The Pinnacles, in Full Bloom

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The big El Nino was a bit of a bust.

We did get more rain than we’ve had in the previous five winters around here, but nothing like the ‘biggest El Nino event in 50 years’ was expected to bring.

As it turns out, we had just enough to get the hillsides green, trigger some wildflower blooms, and get some running water back in the creeks and rivers again, all without the anticipated post-fire mudslides in the neighborhood.  A reasonable compromise.

I saw some great wildflower displays in Death Valley a short while ago, and figured it was time to head back over to our nearest national park, Pinnacles, to see what the wet weather had done to liven things up over there.

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Pinnacles is a little over an hour from the ranch, on the other side of the Salinas Valley.  The drive out Carmel Valley Road from the ranch is a beautiful drive across the coastal ranges just about anytime.  G16 is a country road that winds through forests, with views of 6,000 foot mountains and sweeping vistas of valleys and vineyards.

CV_road_1-1There was a lot of green, but the wildflowers just weren’t there like they were in 2010, after a pretty wet winter that year.  I was prepared to be a little underwhelmed when I got to the park, but drove on anyway.  Even if the flowers weren’t putting on a show, the rock formations always are.

I checked in at the western visitor center, flashed my senior discount card (love it) and by the time I got to the parking lot, things were looking up.

I headed out the Balconies Cove Trail and immediately got busy.

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Hike 20 yards, set up and shoot.  Hike 20 more, find a new cluster, compose for the sweet spot and roll off a few more.  It’s actually a bore unless you’re the one doing the shooting.

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The landscape was much more colorful than the last time I was here, which was reasonable because that was last summer and the heat and 5 years of drought had simply drained the color out of everything rooted in the dirt.

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I stayed on the upper part of the trail, bypassing the ‘Talus’ caves I saw on a previous trip. This part of the trail climbs a bit in elevation, but is the better choice if you’re a little queasy about dark, confined spaces or crawling under boulders the size of apartment buildings about 1500 yards from the San Andreas Fault.  There really aren’t any flowers in the caves anyway.

 

As you can hear in the video, the wind started picking up, which added a nice dimension to the rocky scenery.  There’s really nothing quite as soothing as the sound of wind sifting through pine trees.

It became late afternoon and I reluctantly headed back to the parking lot.  I had a pretty good set of fresh images, but there’s this urge to get just a little more before it’s all gone;  the rain has pretty much stopped for the year and in a few weeks all of the color I saw today will have morphed into a subdued palette of browns and golds.

But even if the colors are gone… the crazy rocks will still be here, and that’s always worth a visit.

Kid factor: (+) All day I saw families with all sizes of kids.  The trails go on top of boulders, under boulders and around boulders which is great kid-fun.  Some trails crawl through caves and other climb 2,000 feet above the parking lot, so there are plenty of ‘on-foot’ activities for kids.  The visitor center at the western gate has some nice exhibits.  (-) In can be very hot and dry in the summer so bring extra liquids.  Snakes like rocks but generally don’t need all the activity along the marked trails.  But if you see fit to wonder off the trails… consider yourself warned.  And there are plenty of opportunities to slip off the trails and get hurt tumbling down the steep walls.

Fitness Factor:  2 staircase rule in effect:  If two flights of stairs gives you pause (or leaves you winded) then you can stick to the level trails and still have a very pleasant experience.

Photo Factor:  If you get here in wildflower season, the try and have a macro lens and tripod with you.  Otherwise a wide-angle lens is good for around the boulders, which are the size of apartment buildings.  If you’re serious about landscapes, try and get here when the park opens up and plan to stay until it’s closing time.  During the middle of the day, the light gets real flat and it really minimizes the drama and the shapes of the rock formations.  The lower the sun is to the horizon, the more 3D definition you get in your images.

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