Sunday, June 2, 2013

Pinnacles National Park

To which season does June 1st belong?

Some people believe that summer begins with Memorial Day and ends with Labor Day. Others see the calendar year divided into quarters: winter, spring, summer, and fall, and thus conclude that summer is June, July, and August. Others are astronomically minded, and see spring as the time from the Vernal Equinox to the Summer Solstice, while still others, most commonly those with small children, see summer as the the time when school is not in session, and thus track it from the last day of one school year to the first day of the next.

So June 1st becomes an ambiguous day; it might be summer, or it might not be; it all depends.

We experienced many of those ambiguities during our June 1st weekend this year.

We took advantage of the brilliant California sunshine to make a short camping trip to Pinnacles National Park. Pinnacles is the newest of America's National Parks, having been upgraded from Pinnacles National Monument in January (in these days of budget-tightening, most of the signs in the park still read "Pinnacles National Monument", but we knew where we were!).

As compared with many of the big name National Parks, Pinnacles is small, unknown, and uncrowded. Even though we visited on a summer Saturday, there were campsites unfilled at night and parking spaces available until well into the morning. Try that at Yosemite!

The main attraction at Pinnacles are the California Condors, a most remarkable bird. We've visited the Pinnacles over a dozen times and have yet to actually see a condor, and we were no luckier this time. Part of the problem is that, in order to have the best chance of seeing a condor, you need to be in the highest and most remote parts of the park at sunrise or sundown, which is rather a challenge for us.

Pinnacles is also known for rock-climbing, for its pair of unusual Talus Caves, and for its superb star-gazing.

We took a hike to the Bear Gulch Cave, but it's still closed to protect the Townsend's Large Eared Bats, so we took the bypass trail and walked up to the reservoir and back. It's a beautiful walk, the perfect length and challenge level for a nine-year-old.

We were lucky to be able to take our walk early, as June 1st this year found the park already reaching temperatures of 104 degrees! We were on the trail by 8:45 AM and done by 11:00, and as I watched the late arrivals beginning their hikes, I was extremely grateful that we had chosen to walk as early as we could.

Happily, Pinnacles Campground features an (unheated) swimming pool, and so we spent mid-day and afternoon by the pool, enjoying the beauty of the park while keeping pleasantly cool. The camp store also sells ice cream sandwiches and bags of cooler ice, a service that we made ample use of.

The trails, the Bear Gulch Dam, the Visitor Centers and Ranger Stations, and many other of the park improvements were all built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Eighty years later, their work is still holding up great; those "CCC Boys" did fine work!

There was no moon for our trip, and the extremely warm weather made it quite pleasant to sit outside by our campsite until nearly 11:00 PM, watching and enjoying the stars and matching the skies up with Google SkyMap.

My granddaughter has become quite a skilled Uno player, but I can still beat her at Yahtzee.

And our simple camping gear continues to hold up well; although it was a tight squeeze, all four of us fit into the car and we made it there and back quite nicely.

So, to what season does June 1st belong? The bats are still nesting and the cave is closed, which means it must still be spring. However, 104 degrees certainly counts as a summer day. School is still in session, so we had to leave on Friday after school (and slog through the rush hour traffic) and be back in time to prepare for Monday morning classes. But we were clearly in a summer frame of mind, lying by the pool and playing cards, so I'll choose to adopt the "Memorial Day through Labor Day" definition, and label this a wonderful mini-vacation to start our summertime.

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