Three nights in early February at Pinnacles National Park in central California gave us the opportunity for some outstanding hiking and close-up views of California Condors in flight. Let me say up front that I missed getting any pictures of the condors! In my defense: we were on a high, steep, narrow trail so I had both my hands free for the scrambling we were doing, and when several of the massive birds flew closely over us we were so enthralled that I was, sadly, not ready to photograph them. Nonetheless, they were indeed amazing to see.
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We stayed in the sparsely populated RV loop of the National Park campground, where we had a very nice site and could take advantage of the 50% campsite discount given to senior pass holders. We enjoyed good weather, although recent heavy rains had closed the two primary talus caves (Bear Gulch and Balconies) and made another hike that crossed a much-larger-than-usual stream impassable. Still, we were able to climb up to Bear Gulch Reservoir and then over to the High Peaks trail, including the steep and narrow section requiring some scrambling, where we navigated the Pinnacles formation and the Condor Gulch Trail. We also visited the old Bear Valley homestead that has been set aside in the Park. And, we enjoyed watching the flock of turkey vultures that roamed the campground in the morning, with the males displaying their tail feathers in broad, turkey-like fans.
Tips for visiting Pinnacles: The east and west sides are not connected through the Park and it is a long drive around; I recommend sticking to the east side where the main visitor center and only campground is located. The drive to the east side is along a narrow and winding two-lane road that needs to be taken slowly when driving a larger motorhome like ours. There were many sharp corners without shoulders where I needed to carefully use part of the oncoming lane to avoid trees or rocks lining the road, and I was glad that traffic was very light. Most sites in the RV loop of the campground were not level and some had sizable rainwater puddles in February. We stayed in site 105 and appreciated its easterly view (great morning sun) and relative privacy, and with careful positioning we were just able to get level without using any blocks under our tires. Sites have only electricity (30 amp), no water (although there are spigots in the loop that could be used with a water bandit) or sewer hookups.
Pinnacles is an amazing, beautiful, and unique place that is unlike anything around it in central California.
Next: Grover Beach and Camarillo