[Tweeters] Pinnacle adventure

Constance Sidles constancesidles at gmail.com
Sun Nov 3 16:09:18 PST 2019


Hey tweets, Here's a report on another adventure in my Year of Adventure:

If you're going to take a trip to Pinnacles National Park in central California, you'd better pack up your sense of beauty and take it along with you. You'll need it, for Pinnacles is a "not quite" kind of place:

It has rock formations rising up from the valley floor - a result of an ancient volcano erupting 23 millions years ago and then getting moved nearly 200 miles north by the San Andreas Fault - but the formations are dully colored and shaped, not quite like the wildly beautiful rock formations of Zion or Bryce Canyon.

The hills stretch out for miles but are covered with scrubby chaparral, not quite as eye-stretching as the waving prairies of Grasslands or the silvery-green sage of eastern Washington.

It's a hot, dry place, with ocean breezes blocked by the San Lucia Mountains to the west, but it's not quite the sere, pure heat of a true desert, where the plants all have thorns to protect their inner water resources and the risk of drying up and blowing away is real and exciting.

Pinnacles is just a drab place most famous for its talus caves, 13 species of bats - and condors. We were here on another one of our adventures, this time trying to find California Condors in the wild. Pinnacles is one of the first places where aptively bred condors were released back in 1991 and 1992. Now some are breeding here. We had seen wild condors in the Grand Canyon area in Arizona earlier in the year, but you can never see too many condors.

Our first stop was the ranger station on the east side of the park. Pinnacles can be accessed either from the east entrance or the west, but there is no connecting road across the center of the park. To get to one unit, you must drive all the way around the park either north or south, a distance of some 65 miles. "Where would we find condors?" we asked the ranger.

"Well," he said, "this is what you do. At four o'clock in the afternoon, you come to the campground on the other side of the parking lot here and look up at the ridge. The condors will be soaring there, along with Turkey Vultures."

So at four o'clock in early September, I set up my camp stool in the middle of the campground. It was blazing hot - over 100 degrees F. The campground was nothing more than a gravel parking lot with some hookups for RVs. The ranger had shut himself up in the visitor center with a couple of fans. Otherwise, the place was deserted. All was quiet except for a slight breeze that scraped a few dry leaves across the gravel and
made me feel like I was baking in a convection oven.

"I'm going to hike up the creek," said John, who hates sittiing around waiting for mythical birds to put in an appearance. Neither one of us could quite believe the ranger.

After he disappeared into the bushes, I decided to move my stool over to the live oak trees struggling to survive along the sluggish, mostly evaporated creek bed. Their canopy provided some welcome shade, so that's where I sat trying to get a little cool until my husband John got back from his sweaty hike. "What's that sign say over there?" he asked, pointing to a little white sign several meters away. I raised my binoculars: "Danger. Do not sit under these trees. Branches can break off without warning." I sighed and moved back into the brazen sun.

Time crawled by and the light began to change to a softer gold. California Quail ventured out from the bushes to peck at the gravel and some scrub-jays showed up to eye me hopefully. Idly, I glanced up at the towering ridge and noticed kettles of Turkey Vultures had appread out of some collapsed supernova. Such graceful flyers, gliding back and forth over the ridge with scarecly a flap.

Then, at four o'clock on the dot, a distant black speck in the blue sky grew large, larger - and largest. A California Condor joined the vultures and sailed the blue sky-sea as effortlessly as any albatross crossing the ocean. Soon another appeared, and then another, until half a dozen filled the air. They made no noise. Occasionally, one would lower its pink and yellow face to look at us, perhaps wondering if we were dead enough to eat, just as its ancestors must have done in Pleistocene times. We were transported out of the present and back to the time when dire wolves roamed these hills and giant ground sloths sat on their haunches to eat the canopy leaves.

For an hour, we shared the planet with these magical birds, and then they were gone as silently as they had come. I took a breath I didn't know I'd been holding. My eyes were changed. They had looked into the condor's face, and I will never see the same way again. Far from drab, Pinnacles is a fragment of time long gone elsewhere but forever alive here.

As we drove past a stand of marsh plants on our way out, a Phainopepla sang us farewell. I was left with memories of pure beauty of the most wonderful kind: wild, secret, and free.

Bird list:
California Quail
Wild Turkey
Mourning Dove
California Condor
Turkey Vulture
Swainson's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Acorn Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Prairie Falcon
Hammond's Flycatcher
Say's Phoebe
Loggerhead Shrike
Steller's Jay
California Scrub-Jay
Yellow-billed Magpie
American Crow
Common Raven
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
White-breasted Nuthatch
Bewick's Wren
California Towhee
S;potted Towhee
Western Meadowlark
Northern Mockingbird
Western Bluebird
Phainopepla
Lark Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Western Tanager



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