My mom and I drive along a one-lane road through arid wine country, the temperature climbing as we pass one vineyard after another. I can practically hear the drought-parched earth begging for water. Finally, a ridge of rocks appears on the horizon, the eroded remains of an extinct volcano that make up Pinnacles National Park.
Pinnacles was among the first national monuments designated by Theodore Roosevelt, but was only elevated to national park status in 2013, which is perhaps why it’s the quietest national park I’ve ever been to. Mr. Bumblepoppy poses with the spotless new signs at the West Entrance Visitor Center, where the only other visitor is an old woman who tells us horror stories about bats.
We drive on to the Chaparral Parking Lot and set off along the Balconies Cliff-Cave Loop Trail. As we gain elevation on the cliff segment, we keep our eyes peeled for California condors, but all we spot are climbers clinging to the pillars. I resist running off along the various approach paths with their appealing route names – if I come back it’s going to be with ropes and harnesses.
The trail then drops down into a short talus cave, where a ranger points out some roosting bats with his flashlight. It’s blessedly cool beneath the tumble of boulders, so we voluntarily move aside for a large group that started at the more developed East Entrance. Although it’s over an hour’s drive between the two visitor centers, the hike across the park is only 3 miles. Their sweaty faces show it’s a tiring distance in sun.
We only have one headlamp between us, so I take a couple steps then turn around to light my mom’s way, and in this tag-team way we scramble up and out of the cave.
The return journey heads through a gulch and under more boulders wedged between the rock faces. Despite packing along ample water, my mom grows dizzy in the heat, so we decide to cut our trip short.
With the extra time, we drive to Marina State Beach to drink wine and watch the sunset. We huddle on the sand with our sweatshirt hoods pulled up around our ears. My mom passes over my aluminum water bottle that now sloshes with Bogle Phantom wine. Every time I raise the bottle to my lips, the wind sets it howling like an actual phantom.
And that’s how we went from sweltering in the mountains to shivering on a beach – a true California experience.
Farewell for now, my home state!