of the campground, along the fence line along a creek. Last visit here we were awakened during the night by these marauders striking out along the fence looking for a way in to raid the lush stream bed inside. We hope tonight will be a repeat so we get a chance to see them.

Tonight’s dinner was a real success –
Crustless spinach quiche cooked on the stove top:

Turn on some great music and pour a glass of red wine (and one for your partner too)
½ onion chopped
½ pound fresh spinach , washed and spun dry
handful of sun-dried tomatoes, chopped and hydrated in 1/2 C boiling water for 10 minutes
bunch of fresh basil - chopped
½ cup grated swiss cheese, (add more cheeses for fun!)
salt, pepper
5-6 eggs, beaten, and mixed with about ¼ cup low fat milk
warm the pan and add about 1 T olive oil
sauté the onions in a medium pan until translucent and remove from pan
toss the spinach in the warm pan and stir fry until just wilted, remove from pan and drain
add a bit more oil to the pan, and turn heat to low.
Pour in the egg mixture, sprinkle with the cooked onions, chopped hydrated sun dried tomatoes, cooked and drained chopped spinach, fresh basil, and top with the grated cheese
Cover pan with a large plate and set the table.
Cook for about 10-12 minutes and test for firmness. Carefully flip the concoction when it is almost completely firm and nicely browned on the bottom.
Light the candles, pour a second round of wine, and serve.

We awoke Sunday to a light drizzle and dawdled about completing our morning chores waiting for the clouds to clear off a bit. Some fresh brewed coffee, pleasant morning music and a few chapters in our current books did the trick. We set off hiking up the Bear Gulch Cave trail from the end of the road with no particular destination or goal in mind. With a well stocked day pack, we could have gone for a short loop and back to the car, or stayed out all day. The trail meanders up a creek bed that rapidly gets chocked with very large moss covered boulders. The trail has been thoughtfully routed through the boulders with extra pedestals and supported ledges where needed just sufficient to do the job, and not so big so as to make you feel you at an amusement park. As the canyon narrows, the trail leads UNDER the huge boulders and becomes a cave trail, with narrow, shafts of sunlight penetrating through cavities left where the boulders don’t all touch. As the stream bed climbs, stairs have been carved out of the cliff walls by energetic CCC workers. The last push out of the submerged grotto leaves hikers at the top of a dam holding back Bear Gulch reservoir, the drinking water source for early settlers in this area. Over head we see a Golden Eagle being harassed by a pair of crows. They are all using the same thermals and the eagle seems annoyed, but is definitely not being chased off. The hike so far would be great for energetic kids (carefully supervised) as there are numerous side cavities in the caves that can be explored without fear of getting lost. Bring a flashlight!

From here the chaparral seems to stretch out in all directions, with North and South Chalone peak dominating the southern horizon. We pass beneath the formation called the sisters after spending a few moments at the lake shore and then decide to explore higher country. The path towards North Chalone is posted with signs to be sure to carry drinking water, but today, with a cool wind blowing and the air temperature hovering in the mid-fifties, it does not seem so parched. Trailside we see plenty of spent wild flowers, deep red manzaneda trunks supporting the sharp green leaves, and a variety of other dry chaparral plants similar to a woody sage. The trail is littered regularly with cat scat, evidence of the healthy bobcat population. We hike steadily upwards, and by 12:30, 3 hours after leaving the car we are perched atop North Chalone peak, tucked behind a rock to hide from the biting wind. We are right at the same elevation as the base of the scuttling clouds which separate to pass on each side of the peak. Atop the mountain is an abandoned fire tower, its staff replaced with a sprout of electronic gadgets which claim to be monitoring air pollution. The vista from here is remarkable. Today we are easily seeing 100 miles east to the Sierra foothills and west to the coastal range. On our hike down, the long fall shadows chase us down the trail, and the afternoon light brings out the yellows and deep reds of the lichen, foliage, and erosion faceted rock protrusions which make this region so special. Raising on the updraft we are treated to the view of two soaring California Condors – whose wingspan we’re told is over 10 feet. The turkey vultures which are hard to distinguish from condors have all migrated south for the winter. The condors stay here, with nests tucked in high on the cliff walls. We’re bundled up against the rapidly cooling afternoon, but are enjoying the easy downward views as we retrace our steps. Once back to the lake, we choose to take the moses spring trail rather than climb back down through the caves and tunnels. This is a wise choice, as the trail skirts the cliff walls at their base, revealing a pair of springs surrounded by lush ferns and grasses. Just downhill from the springs there is a cascading ribbon of life as the spring water supports a wildly different plant community than what is otherwise clinging to the desert canyon walls.

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