Monday, April 28, 2014

Pinnacles National Park

Our most recent day trip lead us to the Pinnacles National Park in Soledad. Until last year, it was known as the Pinnacles National Monument and it is now the newest National Park in the US. Ancient volcanic field led to the formation of the famous rock spires, talus caves and canyons. Popular activities are rock climbing, hiking, camping and bird watching (we did spot some condors).  The Bear Gulch caves are home for the Big eared bats which rest there in the winter and raise their young ones during late spring and summer. We did not go to that side of the park so didn't have a chance to see them. Always a good idea to check the status of the caves here before making plans to visit.

We left Sunnyvale at about 11am on Sunday and it took us 1 hour 45 minutes to get to the West entrance of the park. Note that there are two entrances to the park namely the West and the East-they are not connected to each other through the park. This means that one has to drive outside the park to get from one entrance to the other. So it is important to know beforehand which entrance you need to take depending on the activity you plan on doing. The East entrance is about 85 miles from Sunnyvale while the West Entrance is at a distance of 105 miles.

We took Highway 101 S followed by Highway 146 E which took us right to the Park entrance. It is quite a windy road with several one lane stretches which makes for challenging and interesting driving.

There are some Ranger led hikes at specific times and I was keen on attending one such walk that was being conducted at the Balconies cave accessible through the West entrance. Hence, we decided on driving there. It being a 'Free National Park Entrance Weekend' the parking lot was crowded and so the Rangers were following a 'one car out and one in' method. This resulted in us missing the Ranger led hike.  After a brief 15 minute wait, we were allowed to the parking lot. The main parking lot near the picnic area was full so we had to park at the overflow parking area. A short ten minute walk took us to Chaparral.

The easiest hiking trail is the Balconies Cave trail. It is a 2.4 miles loop with an elevation of 100 feet. We covered it in 3 hours as I had to slow down considerably for the ascent. We walked through the Balconies Caves which was a thrilling experience. The caves are dark and one needs a flashlight to find your way through it. There are parts of the caves through which we had to crawl, crouch and even squeeze our way. At one point, there was a small trickle of water flowing through the rocks. It was refreshing to wash our faces in the small waterfall after walking in the sun for so long. Once out of the cave, the incline begins and there is very little tree cover to keep out the sun.

Walking through the Balconies Caves
By 5.30pm, we reached back to the parking spot tired, exhausted but satisfied after a good days workout. We stopped for coffee and some frozen yoghurt on the way to recoup our energy. We made it back to Sunnyvale by 8.30 pm with sore muscles and great memories.

What: Pinnacles National Park
Where: Please use the following coordinates in the GPS or online map for directions.
For the East Side of Park (Pinnacles Visitor Center): 36.493545, -121.146646.
For the West Side of Park (Pinnacles Visitor Contact Station): 36.477352, -121.226114
When: East Entrance is open 24 hours and the West Entrance is open between 7.30am-8pm
Fees: $5 per vehicle

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fun Times

February and March have been very happening months. I did a variety of activities and enjoyed each one of them thoroughly. As there are too many things to write about and not enough time for all, I'm combining them all into one post.

First up was Cirque Du Soleil. It is essentially is a circus with extremely entertaining performance-acrobatics, dancing, stunts, gymnastics, live music and astounding visuals. This was my first time viewing it and I was completely enthralled by it. This show is a must-watch!

Cirque Du Soleil Stage

Then followed a nice long walk with friends in the Shoreline park in Mountain View. Nothing better than strolling in the warm afternoon, soaking in the beautiful surroundings and chatting with friends. I intend to do this more often. Good for the body and the mind!

With Friends in Shoreline Park

Picnic in the park was next on my schedule. A group of twenty girls with a potluck meal met in a park in Palo Alto Downtown. We played Uno (a card game) in the beginning and as the group grew bigger, we switched to more fun activity-talking! There was so much variety in food and I was thrilled that all but one dish was vegetarian. I baked garlic pull apart rolls which was loved by everyone.

Potluck in Palo Alto Park

Garlic Pull Apart bread rolls I baked

Picnic was followed by a hike with Bay Area Older Adults (similar to my previous hike at Uvas Canyon). This time, the location was Rancho San Vicente-a private land which has been acquired by the Parks department and is still not open to the public for hiking. So I was very fortunate to be able to hike in this park. Like last time, it was an amazing experience walking along the beautiful trail, listening to the hike leaders talk about the wildflowers that were blooming and conversing with the seniors. It was quite a steep hike and since it was an unshaded path, the sun was beating down on us. We stopped at the top of the small hill where we could get a view of the Calero Lake. We had a small picnic lunch to replenish our energy and then headed back down. It was a fun and informative session.

Picnic lunch at the top of Rancho San Vicente

View of Calero Lake

I also managed to catch a quick coffee meet with friends on one rainy evening. It was a short meeting but was fun nevertheless.

The most recent activity was quite strenuous yet equally fun. It was rock climbing at Planet Granite. It was a two hour activity of which the first hour was belay lessons, instructions about rules and safety precautions. The next hour was rock climbing and belaying with a partner. I attempted rock climbing twice and managed to get only halfway because of low strength as well as fear. It was a new and fun experience but I'm not sure I'd want to do it again.

Me tying the knots with my belay partner Nirmala

Rock climbing