Recently, I visited Pinnacles National Park (PNP), the newest National Park in the U.S.
About 2 hours east of Monterey, California, and about 40 square miles, the park is packed with beauty reminiscent of landscapes sketched out in the Land Before Time. Hiking trails wind through beautiful rolling hills covered in scrubby chaparral, gnarled oaks and blue-green pines. I found myself looking for dinosaurs roaming through the tall rocky canyons.
Long before you or I were born (i.e. millions of years ago), an ancient volcanic field began eroding away and traveling along the San Andreas Fault. The result: rock spires and volcanic caves for us to admire and play on/in today.
To climbers, PNP has a reputation of crumbly rock and bolts that have a higher statistical likelihood of coming loose than normal. In short: scary. But, it’s one of the closest climbing areas to the San Francisco Bay area and so you’ll still find busy crags most of the year.
While I sat in the sun on a cold and windy winter afternoon deciding which climb to get on next, I met two people who work in PNP on raptors and Condors.
California Condors used to fly the skies all over western North America, but over the past 200 years were brought down by shooting, collapsing populations of large prey, and poisoning.
Back in 1987, researchers captured the very last wild Condor in an attempt to save the species. Due to captive breeding efforts (complete with mommy-Condor hand-puppets), 200 Condors have been released back into the wild. 27 of them are lucky enough to call PNP home, riding the thermals above the hills and living among the tall rock spires.
I thought I caught a glimpse of a Condor hovering on the thermals above the hills near the campground. A massive bird with a broad tail, they soar more smoothly than the Turkey Vulture. Another way to tell the vultures apart is size: Condors have a ten-foot wingspan. That means I’m about as long as one of their wings. That’s a huge bird – the largest North American land bird in fact. Maybe I found my dinosaur in the park after all.
Pinnacles photo courtesy of Kaare Iverson Photography, www.kaareiverson.com
Condor photo from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Condor