Central California:  Pinot, Pinnacles, and The Pacific
The Glistening White Salt Lake and Pinnacles National Monument, April 2008
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The road trip begins.

The hills along Central California's back roads are filled with wildflowers in April, and it's difficult to imagine that they'd be more beautiful than along Route 58, which connects the 5 and the 101.

And just what were we doing on such an isolated back road?

Going to the mysterious Carrizo Plain National Monument, that's where!

This white expanse you see is the mysterious soda lake, a glistening bed of white salt nestled between two ranges in Carrizo, created from prehistoric drainage when the San Andreas Fault cut off a stream.  It's a gorgeous meeting of land and sky, peaceful and desolate. 

Soda Lake reminded me of another salt lake, the otherworldly Lagunas de Salinas in the high Andes of Peru (below).

My cousin Simin exults in the expansive Lagunas de Salinas, Peru.

Continuing north on the 101, we stopped off at Mission San Miguel Arcángel.  The mission had been badly damaged by a 2003 earthquake, and a large multi-million dollar restoration effort was in process, a grass-roots fundraising effort done largely by bake sales and events.

Mission San Miguel Arcángel, just off the 101.  This was my third stop at the fantastic looking mission, one of 21 still in existence in California.

Visiting Soda Lake and Mission San Miguel Arcángel can really work up an appetite.  After checking into our hotel in windblown town of Soledad, nothing could feed our appetite better than mouth-watering Mexican food at La Fuente Restaurant.   Lisa and I enjoyed Pacifico beer in salt-rimmed glasses and burritos the size of Cadillacs as Emilio Zapata looked on in approval.

After ten hours of sleep - something we would do every single morning of the trip (I told you we were working hard), we drove  to nearby Pinnacles National Monument, where massive monoliths thrust out of the gently sloping hills of Central California, the remains of a prehistoric volcano and violent tectonic shifts and erosion.

We stopped off to talk to a ranger, saying that we hoped for a hike that took us to the pinnacles and wildflowers.  He recommended a large 4-hour loop that took us up to the High Peaks Trail, wrapping back around through the Old Pinnacles Trail, and finally back through a small cave at the Balconies Cave Trail. 

Volcanic spires.  Wildflowers.  Trees.  Sheer-walled canyons.  Caves.  And California condors.  Toting a camera, chicken sandwiches, and lots of water, we were ready for some fun.

Amongst the volcanic spires of Pinnacles National Monument, Lisa busts out her father's Appalachian walking stick.

The imposing sheer wall canyons of Pinnacles National Monument, created by a prehistoric volcano and massive tectonic shifts.

Some of the High Peaks Trail, hacked out of the rock.

More of the uniquely shaped spires and rock formations as we continue along the High Peaks Trail in Pinnacles National Monument.

We stopped near the top to eat chicken sandwiches while watching condors float past, sharing the view with some children and adults on a field trip  One of the kids was four, and made it all the way to the top of the pinnacles, albeit very slowly.  One of the rangers, enjoying a jelly sandwich at the top, joked, "You know what I like to do?  When I get to the top of a peak, I like to grab a stone from the very top and throw it down.  That way no one can ever climb as high as I did."

The odd spires heavily contrast with the gentle chaparral-covered hills typical of Central California.

Descending from the pinnacles along the High Peaks trail, the rocky formations give way to a more pastoral landscape.

One can easily see a lot of wildlife in Pinnacles, including deer...


...and the endangered California condor, in flight against the Central Californian mountains at Pinnacles National Monument.

Most of these condors, if not all of them, are tagged, as Pinnacles has been part of the California Condor Recovery Program since 2003. In partnership with the Ventana Wildlife Society, a central-California non-profit organization, PInnacles has released 19 juvenile condors into the wild. Each condor is monitored carefully after its release to increase its chances of survival. 

Go on to Page 2...follow the quacking goose...

Central California:  Pinot, Pinnacles, and The Pacific, April 2008
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