Pinnacles National Park, Where Is It?

Another national park I had never been to; however, I also had no idea where the park is located! Pinnacles National Park is a small 26,000 acres of land with caves and rock formations east of Monterey, in central California. It is nestled between the U.S. 101 Highway and Interstate 5, thus many of us were unaware of this national park as we drove those major highways!

Pinnacles National Park actually has two entrances because you cannot drive through the park from one side to another. We started on the east side where the campground is located so we could stay in a tent cabin. During the day we hiked the Moses Spring Trail through the Bear Gulch Cave to Bear Gulch Reservoir. The squirrels at the reservoir, where we hoped to enjoy our lunch, were obnoxious. It was obvious others fed or left food around for these critters who then expected the same from the next hikers to the area.

Bear Gulch Cave Trail
Bear Gulch Reservoir
Tent cabin which has a double bed, 2 twin beds, 2 Adirondack chairs & a bench.

There are more trails to hike on the east side of the park. This park has an interesting geology which explains the mountainous areas, the pinnacles, between both sides of the park. They are more beautiful to see on the west side. If camping on the east side at the park’s campground, you do need to drive to the west entrance about 1.5 hours away (or you could hike about 3 miles from one side of the park to the other). There are less trails on the west side; however, there is an interesting Balconies Cave trail to hike through. Sometimes the bat caves are closed mid-May to mid-July for the Townsend’s big-eared bats to raise their young.

Interesting rock formations
Balconies Cave Trail; Notice boulders overhead!
Walk under the boulder.
Rock climbing is allowed at specific locations in the park.

These caves are talus caves. They are openings formed between boulders piled up on a mountain slope. Prepare: have a flashlight per person, another layer of clothing as the temperature does drop when deep in the cave, be aware there are some very narrow spaces to squeeze through. The trails are not long, but a light is absolutely needed and we discovered some people were unable to fit through the narrow spaces. We also discovered hiking poles can get in the way, so we did not use them the next day where we would hike through another cave trail.

A recommendation we received which we thought very good on the western side of this park: hike the Cliff Trail to the Balconies Cave Trail, a clockwise direction. We agree. This was an enjoyable way to approach the trails. Another thought: it gets cold at night! It was 25 degrees Fahrenheit in October, so plan accordingly if you are staying in the tent cabins. This park is open year-round. Yes, California condors are here! Look high on the mountains in early morning or just before dusk and don’t confuse them with turkey vultures also here. I did add a new bird to my list: yellow-billed magpie.

Finally, if you travel from one side of the park to another you’ll pass by the town of King City. Food recommendation … tamales, breakfast burrito, pupusas, empanadas, and bread pudding were all delicious at Castro’s Bakery and Deli. I can understand why this place is so busy … loved every meal eaten here.

Saw the bird about half mile before the east park entrance.

Heading Home Took a Few Days … So What!

If I headed home directly, I would be at our front door in 2 days. But how could I pass up time at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon? No, stay one night. And the South Rim of the Grand Canyon? No, stay two nights. Then I’ll join my partner and friends in Sedona for a few days!?! No reason why not; do it!

On my way to the north rim, six California condors were at Navajo Bridge. I am always amazed how people will walk on the bridge and not see these birds till some of us point them out to these people. Then it is almost a mini science lesson, or what we often call a teachable moment.

California condors at Navajo Bridge, AZ

I camped at Demotte Campground north of the national park because everyone seemed to be at the Grand Canyon this fall! I drove to Point Imperial, took a short hike, then drove to the north rim to hike the Bright Angel Point Trail before having dinner at the lodge. That night was the coldest night of my entire trip. Frost on front windshield in the morning is the reason I always carry an ice scraper. As I left the campground it was 37 degrees at 8:00am. 

I drove north and stopped at two Arizona Trail trailheads. The AZ Trail is a 800 mile hiking trail from Mexico to Utah. I know someone who will be hiking it next spring and I offered to provide support as he crossed some trailheads. Here was an opportunity for me to be aware of these two trailheads. My next stop was at the Navajo Bridge again to view condors. There were 4 condors on this day.

And now to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon…

Finally I drove to Desert View Campground on the eastern side of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. I checked in, made dinner and hit the sack. 

The next day I had breakfast, viewed oil paintings at Kolb Studio, drove to the visitor center and hiked 3.3 miles on the rim trail to Yaki Point. I attended the Hawk Watch International basic information presentation with 10 people. I was the only one to join the presenter at the area where the Hawk Watch International seasonal workers were watching for hawks and recording their results.

The young woman who gave the info to the park visitors is from Argentina and lives in Mexico. The other 2 guys are from USA. They will be at Yaki Point for a month and this is done every year. Check for all hawk watch results everywhere, not just at Yaki Point at the Grand Canyon. They record sightings, compare the data with other years to see what birds are migrating through the area west of Yaki Point.

Can I get a photo of any of these birds? I added a 1.4 teleconverter to my 200-500mm lens and it was really a challenge to get a good photo. There were American kestrels, peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawk, and California condors. Thankfully the workers would identify the birds for me as some birds only looked like white or black dots in the air! The condors flew closer to where I was standing on the rim so I tried to capture a photo or two of them! Here is a photo of a condor:

California Condor at Yaki Point, Grand Canyon National Park

As my trip drew to a close, I asked myself: did I accomplish my goals? Yes, I did. One, visit a national park new to me: Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Two, visit my friends in Idaho. Three, visit Bears Ears National Monument. I visited many other places and loved being outdoors, camping, with a new something happening each day; no routine! 

There is a big world for me to see and the USA has many spectacular places to visit too! I hope you get out to visit some of the places also … go for it! Do not put off your goal(s) whether it is to travel or do something else! Go for it!

Photography Time at Monument Valley!

Once again I joined a photography tour while visiting the Navajo Tribal Park at Monument Valley, Arizona. The advantage of such a tour is the ability to walk and spend time with a guide looking for the best places to capture an impressive photograph. The guide knows the area, especially off the beaten tourist path, and where the best light falls on specific rock formations. While we may only stop at six locations, we have three hours to capture the angle of the sun where we wish, before it sets, and can talk about our camera settings. I loved this tour, learned much from the guide, and met 3 other very nice people also on the tour. 

Here are some photos:

Nature Rules My Utah Day!

Nature at work. Rain, thunder, lightning and hail … good morning, another day on the road begins! I was in no rush to start my day in that weather, so I read my book, ate breakfast and organized things in the van since I was leaving Devils Canyon and eventually off to Monument Valley. I checked weather reports, sunshine was south of me, so off I went.

One can enter Bears Ears National Monument from many different entrances. Beautiful cottonwood trees were turning colors as I drove a paved, then gravel road into the South Cottonwood area. I decided not to make my coffee and tea here since I was unsure of the deer hunting season. A posted sign alerted me to the fact that deer hunters have a permitted limit, but no dates were posted.

Butler Wash Interpretive Trail was the perfect place to make my coffee and tea, then to hike the trail. The short hike was on slick rock, reminding me of fun days mountain biking on it in Moab years ago with my partner. The trail led to an overlook where across the canyon one can see ruins. I was surprised to see people at one area of the ruins! I discover in conversation with a local, on the trail too, that the individuals took an old trail. 

Butler Wash Ruins, people on old trail.
Fun walking on slickrock!

This new trail allows visitors to see the ruins at a distance. I also discussed my thought of driving the 20 mile dirt Butler Wash road. After hearing details of the road, I decided a jeep would be better especially after the recent rain and the fact that many people do not travel it. No problem. Another stop, Mule Canyon was a very short walk to its ruin. An opportunity again to see the double-walled structures. 

Mule Canyon
Bears Ears, the buttes, in the distance!

The other day after driving the Valley of the Gods 17 mile dirt road, a left turn took me on the Moki Dugway. It is gravel, steep, very winding road. It is the only way off Cedar Mesa if you are traveling south through Bears Ears. If you were not here and driving south, you would have been driving the main highway through Bluff. 

On this day though, I had time to drive the 5 mile unpaved road to Muley’s Point. It would have been best at sunset, but 2- 3pm was what it would be as I still had miles to go to Monument Valley. The first 4 miles of dirt road was okay with some washboard. The last mile was rough with rocks and unevenness; slow and steady, I arrived at the point!

Oh my gosh! I loved it and was with only one man at the point. I walked a huge circle around him so as not to disturb his wilderness experience. One looks out to the horizon seeing Monument Valley way off in the distance. Look down to see the land at the bottom of the Moki Dugway road. I walked the slick rock. Sat on the slick rock. Meditated while here. And left before anyone else arrived. A couple of other vehicles were headed toward me when I was at least a half mile away from the point. Perfect timing!

Looking down from Muley’s Point
Only one other person here!

While driving down the Moki Dugway, now my second time, I had a greater appreciation for what I was seeing. Off in the distance I could see Muley’s Point, where I had just come from. Wow, glad I took the time to drive the 5 miles.

See the point? Looking back on where I was!

Monument Valley campground was full. The woman at the desk remembered me. She thought I was here just a month ago, yet it was more like 3 – 4 months ago. She told me she is full-blooded Navajo. The man, also full-blooded Navajo, who guides the horse tours told me numerous stories. My campground neighbors are 3 guys on motorcycles touring Utah for 9 days. One is from Texas, the other two from Colorado. On the other side of me is a young couple from Switzerland with 2 young girls about 2 and 4 years old. I helped them pitch their huge Walmart tent and fly. Even with the wind we had it up amazingly fast!

If you are in Utah and love the outdoors, southeast Utah is different from Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, Zion … all beautiful too, so do visit them sometime. Skip Salt Lake City unless you want to start your family history/genealogy. At the temple, they are helpful with that. Also know, Southeast Utah does not have numerous places to eat and stay; plan your visit and enjoy. 

If I had a 4 wheel drive vehicle, such as a Jeep, I would have been driving more remote areas. But if you do, let others know where you are. No services are available, such as cell service. Bring plenty of water and food. Know what you are capable of handling in the wilderness. Notify your contact person of where you will be. Also notify the person when you are out of the remote area so they do not worry and search for you. Nature dictates how your day will be; stay present; know how to live and love it!

Lots of Utah Land to See!

So much land to see, so little time! As the Blanding, Utah visitor center woman said, “there’s at least a million acres just with Bears Ears National Monument”. I was here to visit and see as much as I could, so she directed me to the Five Kivas Ruins within the town of Blanding. I am sure most out-of-towners do not know about this place, only 1.5 miles off the main road.

Five Kivas Ruins

Next stop: Fort Bluff. Amazing history of Mormon pioneers who were told by their religious leader to settle southeast Utah. As they were traveling from Escalante to what is now Bluff, scouts went north and south and returned thinking there was no good way. With great determination, they made their way, straight across … eastward. “I can do the hard thing”, was their mantra. Once you see the landscape in this part of Utah you would be more amazed at what they accomplished. I now also know more of the story regarding the Hole in the Crevice. They did what seemed impossible! They chipped away rock to widen a crevice, build a rocky one wagon lane road, and moved all supplies and 260 people through a spot thought impossible. They could do the hard things! They set up in Bluff, built cabins in a circle with no windows or doors facing outward and stayed. The historic site is worth visiting; it is free; has a very informative film; a delicious choice of cookies at the bakery.

Fort Bluff

Next stop: Onto a dirt road to visit the Valley of the Gods! Wow, some spots on the road I was unsure how my van would handle the rocky, steep uphills and downhills. I drove all 17 miles of this road in about 2 hours. Beautiful landscape and not sure the camera captures it all. You can camp out here since it is BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. I saw 5 different camper set-ups along the 17 miles. The dark sky at night must simply be amazing! If I didn’t have other places to visit, I could have spent more time here.

I stopped at Bears Ears Education Center to understand their mission. Enjoyed talking with the man there who is quite passionate in the protection of the national monument. He answered my questions about the northern section which seems to be more remote. Here is the history about Bears Ears National Monument. It was established by President Obama in December 2016 to protect about 1.3 million acres of land surrounding the Bears Ears, a pair of buttes. This monument was reduced to 200,000 acres by the next US president, then restored in October 2021 by the next US president. The monument is co-managed by the Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service along with 5 local Native American tribes with ancestral ties to the land: Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray reservation, and Pueblo of Zuni. President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act of 1906 providing presidents the power “to create national monuments”. The act was to protect sites of historical or indigenous importance from looters taking and then selling items on illicit markets. The process to protect this area started in 2009 … We have 423 national park sites in the USA: national monuments such as Bears Ears, along with national preserves, historic sites and memorials, and these do not include any of the 63 national parks.

Hovenweep National Monument: What is 25 paved miles after 17 dirt miles? A breeze… This national monument was not on my radar. I was in the area and I still had daylight, so off I went! Fascinating that these ancestral pueblos were set up in an area where there seemed to be no water. The thought is they damned an intermittent stream to get their water. I walked the 1.5 mile hike to see each of the double-walled structures they built along the canyon’s edge. There was only a steep downhill into the canyon and then back out of the canyon, otherwise an easy hike. 

Hovenweep National Monument

Finally back at my campsite for a late dinner and enough time to plan the next day. There are some areas I would love to visit, yet they are remote. To visit those areas, I think the smarter thing would be to have at least one other person with me, along with all water, etc supplies … and to be clear to a contact/emergency person elsewhere where we happen to be driving in. Remote here truly means remote and safety first is important. So … off to visit other areas tomorrow not so remote.

Welcome to Utah!

Utah … where I’ll be camping at various southeast locations in the state this coming week. NOTE: If you can avoid Interstate 15 between Salt Lake City and Spanish Fork, do it! The traffic was unbelievable the evening I arrived in Salt Lake City and crazy busy the next morning when leaving the Lehi area. 

I wanted to complete my daily eBird checklist so I headed to an area near the Provo Airport, except the road was closed due to construction. So much townhome and road construction. This area of Utah is growing very fast and seemingly with little concern about water. The Great Salt Lake is currently having issues, as are Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

Get away from the cities …

I drove US 6 East; it is a beautiful drive with colorful deciduous tree leaves off in the distance. The railroad carrying coal cars parallels the road much of the way and windmills are within mountain passes. There are oncoming cars so I appreciated the passing lane sections so I could leapfrog various slow campers. Finally at a rest area I saw 2 common ravens and they were entered for my daily bird checklist! 

The mountainous colorful area I enjoyed was till Helper, Utah. Then the landscape changed dramatically! On the east side, flat, brown, sagebrush lands with no vegetation on the rolling land. If you take the right-hand turn off US 6 East, as I did, it sends everyone toward Arches and Canyonlands National Parks where the landscape changes to red rock. I was listening to an audiobook, Downriver, by Heather Hansman as she spoke about her 700 mile rafting trip on the Green River. Soon I found myself driving over the Green River, then the Colorado River, and thinking about water issues in the southwest.

I stopped at a Nature Conservancy property: Scott and Norma Matheson Wetlands Preserve in northwest Moab. The preserve road was closed. It looks like a nice area bordering the Colorado River. I drove further down the road to check out campsites along the river. Within the canyon walls the air temperature increased at least 4 degrees from 86 to 90 degrees. The Kings Canyon campground was full. The Moab Rim Trail looked like a challenge for the OHV’s.

Scott & Norma Matheson Wetland Preserve
Corona Arch

My stop in Moab was to buy groceries, ice and gas. No other large towns in the area this week, so I am prepared to enjoy my time in the national forests and at the national monuments. Just over an hour’s drive further south, I arrive at my campsite, cook dinner, walk the campground, view the rising moon and look forward to visiting Bears Ears National Monument.

The moon is bright and full. We are enjoying our 4th successive supermoon of 2023!


Fun Time in Idaho With Friends!

You may not know this: Idaho is a state you cannot drive from its northern area directly south through the state to its southern border. Really. No road goes through the central area of the state. Central Idaho has 4 different national forest areas with 2 American Indian reservations bordering them. This was always fascinating to me to know and especially since it necessitates driving through Montana to meet my Idaho friends. I met my friends at a restaurant in Island Park: The Last Chance Bar and Grill at Trouthunter. Good food and plenty of fishermen in the area along with tourists stopping in for a meal. I’d recommend the place and the bison burger on the menu!

I am very fortunate to have good friends in Idaho to visit. They own beautiful property in a rural area outside of Ashton. Seeing a beautiful sunset after a day with sunny weather was wonderful. I had been experiencing rain prior to my visit here. At night, the dark sky has sparkling stars and the nearby waterfall flow lulls me to sleep. In the morning, we sometimes saw a bald eagle or two and a number of common mergansers.

A Yellowstone National Park hike…

One day we took a long ride down a gravel road eventually into Yellowstone National Park. There we hiked a 1.3 mile path out and back along a couple of rivers to view Cave Falls and Bechler Falls. We walked among lodgepole pines, saw plenty of mushrooms and the last of some wildflowers. It was a nice hike and saw only 5 other people on the trail. It is definitely an area of the Yellowstone National Park few people visit, so I felt it was very special. We were fortunate to not see any grizzly or black bears. We did carry bear spray with us besides talking often enough to scare probably all wildlife away. And that was okay; we were safe.

I enjoyed my time with my friends relaxing and observing a number of birds right on their property. As a matter of fact, I got a good view of a sharp-tailed grouse after 2 unsuccessful views. That makes #436 in my eBird life list! That bird was not even on my radar, so extra special!

My friend’s home is a short drive from Yellowstone National Park and Teton National Park. Here are some photos from this area:

Sunset … beautiful!
Cave Falls is the widest falls in the area; see next photo!
Good overview to see the width of the falls.
Bechler Falls
View of Wyoming’s Teton Mountains from Idaho.
Bald eagle …it may be “Fred”. Other birds seen too!

The next time I am in this area, or passing through, I should add Craters of the Moon National Monument to my itinerary. It would also be fun to stop by Pocatello where years ago a group of us met to start our 100 mile Middle Fork of the Salmon River rafting trip! That trip brings back memories … so good to have such memories… and now I created more with my friends on this trip. I am so appreciative of their hospitality and time to relax in a beautiful area of the world! USA has many wonderful places to visit. Don’t forget to step beyond your backyard and see what is out there! You may be pleasantly surprised!

North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park … A New Park For Me!

Finally … arrived in North Dakota! Theodore Roosevelt National Park is my 35th national park seen in the USA! (There are 63 national parks, so more for me to visit!)

Theodore Roosevelt once commented he wanted to protect the land before it was logged, mined and with dirty water. Due to his eventual environmental action, the park becomes part of the national system. Thankfully the mission of the National Park Service is to preserve the natural and cultural resources to look the same 100 years from now. I can imagine this park looks similar to what others saw a hundred years ago, since the National Park designation prohibits mining, drilling or logging the area for it to remain unaltered for future generations to enjoy.

I visited the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park one day which is an hour plus north of the southern part of the park. The northern unit has a scenic road loop. I stopped numerous times at vista points and/or to see bison. Some of the bison were in the middle of the road and could not be missed! I camped a couple of nights at the south unit of the park. The second day I visited the south unit. It’s scenic road did not loop due to a washout of the road; therefore, we all drove to a turn-around point and back. It was still worth the drive, plus other roads went off this main road, such as to Buck Hill. Wow, I went up there and the wind was blowing! No one was wearing a baseball cap for long!

One interesting time while on the road: I was driving back and there were 10 cars stopped by a herd of bison in the road! On the other side of the herd were at least 10 more cars and all were at a standstill. I turned my van’s engine off since it looked like there would be no movement soon. After about 5-10 minutes a tow truck with a long flatbed came barreling past my van and the 10 cars in front of me. The bison heard that truck coming at them and did move! As a result we were also able to drive through the area. I appreciated that trucker coming through!

Besides bison, I also saw prairie dogs in their “towns”, white-tailed deer, and feral horses. The horse were literally in my campsite area! Park visitors were careful observing all wild animals, so I was happy about that and I learned buffalo are in Africa and Asia; bison are in Europe and North America. They are distinctly different animals.

Photos from the park …. And one never got tired of seeing the bison!

Bison can run 30mph and I saw them run!
From a viewpoint. Fall colors are on their way.
The horses that passed my campsite!
South slopes are dry and north slopes have vegetation.
Cannonball concretions: deposited minerals in gaps, forming these “cannonballs”.
And I waited for the bison to cross the road.

Colorado Time and Onto North Dakota! Yeah!

After leaving Pueblo Colorado, I stopped at the Denver Audubon Kingery Nature Center in Littleton. I met friends there for some birdwatching time. As expected, with 3 sets of eyeballs we saw more birds than I would have on my own. And one bird was new for my life list, a red crossbill! Fortunately as I looked overhead, I could see the beak clearly… a crossbill. We saw 20 different species of birds as we also tip-toed off the center’s usual trail and into a patch of poison ivy! (We guessed, obviously not their property!) I camped north of Fort Collins, cycled a bike trail, found an ice cream place, and birdwatched at a lake and a reservoir during my 2 day stay. 

Back on the road: I drove Interstate 25 all the way to Cheyenne, Wyoming! Then route 85 to Spearfish, South Dakota where I had a Harvest Host stay. Back on the road again, route 85, to Medora, North Dakota. After driving through so much rain, why was I surprised when I arrived at Theodore Roosevelt National Park Visitor Center to see rain?!? More about all of that in my next post….

Photos from the road… I stopped at a rest area to do some birdwatching:

Wyoming road
Wyoming landscape
Lots of western meadowlarks!

On The Road Again … Me in My Van!

My van travel plan is to head north …. eventually as north as North Dakota! The first few days after leaving southern Arizona, I am not traveling new roads. However, I did notice a short distance and time off Interstate 25 (I-25) in New Mexico allowed me to see an area I had never seen before. I drove through many, many pecan trees. Wondering if they were pistachio or pecan trees, it soon became clear to me. They were pecan trees. A sign indicated, “anyone thieving at the pecan trees would be prosecuted”. That’s fair! Then I saw this sign about a short-lived colony in the area:

Short-lived colony.

Further down the road I passed fort ruins. If you are a history buff, there are plenty of fort ruins to see in the west, but I drove on and connected with I-25 to spend hours at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is open all year with 374 different bird species having been observed. My bird list for this location is shorter than that, so I still have plenty to see out here!

Depending upon the season, there are birds migrating through this wetland area. I was rushed in my birdwatching because I was trying to stay ahead of a thunderstorm! I drove both loops and saw no new birds, but remained dry! The area is beautiful and one unusual snake was crossing the road while I was driving the auto loop. I stayed at a winery that night and people did not know it was a desert kingsnake as I asked around to see if anyone knew what it was before I put it in iNaturalist app. They were thinking garter snake and knew it was not a rattlesnake.

It’s a desert knigsnake!
Bosque del Apache before the thunderstorm!

I-25 is hundreds of miles long! After hours, finally getting to Colorado! I took a walking break at Pueblo Colorado’s riverwalk. It was a short, stretch-my-legs, time before hopping back on the interstate.

Pueblo Riverwalk
Sculptures along this mile long walking path.

My first 3 days on the road were fun. I met people from Lebanon, Oregon, beat the thunderstorm while bird watching, but unfortunately had plenty of thunder, lightning and rain while driving. My windshield is very clean….and not cracked! (If you don’t know, I already 3 trips with a windshield crack each trip.)

My travel adventure continues…..