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Summer hasn’t left the hills of the Pinnacles just yet. The dry heat pulls the water right out of my skin. An warning of extreme fire hazard fits the browned out landscape. A prairie falcon glides along an escarpment riding the wind without once beating its wings. Annoying flies seem to want to land on our faces if we stand still for more than a few seconds.

DSC_0432_DasBootWithQuarryAlthough not quite as stunning as Crater Lake or the Grand Canyon, the geologic features are impressive. The condors sometimes soar on the thermals of the pinnacles but even with field glasses, none are to be found. We climb up a ridge bordered by a multi-colored wall of ores and lichens on one side and a rock dubbed the elephant on another. I dub another feature the boot. A slab with drops of red and yellow rises to the sky.


DSC_0422_BugMax and I drop off the ridge and into a canyon that follows a dried up stream bed. The plant community turns from chaparral to riparian. Although no water is running, green grasses, thriving poison oak, and sweet smells from plants that I don’t recognize suggest water just beneath the trail. Cool patches of air seem to come out from the rocks as the trail narrows and comes to a gate.






We enter the talus cave. The ranger told me it goes back 300 feet. We reach what looks like the end of the cave. I take out my flashlight and look around. I don’t remember seeing any other way around the cave. Max and I realize that the trail continues, the pile of rocks at the back is actually the trail. We climb up scrambling with hands and feet and keeping head and back low so as not to scrape the top of the wall. Not so small that we would have to go elbows and knees and not so steep that we have to hug the wall but definitely very cool. I spot a little white arrow on one of the rocks so we know that this is still the trail. The cave is the trail. And if I had bothered to look up what a “talus cave” is, I would have discovered that a talus cave is formed by boulders over narrow mountain slopes. But I think, at least in this case, they should call it a talus tunnel.

DSC_0454_ViewThroughCaveBats are reported to live in these caves but I neither see, hear, nor smell them. (Note: I’ve lost my ability to hear supersonic in my old age so I wouldn’t have heard them anyway. I need to build a bat detector for those ultrasonic frequencies that bats like to chat and echo locate with.) I’ve also discovered that many species of bat live solitary lives. I think of bats living in huge colonies like those we saw in San Antonio that number near a million individuals. We emerge at the other end and exit through another gate. The hike back to the trailhead is only a little more than a half mile away.



DSC_0430_RainbowWallThe NPS Pinnacle web site offers, “At America’s Newest National Park, the possibilities for discovery are limitless!”. I’m not sure about that, but I want to hike up to the top of the Pinnacles. Max is less than enthusiastic about the idea of hiking another four miles with an elevation gain of a thousand feet in the ninety plus degree heat, the scorching sun, and the fact that we haven’t eaten a meal yet at two in the afternoon. I don’t want to end on a bad note, so I will save the condor searching for another trip. I think the Pinnacles is a park that is best visited in the late fall, winter, and early spring. Perhaps it is a fitting symbol of their rareness that I don’t see a condor.