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Pinnacles National Park, CA

Have you ever had one of those gloriously perfect weekends where every moment just falls wonderfully into place and you are left breathlessly wondering how the next moment will go? Especially when that weekend started off with a sense of tiredness and trepidation? That was how this weekend went for us. Once we made the commitment to move forward, to have a good time and enjoy our new adventure, every step of our trip just fell into place leaving us to enjoy each other and the moments we were living in.

Pinnacles was the newest National Park in California.  Previous to 2013 it had been a National Monument.  Well, Pinnacles was practically in our backyard and we couldn’t wait to see it in person.

November seemed like a wonderful time to visit. Not too hot, and with the possibility of Fall still to appreciate. The middle kiddo was studying geology, and mining in California and my youngest was studying bats. What a perfect time to go and build upon their learning. Did I mention there were caves to explore? Leading up to this trip was an unusually busy week leaving less time to prepare meals and pack. We were so exhausted come Friday afternoon that we almost canceled. Sitting on the couch to pizza and a movie was so tempting compared to the prep work still to go and of course sitting in traffic, and then the final push to get dinner served to our hungry brood. As if that wasn’t enough of a steep climb to overcome, while hubby was printing out our campsite confirmation he noticed an extra clause that read “…due to high fire danger and drought conditions there would be no campfires allowed.” Just another small blow, the disappointment that almost tipped the scales in favor to sit and stay. No campfires meant no s’mores and no sitting around the fire well past bedtime to tell stories. No campfire meant being cold and no reason to be outside in the dark. What about kettle corn and flashlight tag?  A flashlight hike? Various ideas were thrown out as a life line to the group. Did you know that Pinnacles is open 24 hours a day? Maybe, said the kids. Well, maybe was just enough of a dangling rope for us to reach out say, “Onward,” a phrase my grandma often said with gusto.  Onward we continued with the hope that this would be as great a weekend as previously believed.

We arrived in the late evening.  It was pitch dark and we made a few wrong turns in the campground but eventually we located our site and settled in.  The moonlight was bright and the kids were happy to be free of their car restraints and run circles and explore in the dark.  We had eaten a sack dinner in the car during the drive so while the kids roamed nearby we transitioned the airstream into peaceful bedtime.

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After a good night’s sleep, the kids were ready to go.  We ate breakfast outdoors and watched a family of deer venture by looking for their breakfast.  Lady and I took our walks towards the group area on the larger roads. These sites were just far enough way to give her a decent walk.  While we packed lunch, the kids played catch and ran up and down to the Amphitheater nearby.

The overall RV campground is small.  It is separated from the tent and group campsites.  The campground is gravel, set out in the open with very little shade covering. Our site had none but it was a great site as it was on an end with no one next to us on one side and therefore we enjoyed a bit more of stretching room and privacy. There are no bathrooms located in the loop.  This loop is in-between the very small bathroom at the Visitor’s Center and the larger, newer bathroom in the Group site.  It was worth it for me to walk out to the Group sites as the sites were all occupied by several Boy Scout troops, thus the women’s bathroom saw very little use.

After lunches and day gear was packed we headed up to the park with the plan to hike to the nearest cave.  We brought Lady with us.  She is allowed on the service roads and visitor’s center just not on any trails.   We would once again pull a switcharoo as the few trails we planned to hike were easy enough for the kids to hike them twice for each adult to enjoy.

The park is not built to handle lots of traffic.  There are a few small parking lots through the park and the lot furthest in fills fast as this is a popular climbing park.  Rangers are out directing traffic throughout the park and helping to maximize the use of all spaces.  We decided to wait in line for a closer spot to open up to where we wanted to be for the day in the park.  Since only one adult was planning to go at a time, this worked in our favor.  The kids and I jumped out and left Hubby behind to wait for a spot.

At this point we were very near the Visitor’s center so our hike to the nearest cave would be just 2 miles.  Bear Gulch Cave is home to a colony of Townsend’s big ear bats.  As such it meant that there were times in the season that partial or all of the cave was closed so the bats could rest and raise their young.  This particular species of bat was considered “sensitive” in California and therefore they needed to be protected in order to continue to grow in numbers.  This cave has a few iron gates inside, that can be closed restricting access to parts of the cave during various parts of the year.

The hike to the cave is scenic and easy.  Lots of views of the pinnacles and climbers attempting to reach their peaks.  Its fun to watch the climbers scaling those large rocks and we often stopped to watch.  The cave itself is fairly easy to maneuver.  It is dark and we were happy to have brought head flashlights.  It is a set of stairs that are steep, narrow and wet with water falling off the inside walls.  We kept our eyes peeled for the bats but didn’t see a one.  We looked in the pools hoping to

find interesting fish and did find some frogs, go figure.  The top part of the cave did have a gate across, so we weren’t able to continue IMG_0098_2on.  There is another exit across the way that you need to crawl out on and will lead you on another trail that eventually leads you back to the Bear Gulch trail or you turn around and walk back down.

We were gone a few hours by now and decided to head back to the Visitor’s Center to see if we could find out what happened to dear old dad and Lady.  The caves were quite chilly and it was nice to be back out in the sun.  We located hubby, he had a parking spot, yeah!  We unloaded the truck with our lunch gear and Lady.  The rangers pointed us to the nearest service road which just happened to have a picnic table.  This became our headquarters for the day. A great place to work on Jr. Ranger books, picnic and read.  The service road went for awhile and Lady enjoyed stretching her legs for walks.  Funny enough the only wild animal we saw all day crossed right in front of Lady and I.  A bobcat.  Probably because all the other trails were full of scouts, climbers and families leaving this portion of the park unused.

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After a few games of frisbee, hubby and the boys headed off to see the caves and hike another easy trail.  The girls enjoyed exploring the service road and the ranger houses at the end, reading and drawing.  When the boys returned it was time to finish the last part of the Jr. Ranger booklets and go get those badges!

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The same Ranger that helped us find a spot earlier in the day was still there at the end.  He checked over each of the kids’ booklets, went over the oath and swore them in as Jr. Rangers.  The Jr. Ranger booklets serve a range of ages (5-12). Based on your age, you complete a series of activities to earn badges.  The older in age, the more in depth the activities and number of activities required.  My youngest two each earned the Coyote patch and my oldest, the Condor.

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It was a great day, and a great weekend in this new national park.  Since this national park is open 24 hours, we thought we might make it back in the evening to see what life after dark was like in the park but the kids were tired.  Maybe another time.  I would also love to come back in the spring and see all the wildflowers.  They are supposed to be quite the colorful sight to see.

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