Pinnacles National Park: South Wilderness Trail

IMG_9581

It was Sunday morning, June 2. Sean and I were booked on a flight home to Chicago from San Jose at 1:55 that afternoon, but now, at not quite 7am, we were ready for our final hike at Pinnacles National Park: South Wilderness Trail.

South Wilderness Trail is 3.25 miles one-way with little to no elevation gain. It follows Chalone Creek south from a junction with Bench Trail not far from the Pinnacles Campground. Ironically given its name, it does not actually pass through much of the park’s federal wilderness area as designated by the Wilderness Act. The trail, although relatively easy to follow, is less maintained than many of the other trails in the park.

We knew that we did not have time to do the entire 6.5-mile out-and-back hike. So we planned to go as far as we could before we had to turn around and head back to camp. Our total hike that morning ended up being about 6.25 miles including 1.1 miles on Bench Trail between the campsite and the South Wilderness trailhead.

IMG_9524

We set out on Bench Trail from a still quiet campground. People were slowly waking up and beginning to fix breakfast. We passed coveys of quail and several jackrabbits.

IMG_9527

IMG_9528

California Poppies Suncups, closed and waiting for the sun to rise higher.

IMG_9529

At the Bench Trail/South Wilderness Trail junction, we headed due south into a wide valley. Smaller valleys and canyons, formed by tributaries of Chalone Creek, occasionally extended out to west and east. The early sun played off of the ridges and mountains to the west, but the valley itself was still in shadow.

IMG_9530

IMG_9532

Black-Tailed Deer

IMG_9534

IMG_9535

IMG_9537

Sacred Datura

IMG_9540

Chalone Creek

We crossed Chalone Creek and momentarily lost the trail in the gravelly area by the creek’s bed. Consulting the topo map, we knew that the trail had to continue due south, and soon we found it again.

IMG_9542

IMG_9544

IMG_9545

Much of the trail passed through park-like oak savanna. Particularly at the points where sunlight flooded into the valley from a side canyon to the east, the light was gorgeous, ethereal.

IMG_9548

IMG_9549

IMG_9551

IMG_5965

Image: Sean M. Santos

The valley narrowed, and the bank of Chalone Creek steepened. The trail also narrowed and climbed up the bank.

IMG_5966

Image: Sean M. Santos

Chalone Creek gurgles below the trail while the valley is filled with birdsong.

IMG_5968

Image: Sean M. Santos

IMG_9556

IMG_9557

IMG_5971

Image: Sean M. Santos

Soon the valley widened again, but it was still narrower than before. We had seen less wildlife tran I’d hoped, but we did spot a huge raptor, probably a Golden Eagle. It watched us momentarily from a tree and then flew away.

IMG_9565

Golden Eagle

IMG_9567

The trail led down onto gravelly, sandy ground that likely comprised part of the creek bed when it was at flood.

IMG_9568

IMG_9570

IMG_9571

As we reached a particularly lush section of the creek, it was time to turn around. We lingered for a few moments before beginning the return hike to the campground.

IMG_9573

Chalone Creek

IMG_5972

Image: Sean M. Santos

IMG_5973

Image: Sean M. Santos

IMG_9576

The sun was steadily rising higher while we were on our way back, but the light was still lovely.

IMG_9584

IMG_9585

IMG_9588

A dead mouse of some sort on the trail.

IMG_9613

Black-Tailed Jackrabbit

IMG_9626

Western Scrub Jay

IMG_9631

Western Scrub Jay

By the time we reached the campground, the sun was beginning to beat down with the heat of the day even though it was only 8:45am. We had some more coffee and some food while we began to pack up. In relatively short order our gear was stowed in our backpacks and suitcases, and we were ready to go.

IMG_9633

On the way out of the park, we stopped at the visitor center and gave a ranger our partially-used stove fuel and box of matches. He said he’d probably be able to find a use for them.

Then we were driving north through ranch land.

IMG_9638

We stopped in Tres Pinos post office to mail postcards, then it was on through Hollister and Gilroy and a quick stop at an In-N-Out Burger for lunch (because how often are we in California?). Our flight was delayed by a mechanical leaving San Jose, but ultimately we were only about 45 minutes late arriving at Chicago O’Hare.

IMG_9648

IMG_9649

IMG_9666

Although we wished we’d had more time at Pinnacles National Park, this park journey showed that even parks across the continent can be possible to see relatively cheaply as weekend camping trips. It bodes well for the future of the project.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s