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National Park Road Trip Day 2: Pinnacles Part II

After just one night at the Soledad 8 Motel, it was time to move on. This was somewhat of a relief, even though the motel is good for what it is. It’s just not easy to live in a small motel room with two big dogs. There were a few barks while we were there, and who knows how many while we were off hiking and they were crated. We didn’t get any complaints, fortunately.

We loaded the car back up with stuff and dogs and people, and drove 53 miles around to the East entrance of Pinnacles. It was lightly raining, but we had raincoats and were determined to see the East side of the park before driving to our Airbnb just outside King’s Canyon. Since the “visitor contact center” had been closed on the West side, the first thing we did was visit the tiny Pinnacles Park Store, so I could buy the obligatory car sticker and magnet for our fridge.

The store also contained an impressive warning. Gosh, I hope that photo is not actual size:

The store had one ranger offering advice, so we asked them for an easy hike idea, as well as for ideas on where we could walk our dogs, since they’re not allowed on park trails. The ranger suggested we drive to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and walk the Condor Gulch Trail to the overlook (sans dogs), then turn around and come back again, about 2 miles total. As for walking the dogs, apparently there weren’t any fire roads we could use; we could only stroll around the parking areas or walk on the side of the road.

Erik decided to drop us off at Bear Gulch and then go walk the dogs, so the kids and I set out. Before we even started the trail, we were entertained to see a red-headed woodpecker banging away …

at a tree that had already been well pecked.

We talked about whether it was true that woodpeckers stash nuts or acorns in the holes they pecked — one of us thought we had heard that before. Then, we looked closer, and sure enough! There was an acorn in one of the holes.

When we tore ourselves away from the woodpecker show, we found a trail that was uphill but not too steep, damp but not soakingly wet. Soon the pinnacle that we were about to climb on top of came into view. Toth sped ahead of us, and at one pont I realized we could see him up at the overlook. He looked like a tiny speck.

He could hear us shouting at him, though, and eventually he waved back to us. Then we climbed up the path to join him.

The view was, well, pintacular. There was plenty of flat, safe space at the top, with some pools of rainwater, which Toth had fun jumping over. Some of that water trickled down in a small waterfall just below us.

The trail sign on to the next part of the Condor Gulch loop beckoned, but alas, we had to turn around and walk back, since we needed to drive to our next destination. At the end of the week, at least one of the kids said that this was their favorite hike of the trip.

While we were gone, Erik apparently saw a condor, but we didn’t see any.

Back in the car, we set out for Dunlap, California, where we had rented an Airbnb for the next three nights. Because of the mountains, the 190-mile drive would be a bit roundabout. First we had to go north almost to Henry Coe State Park, which is practically like returning to the Bay Area.

This prompted Pebbles, our middle child who really likes to be at home, to point out that Pinnacles hadn’t really been on the way to King’s Canyon and Sequoia.

“Well, it was sort of on the way,” I told her.

Then we headed east into the Central Valley, then south to Fresno, and finally due east into the Sierra to Dunlap. We left by 1 p.m., so if we’d been on the ball, we would have been at our rental by dark.

Alas, we were not on the ball. First, we stopped for gas and a visit to Casa de Fruta, that mecca of roadside tourist traps north of Hollister that includes not just a huge fruitstand (not much good on offer in January, but we did buy a pomegranate), but also a wine shop (Casa de Wine), a pretend mining operation (Casa de Sluice) and our favorite, a train ride called Casa de Choo Choo. Nutmeg and I fully explored the shop, buying chili lime cashews, salad dressing, a Fruit of the Forest flavor pie (as in, it had lots of different fruits in it), and probably more things I don’t even remember now. I even tasted some wines, an experience I regret. I should have backed away when I asked which of the many varieties they had open and the employee said, “All of them!” He poured me a pomegranate wine to taste and I almost gagged. It was not only as cloyingly sweet as you might expect from a wine made of, well, not grapes, but it had also obviously been stored open and unrefrigerated for too long. He asked if I wanted to try another. Hoping to get the sweetness out of my mouth, I went for the pinot noir. Mistake. Clearly fewer people ask for the pinot noir; this wine tasted downright spoiled. I thanked the employee and fled.

Next, we stopped at the Costco in Fresno. Erik had only put in a few gallons of gas in Hollister because, well, I guess he likes to save a buck. (His penchant for doing this later became one of the many things we bickered about on the road trip, but since this was only day 2, I gave him a pass this time.) By this time it was like 3 p.m., and at least one of the kids wanted a piece of pizza, so instead of rushing in and out, we strolled the aisles, stocking up on food for the rental. Basically blowing our chance to get to the rental before night fell at 5 p.m. sharp.

For some reason, we just hadn’t thought about how a house on a cattle ranch near the entrance to a national park in the Sierra just might be hard to drive to in the dark. Usually we think about these things. But once we were back on the road, crowded by our purchases, for the final hour of the trip, night fell hard. As we gained elevation, the road became one of those winding along on the side of a mountain affairs, and Erik, who was driving, got crankier and crankier. The road the house was on, Millwood Road, was very dark and narrow, but at least it’s not on the edge of a cliff, and the house is only a mile down it. When we got to the gate, it was well labeled. That helped.

I’ll write a separate post to review our Dunlap rental, which we liked. Suffice to say that when we arrived at around 5:30 p.m., we were relieved and tired, and it felt great to walk the dogs and settle in for a relaxing evening.

Roadtrip Day 2 Destinations: Pinnacles, East Entrance, then Dunlap

Miles traveled today: 250

Total roadtrip distance so far: 382

Cost: $213 (one night at Hummingbird Hill, Dunlap)