After leaving Death Valley National Park we traveled back to Ridgecrest for three nights. Bill visited the China Lake Museum whose mission is to preserve the history of the Navy’s spectrum of weapons research, development and testing. Formerly located at the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, the museum is being relocated off base to make it more accessible to the public. China Lake was started to develop missiles and also was involved in the Manhattan Project.
After three days in Ridgecrest we headed north to Buena Vista Aquatic Recreational Area near the tiny town of Taft, California. Along the way we passed field after field of solar panels and occasionally wind turbines.
The terrain changed from a dry rocky landscape to the agricultural California Central Valley. We passed field after field of crops, citrus trees and grapes.
We could see aqueducts helping irrigate the fields as well as political signs from farmers asking for more dams instead of the proposed funding for the high speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
We had a campsite with a view of the lake and enjoyed a peaceful weekend even though it was Easter weekend and the park was full of families. We enjoyed just relaxing and some walks around the park with beautiful sunsets.
We left Taft and headed to a campground near Hollister, California for a nine night stay. Hollister is one of three towns in California claiming to be the “Earthquake Capital of the World” because it was built directly on the very geologically active Calaveras Fault, a strand of the greater San Andreas Fault. One evening we felt the earth gently shake and later learned it was a 3.0 earthquake. No big deal.
Our main reason for visiting this area was to visit Pinnacles National Park. Formerly a national monument established in 1908, it became a national park in 2013, the 59th national park and our newest national park.
The pinnacles are eroded leftovers of the western half of an extinct volcano that was once part of the San Andreas Fault. The park is divided by the rock formations into an east division and a west division with no road connecting the east and west sections of the park.
The park has numerous unusual talus caves that are home to more than thirteen species of bats. Talus caves are not like the typical limestone underground caves. In fact they are not really caves at all. They are formed when steep, narrow canyons are filled with a jumbled mass of boulders from the cliffs above which happened during the ice age. There is no known evidence of the existence of any Native Americans ever living in the talus caves.
One day we drove to the eastern section of the park which was more easily accessible from our campground. We stopped by the Visitors Center for trail information.
We discovered there are not a lot of hiking trails in the park, and the trails they have are either rated moderate or strenuous. After talking with a ranger we chose the Bear Gulch Cave and Moses Spring Trails after her assurance it was not a difficult trail. The hike started with a fairly uphill walk until we reached the cave.
Upon entering the cave we had to rock hop over a series of rocks to keep our feet from getting really wet. Hmm, don’t remember the ranger mentioning this. As we continued on the cave was so dark we had to use a flashlight and light from our cell phone as we began to climb a series of steep steps cut into the cave walls.
Hmm, don’t remember the ranger mentioning this. To our left we could hear, but not see running water. Illuminating the area the best we could with the flashlight, we could see a series of waterfall.
Our path continued either over rocky terrain or steep steps with occasional very narrow passageways we had to squeeze through. At the end of the cave the exit was so low we had to get down on our knees and crawl out. Hmm, the ranger didn’t mention this!
Once out of the cave we continued on the trail to the reservoir. Once again we climbed steep rocky stairs and at the top emerged into an oasis of water and a few trees.
After resting a while and enjoying the view we went back down the steep stairs.
Luckily the trail back to the parking lot didn’t not take us back through the cave, though we noticed some people choosing that option. Once was definitely enough. On the way back we passed along some high rocky walks where Bill heard growling from above. This made us nervous since the area is known as home to bobcats.
We arrived back at the car hungry for our picnic lunch and a rest.
Another day we visited the west side of the park which required a much longer drive from our campground to access the west entrance.
This side of the park was much quieter and appeared to be less visited. We enjoyed chatting with the friendly park ranger who suggested a brand new trail. This easy one mile loop gave us great views of the pinnacles.
Next up we head to Yosemite National Park to see the many spring waterfalls.