Juliet and I decide to revisit Pinnacles after a 10 year hiatus. Its status was changed from National Monument to National Park in 2013 and is located southeast of Oakland, a 2-3 hour drive depending upon traffic.
Pinnacles NP was formed many millions of years ago by volcanic activity on the San Andreas fault. The violent shaking created humongous and delightfully shaped terra cotta-colored boulders, that pile atop one another or jut straight up into the air. It is a great place to hike and explore the otherworldly scenery that includes cliffs and caves.
Pinnacles is also one of the few places where one can see the California Condor, the largest North American bird which has a 9-10 foot wingspan and weighs up to 26 pounds. To put that in perspective, the breadth of its wings can be 3 feet wider than an NBA basketball player is tall!
The species was threatened with extinction due to DDT, lead poisoning and habitat destruction. In 1987, scientists began a captive breeding program with the world’s 22 remaining condors. The program has been considered successful with more than 330 of them currently flying free in California, Arizona, Utah, and Mexico (with 200 more in captivity), although the condor is still listed as critically endangered. A type of vulture, they are scavengers and can live more than 60 years!
We spend two days hiking among the spires and caves. At the highest point in the park on High Peaks Trail, we are treated to a fabulous display of soaring and gliding California Condors, Turkey Vultures, and Ravens, as well as sensational views. The condors are readily identifiable by their wide wingspans, and the white crests under their feathered wings. We are fortunate to encounter a volunteer with the park’s Condor Conservation program who is monitoring the condors and identifying them by the color of their tags. He is very knowledgeable and answers our many questions.
The winter weather is clear and warm. The park is crowded with many families, hikers, and rock climbers. It is inspiring to see so very many people taking advantage of our wonderful National Parks.