(Condor Gulch- High Peaks)
I have driven past the Pinnacles National Monument turn-off countless times on my way to Santa Barbara, but always been so focused on finishing the drive fast, I have never stopped here.
After hiking out of Henry Coe, Jen and I had decided to come explore Pinnacles National Monument. This is not a super-convenient drive from the Bay Area-- probably better for South Bay people, but it was a good hour off the 101 just south of Gilroy. Highway 25 is remote, with rolling hills reminiscent of the Ohlone wilderness; it gives no hint of the topography to come. In fact, even the Visitor's Center does not suggest the rocky spires just beyond the rounded hills.
Due to parking overflow, we had to take a shuttle from the Visitor's Center to the Bear Gulch Nature Center. From there, we took the Condor Gulch trail (Pinnacles is a condor release site, attempting to bring back this bird from its endangered status), which led steeply up to the High Peaks trail. As we ran up to the High Peaks trail, we got several comments from hikers--apparently Pinnacles does not see as many trail runners.
The High Peaks trail delivers. This trail affords stunning views of both the monolithic beauty of Pinnacles (first picture) and the surrounding hills outside of the park. We turned left at the junction between Condor Gulch and High Peaks, but going right
would have taken us to the Old Pinnacles trail, and the Balconies Cave. This was the longer trail recommended by the ranger at the Visitor Center, and based on the beauty of High Peaks Trail, I would love to come back and run this trail as well. (The other cave Pinnacles is known for, Bear Gulch Cave, was closed due to a bat population taking up residence. Too bad. I love bats.)
From the ridge, the trail heads back towards the rock outcroppings, alternating between running in the shadow of huge volcanic boulders and cutaways that looked out over the surrounding
countryside. It made me wonder what it looked like eons again when it was a real volcano. Perhaps time for some more John McPhee...
After this section, the trail becomes unrunnable, as you climb (literally) up over rocks and walk along tiny paths that had such a steep drop-off they were lined with hand rails.
Overall, great run and definitely possibilities for more running fun-- I don't know when I'm going get back here (like I said, it's not exactly right next to the Bay Area), but I'm sure that I will. A final shot--courtesy of Jen--of me running down the trail...
P.S. Once again. Gambolin' Man has a much longer post on this area... worth reading!