Pinnacles National Park
I visited this little-known park with a couple of friends while staying in Monterey. Named for the towering rock spires that rise abruptly out of the chaparral-covered hills east of Salinas Valley, this off-the-beaten-path park protects one of California’s most unique landscapes. The Pinnacles are part of the Neenac Volcano which erupted 23 million years ago near present-day Lancaster. The movement of the Pacific Plate along the San Andreas fault split a section of rock off from the main body of the volcano and moved it 195 miles (314 km) to the northwest. It is believed that the pinnacles came from this particular volcano because of the unique breccias that are only found elsewhere in the Neenach Volcano formations. Differential erosion and weathering of the exposed rock created the Pinnacles that are seen today. The rock formations are andesite and rhyolite similar to those at the Chiricahua National Park.
Apart from hiking around the astounding rock formations (there are several day hikes you can do in the park) you can also wander around several “talus” caves, the main ones being he Bear Gulch Caves and the Balconies Caves. Talus caves are formed when steep, narrow canyons, resulting from faults and fractures in the rock get filled with boulders from the cliffs above. The rockfall that filled the fractures is thought to have occurred during the last series of ice ages. Despite the age of this formation, the process of rockfall and weathering continues. The boulders range from a few ounces to thousands of tons.
One of the highlights of the visit was seeing the Californian Condor, which are the largest land birds in the US with a wingspan exceeding 3 meters. California condors once ranged from British Columbia, Canada down to Baja California, Mexico but by the 1980’s they became nearly died out, there numbers having dropped to 22 individuals. At this stage all wild condors were being captured and placed into a breeding program. Since 1992 captive bred condors have been released in the wild and in 2016 the first chick since 1898 fledged from a nest within Pinnacles. As of the end of 2018, there were a total of 488 condors in the world, with 312 of those flying free in the wild and now they are being re-introcuded in northern California with the help of the Yurok Tribe, whose ancestral land encompasses large swaths of forest and coastline in northern California and parts of Redwood National Park that were once home to the condor. For more information on the Pinnacles Nation Park, its geology and wildlife visit the US National Park Service website.