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.

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is Quiet!

A fall, weekday, school day, midday afternoon is the best time to visit Sabino Canyon Recreation Area! You’ll feel like the park is all yours, and it will be! Times, such as this, I imagine taking a first-time hiker to the park. The person can see saguaro cacti of all sizes, even young ones emerging from below mesquite trees. They can hear bird songs and/or calls with no interrupting noises. Other wildlife may wander past, water may flow over the dam, and we could choose from a variety of 30 miles of hiking trails.

Saguaro cactus on a sunny day in Tucson

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. As my imagined hiker looks beyond the park, he/she would see the Santa Rita Mountains to the south and the Rincon Mountains to the east. They would hear a cactus wren, a rock wren and curve-billed thrasher and see black-throated sparrows. Often a Gila woodpecker can be calling and flying overhead as would common ravens. Wildflowers may be at their peak or slowly dying off as cool air begins to descend here and on our nearby Sonoran desert. But saguaro cacti stand tall with their gangly-looking “arms”. Some birds make nests in these cacti and Native American people have multiple uses for this plant. The saguaro cacti really do have shallow roots as seen in the photo below:

Shallow roots of a saguaro cactus
Black-throated sparrow

Respect …

Respect for wildlife is important to me. I want the birds, the wildflowers, the insects and animals to find safety in this protected area. Sabino Canyon Recreation Area provides for that with “no pets or camping being allowed”. For photographers, artists, joggers, hikers or cyclists there are times and places we can use the area with respect. Despite a sign at the entrance of where I enter the area, people still do not seem to understand, dogs are not allowed. Thus, park officials erected another sign to make the point clear!

The rules seem clear.
Signage seems clear.

It seems obvious to me why dogs are not allowed. How would this funnel web wolf spider survive if a dog ran through its web? And trampled wildflowers are not what we want to see from dogs running through an area or people hiking off-trail.

Funnel web made by a wolf spider

Respect … our Sabino Canyon Recreation Area has been here many years and finally closed to vehicles since 1978. A shuttle is available within the park. Hard to imagine private vehicles ever being here, especially now with about a million park visitors per year! All the more reason for me to enjoy my quiet time …. now!

Shuttle is available.
Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is here for us to respectfully enjoy!

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!

Southeast Utah’s Vast Area; Worth A Visit!

Southeast Utah has many national monuments. North and west of here are the five major national parks most people visit: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion. I am here to visit the national monuments. 

Utah weather has been mild, my campground is quiet at night; wonderful sleeping! After breakfast, I drove to Bears Ears and Natural Bridges, both National Monuments. I contemplated driving a 6 mile dirt road to between the bears ears, but decided not. My van is not a 4-wheel drive vehicle, so I wanted to choose which dirt roads I’ll drive and that just seemed an extra.

You drive through Bears Ears National Monument with possible stops at various viewpoints, ruins, or washes. Eventually you arrive at Natural Bridges National Monument. It has a 9 mile, one-way, paved, scenic loop drive with overlooks/hikes to each of the natural bridges. This national monument is managed by the US Park Service whereas Bears Ears is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, and I believe five American Indian tribes. All the natural bridges have Hopi names.

Three popular natural bridges, but there really are many more, at Natural Bridges National Monument:

Sipapu Bridge: means “place of emergence”.

Sipapu Natural Bridge

Kachina Bridge: named for symbols used on kachina dolls.

Kachina Natural Bridge

Owachomo Bridge: means “ rock mound” because it has a feature atop the bridge’s east side. I hiked the furthest on the trail near this bridge. I hiked down into Armstrong Canyon and there were some pools of water. Pleasant surprise … while talking with a woman at the Owachomo Bridge, I discover she is camped next to me at Devil’s Canyon campground! Small world!

Owachomo Natural Bridge

There is plenty of early human history and natural history to become aware of while you visit this area. One major reminder for me was the difference between natural bridges and arches. Natural bridges are formed by moving water eroding the rock. Arches form from other erosional forces, frost and seeping moisture, which also will enlarge natural bridges in time.

If you are in the area, visit national parks and national monuments! Lots of beautiful landscape to see in southeast Utah!

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.

Wildlife in the Backyard!

Wildlife is around us! While I enjoy observing birds at our backyard feeders, other wildlife visit the backyard too! One morning I noticed two newcomers to the area.

A Harris’ antelope squirrel was eating seed that fell from our bird feeder hanging a few feet above. This animal leaves its burrow to eat in the early morning and retreat to it when the heat rises. This type of ground squirrel is found in Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico and can resist hypothermia. They can survive temperature over 104 degrees. This squirrel is doing okay in the Tucson, Arizona area when our temperatures hit 106 degrees! They are back to their burrow, I would imagine! No doubt it is this creature making the burrowing holes under our mesquite trees. They also enjoy the fallen bird seed when not eating their usual mesquite beans and fruit from local cacti.

Harris’ antelope squirrel

Another desert creature I usually see sitting on a rock in our water basins with mulch are reptiles. This one in particular is the twin-spotted spiny lizard. Not much is known about this reptile. It is within the same group as the desert spiny lizard … also seen in our backyard. The twin-spotted spiny lizard can grow to 13 inches. This one seen our our tree seems to be on his way to full growth! These reptiles like rocky desert landscapes and eat large insects and other arthropods, such as spiders and centipedes. A good one to have around!

Twin-spotted spiny lizard

Keep your eyes open for all wildlife. Some may only arrive in the early morning coolness while others hang out all day long. Each animal plays a part in the overall ecosystem, our natural world. Do not be too quick to want it out of your neighborhood. Observe, learn and appreciate the life around you in your backyard.

Cape Royal & Angel’s Window at Grand Canyon

You can look through Angel’s Window at Cape Royal Point to see the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon! Wow, the river and the scenery is spectacular!

If you drive from the Grand Canyon’s north rim main lodge directly to Cape Royal Point it will take about 45 minutes. But I believe you would stop at vistas along the way; the scenery is beautiful! Or, maybe you will drive to Cape Royal Point and stop at scenic spots on your return. Can do!

Once at the parking lot at Cape Royal Point, you will walk a short trail to Angel’s Window. At some points along the trail you can see the Colorado River framed by the rock window. Walk along the main trail further and you are at Cape Royal Point with views of the canyon. Quite honestly, you need to visit since no photo will really do it justice! What are your plans for next year? Add in a stop at the Grand Canyon’s north rim, but realize it is only open May to October if the weather cooperates.

Look closely at people walking the trail above the window.
From another point, photo was taken through the window to the Colorado River below.
Another view.
Colorado River in the distance.

Visit Point Imperial; A High Point!

Point Imperial has the highest elevation on the north rim of the Grand Canyon at 8803 feet. You’ll drive north from the north rim’s main lodge on the park road and turn east onto Cape Royal Road. After some miles of driving, you turn left and this road takes you to Point Imperial … lodge to point is 11 miles and about a 25 minute drive.

There is a huge parking area, a picnic area and a short trail with scenic vistas overlooking the Painted Desert and the eastern end of the Grand Canyon. Here are some photos from that trail:

Point Imperial vista point
Scenic view from Point Imperial

Some people were picnicking, volunteers were collecting native seeds, and I was time bird-watching. I saw 11 different species of birds. Here are a couple of bird photos:

Western bluebird
Pygmy nuthatch

Back on the road our next stop, and blog post, will be at and about the end of the road at Cape Royal and Angel’s Window … 17 miles from Point Imperial to Cape Royal Point, taking about 35 minutes to drive. However, you may also stop at other vistas along the way as we did and the drive then is longer, but all wonderful to explore and enjoy! Do so, since who knows when you’ll ever return!


In the northern Arizona strip, the Navajo Bridge is everyone’s way across the Colorado River. On our way to southern Arizona, we stopped again at the bridge with hopes to view some condors. This time we saw 2 adults and 1 juvenile condor. Notice the pinkish-orange color of the head of the adult condors. Maybe not as clear here, the juvenile condor has a black head.

Adult condor; notice color of head.
Dark head of this juvenile may not be very obvious, but it is not an adult condor!

Condors are released at the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument area. They come from a breeding facility in California and spend a couple of days in a pen above on the Paria Plateau before being released. As more of the birds reach breeding age there will be more wild reproduction. We are fortunate to have the recovery program to help restore the population of condors. It started in 1996 with 6 condors transferred from the breeding facility and released at the Vermilion Cliffs, to 6 – 10 condors released now per year. Each condor is fitted with a number tag and transmitter to help monitor its behavior, movement, feeding and survival. 

They are huge birds! Wingspans are 9.5 feet in length as they fly up to 200 miles a day. They are the largest flying land bird in North America and can fly up to 50 miles per hour! Their food source is carcasses of dead animal; therefore, they are helpful scavengers. Condors can live 60 years and breed into their 30s! Here again is a photo showing the size of a condor in comparison with other birds of prey. (If you follow my blog, yes I am repeating this photo.)

9.5 feet for a wingspan compared to eagle and hawk … wow!

The condors were almost gone due to various reasons: the west being settled, lead poisonings and egg collecting. Thanks to the recovery program a healthy population of condors continues to rise. You can do your part to help: use non-lead ammunition if you hunt, never shoot or harm a condor, and do not litter so birds are never eating trash.

I hope you have an opportunity someday to see these amazing birds! I was looking over the side of the bridge as I saw the other condor walking along. See photo below.

The other adult condor … notice different number tag.