Pinnacles National Park - The New One
“Let’s stay at the Ashland Springs Hotel tonight” I suggest to Tom as we are heading south toward Pinnacles National Park in California. The thought of driving another eight hours after having driven seven to Ashland, Oregon from Seattle no longer appeals to me – especially with a nasty bug.
Our step backward, toward our goal of visiting all national Parks, in 2013 was the promotion of Pinnacles from a Monument to a National Park. Although not totally clear, Parks are larger and more recreational; Monuments are preserved because of historic or scientific interest. Having already visited all Parks on the West Coast, we decided to “bag it” on the way to Santa Ynez, California for our annual cycling trip.
The Ashland Springs Hotel is a hybrid of Gothic, Beaux-Arts and Arts and Crafts architecture built in 1925 when the Lithia mineral springs were a tourist attraction. Through the National Parks Service’s Certified Rehabilitation program, an extensive renovation was completed in 2000; the hotel is a Historic Hotels of America member. The statuesque yellow landmark has always been my stop, heading to California for longer term consulting projects.
Healthy again, after a tasty European type buffet breakfast on the mezzanine overlooking the bright two story lobby, we drive eight hours to King City. We are happy not to be hiking today as drought relieving cloudbursts blind us on the drive. The town is, well, very modest. The surrounding area is an agricultural mecca. El Lugarcito, the best restaurant around, is where we find freshly prepared Mexican food – no cheese. Keefers, at $70 per night, is one of the nicest hotels in town.
The next morning another hour’s drive gets us to the Condor Gulch Trailhead via the East entrance. Initially, this Park does not feel easily accessible or popular. However, after arriving at the day use area, we realize it is frequented by a wide variety of groups from the San Francisco Bay area. We are all astonished to be greeted by a juvenile condor – one of the approximately 160 in the wild today – perched on a tree in the parking lot!
We begin the two plus mile ascent up to the Rim Trail with an entire running club on a smooth and well maintained trail. It is now clear to me why there is no road crossing the Park. The Pinnacles rock formations, formed by the Andreas Fault and centuries of erosion are enormous; I can’t imagine getting a road through them. They tower above us; bare rounded and beautifully tinted reddish-orange. I have to keep remembering that we aren’t in the mountains; the highest peak is only 2720 feet. The Park is open all year (rarely any snow) and the wildflowers are just appearing during our visit in late April.
Our loop includes the steep steps (aka highly exposed steep rocks with little chisel holes called steps), which I pass on due to my height thing. We opt instead to go around the Pinnacles – a little more downhill and then uphill again. In all, the hike is six miles with 1,500 feet of elevation.
While skeptical of this new Park when in King City, we are pleasantly surprised at the lovely hike amid the towering Pinnacles. Its promotion is well deserved! We head toward Santa Ynez to meet our cycling friends, very happy we made the effort to see the Nation’s 59th Park – our 23rd.