Friday, April 19, 2013

Reaching Pinnacles

Last week was Spring break for the kids and it had been a good, long while since I got them outside...I mean really outside. Our spring camping trips have traditionally not gone well. During the first one, we got snow, last year we got rained out. This year, I decided to pick a place that's just too hot in the summer to wait for summer vacation to roll around. I had some other ideas, but they were more remote and a longer drive. Instead, we opted for Pinnacles National Park...newly upgraded from Pinnacles National Monument.

I'd been there before, but it's been a long time. I'd never camped there, but there was plenty of availability. No great hiking right out of the campground, but it just meant we drove to trailheads once or twice a day.
We had a nice campsite, featuring a big, broken tree. Turns out the kids could get inside it from the back and found all kinds of hand and footholds to climb to the top. Between that and sliding down the dirt hill behind it, the might've been able to stay in the campground the entire time. We also had some fun campground visitors...

Nothing too surprising. We have quail and bunnies on our street at home, after all, but that's somewhat rare. We saw these critters all the time, along with a deer and a wild turkey or two that wandered through our site.

Some friends from school joined us for the first day and we took a short hike to some caves, which were partially closed in favor of bats. The kids still loved it. 

And we headed to the reservoir where we found some tadpoles and the kids passed some time throwing rocks in the water.

It was nearly impossible to keep track of Mam who was off climbing rocks before I knew it. I'm not even sure how I got her back down to continue our hike. That girl is so incredibly fearless about her abilities that she makes me a little nervous. There were no problems of course. We had a lovely hike back and returned just in time to fix dinner.

Day Two featured a hike up Condor Gulch. It was pretty warm, but there were occasional breezes. Smunch whined a lot. He doesn't seem to make the connection that the more of this stuff he does, the easier it will be. Mam, on the other hand, was off ahead of us and wasn't ready to stop when both Smunch and one of the other kids became pretty whiney and we'd already reached our proposed destination, the "Overlook", which was fairly underwhelming as overlooks go. Didn't seem like we overlooked much, although the rocks loomed above us.

Smunch was not pleased with the idea of continuing any further. Mam was not the least bit thrilled with the prospect of turning around and going back. Oh, the joys of multiple children. And I have just two!

Critical mass seemed to suggest we go back. And we'd been so delayed (by a temper tantrum unrelated to my children) leaving for the hike that it was already lunchtime. I had some snacks with me, but it wasn't going to cut it for lunch. I promised Mam that perhaps we could revisit the trail the next day.

Our friends left after lunch and we were on our own. We decided to trek out to the other set of caves and see what was there. The kids were great, the weather was lovely. The caves were...empty. It made for a great late afternoon hike.

It was a long-ish hike. We had a late dinner, but we were all tired enough to get in our tent and pass out at the same time. We didn't get up too early either. We had a relatively leisurely least the kids did. I'd already started packing for home. It was hard to get everyone on the same page with the packing. Mam was a real pain and no threatening of taking her desired hike away helped. 

In a move of undoubtedly bad parenting, we ended up going hiking anyway. Mam was in tears, I kind of wanted another hike myself and Smunch didn't really want to go, but I somehow convinced him it would be for the greater good. 

We hiked up Condor Gulch again. The trail is significantly more challenging beyond the overlook, but completely worth it. I learned a little something about Smunch. When he gets hungry, FEED HIM. He was so whiney by the time that we got to the top of the ridge that I wasn't sure what to do with him. I gave him a breakfast bar and he turned into an entirely different child. I told him we'd be turning around at 12:30, but by then, he was so far ahead of us that there was no way to turn around. 

And that was a little bit of serendipity too because it turned out that not only was there a lot of fun climbing up rocks at the top, but there was a California condor sitting up there too. There were so many turkey vultures that I might not have noticed, but someone mentioned that this bird had a yellow tag on one wing. Pretty good clue that it wasn't a plain ol' vulture. Nice trip highlight!

Now that it was easily closer to 1 o'clock, we hightailed it back down the trail, trying to get home in time for Smunch's baseball practice. There was a quick trip to the bathrooms by the parking lot, where Smunch discovered the park's newest bathroom attendant.

I happened to be chatting with a ranger when Smunch announced there was a rattlesnake by the bathroom, so it caused quite a commotion. Oddly, the park staff doesn't really approve of vipers guarding the bathrooms.

We couldn't stick around to see how they moved this critter, but we took off towards home, stopping just once for an ice cream lunch before arriving dusty, dirty and sweaty back at the house, where I sent Smunch right off to get himself dusty, dirty and sweaty.

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