Pinnacles National Park

Day 7 of our honeymoon adventure

The morning of day 7, we woke up in Sacramento, California. I wasn’t fully aware of how big the state of California actually is, but this is something I began to appreciate pretty quickly from the amount of time we spent driving from destination to destination. Lucky for me, Dan prefers driving over “navigating,” and I am fortunate enough to be able to read in the car without getting carsick. This means that even when we weren’t off seeing and doing amazing, unforgettable things, I had 2-5 hour blocks of reading in the car.

This was also the day we picked up our convertible!

This is actually at some random rest stop in the middle of nowhere because neither of us paused to take a picture of the car before getting in, putting the top down, and heading south. We had things crammed into every space imaginable. We got rid of boxes from snacks, and shoved loose things into our bear canisters to maximize space.
Storage Rating: 1/5
Sunburn Rating: 4.5/5
Fun Rating: 5/5

We were heading to Pinnacles National Park, which I had never heard of before Dan suggested we go there as a part of our honeymoon. Neither of us really knew anything about it, but we did most of our research and planning in the hotel the night before setting out, or in the car on the way there.

(There are so many details I never want to forget, but one is that neither of us brought phone chargers that plug into the wall, and I only brought my 3 INCH phone charging cable to plug into my external battery. We fueled our electronics by charging batteries in hotel rooms and USB ports in cars for 15 days. Cell phones, gopro/karma grip, and our watches. Anything is possible!)

From my extensive night before/car-ride-there-before-losing-cell-phone-signal research, I decided we would hike 2 different trails combining to be about 7 miles. One was rated as strenuous, but would take us up to the high peaks and along the ridge and then back down and through the meadows of wildflowers. The other was simply moderate to strenuous, but would take us to an overlook of the unique high peaks, or pinnacles, formed by volcanic action millions of years ago. Smiles, windblown (super-tangled) hair, great music, a sunburned part, countless freckles, and about 3 hours later, we lost cell phone signal as we drove for miles and miles on a single road. Then we arrived.

Tumbleweed, the sun beating down from a cloudless sky, cicada symphony. So incredibly hot, and so incredibly dry. I love hot weather and sweating and the feeling of sunshine on my skin, but this heat was like nothing I have ever experienced. When I asked Dan what I should be sure to include about Pinnacles, his single statement was, “It was like walking into the edge of hell.” He said this when I asked him the night after visiting Pinnacles while I was taking notes in my journal, and he repeated it when I asked him just now (3 months after visiting Pinnacles).

Normally when we hike through the woods, we alternate between walking several feet apart, lost in reverie, marveling at the beautiful world around us, pointing out things we think the other might not notice, talking about whatever comes to mind, and eating snacks/drinking water. At Pinnacles, there was more drinking water than anything else, and I think “It’s SO DAMN HOT,” was pretty much the only thing we said to each other. We stopped to drink water about every 5 minutes under whatever shade we could find. It’s the kind of hot where you are sweating, but it evaporates off of you before soaking through your shirt. I was suddenly glad the park ranger at the visitor center encouraged us to revise our plan and do a single hike that was 5 miles instead: Balconies Loop (moderate).

With the heat aside, it was beautiful in a different way than a forest. Our trail was mostly a dusty path winding through a field. For being so hot and dry, there was much more life than I expected. I don’t think this part of California can technically qualify as a desert because its 16 inches of rainfall exceeds the 10 inches or less requirement that classifies desert biomes, but this is the closest I’ve ever gotten.

After a hike through the field, we came upon Balconies Cave, which is a talus cave. A talus cave is formed when boulders fall from the cliffs above to fill and cover narrow canyons below. It might seem dangerous to walk through a canyon that has boulders precariously perched overhead, but these massive boulders have been lodged together since the last series of ice ages (according the the NPS website). The park ranger told us that a flashlight was required to go on this trail which seemed ridiculous since it was the middle of a summer, but we took our headlamps anyway. I was imagining a trail with some rocks over head, but we actually reached a cave that blocked out all sunlight and as a result was refreshingly cool.

**Click the links to see videos!**

The second and third caves were a bit more wide open, and it was really cool (literally and figuratively) to make our way through the Balconies Cave system. They are sometimes closed for flooding or for bat habitats, but definitely worth seeing in real life.

The truly fascinating thing about Pinnacles National Park is the importance tectonic plates played in its formation. I’m not a geologist, but this is my understanding: many millions of years ago, the plates below California collided, a chunk of plate was broken off, and created the San Andreas Fault Zone. About 23 million years ago, molten rock poured upward and outward to create the Pinnacles volcanic field, which was about 15 miles long and 8,000 feet high. Since these plates are always moving, though, the Pinnacles formation we see today is actually 195 miles southeast of where it started (because it was across the fault zone). On the way, they sank below the surface, but weathering and erosion revealed what we see at the park today.
(All of the facts here are from the NPS website and the brochure I picked up in the visitor center)

Other things worth mentioning:

We saw some squirrels and a deer before leaving, and noticed that they both had very patchy fur. I’m guessing this is how they cope with the heat.
Balconies Cliffs, reminding you just how small you are in the world
the yoga pose, because tradition.
After leaving the park, we stopped in San Luis Obispo on our way to Ventura, California for some lunch. It was the cutest little town, and we found this place called the Bliss Cafe. If you ever find yourself in San Luis Obispo, I highly recommend it. This was my all-day breakfast, and Dan got a burrito with ginger and broccoli. If I ever become a billionaire, I think that’s where we will move. Partly for the cute town, but mostly to go to Bliss Cafe.

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