Pinnacles National Monument Tent Camping

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Pinnacles Campground

Flag of United States  , California
Saturday, September 11, 2010

Our family of four spent two days and one night at Pinnacles National Monument in September of 2010.  We were introducing the kids to camping and breaking in a new family tent.  Now keep in mind that September is not the most popular time to visit this area.  The temperatures were over 90 and the foliage is so dry that campfires are banned.  Still it was when we could make the trip, and it is a NM within 1.5 hours of San Jose, CA.

The kids had a great time, the heat was bad but we had picked a campsite with trees in Pinnacles Campground, inside the East entrance.  Campground (sites 15, 16, 17 along the creek) had shade soon after 1PM and for the rest of the day.  Beware of the South side (sites 8+9) which look nice and shady at 1PM but soon get sunny and hot all afternoon.  Just with a quick observation, sites 11 and 20 looked large and nicely shaded all day.  ALSO BEWARE of BUGS!!!  We had come prepared for mosquitos at dusk and night but instead were constantly bombarded by small black flies and yellow jackets ALL DAY LONG.  It was by far the worst thing about the trip and I have no idea if that is common for this time of year.  Ironically there were no mosquitos at dusk/night, probably too dry.  Bring some repellent that works on all kinds of insects.

The ranger at the Bear Gulch Visitor Center was knowledgable and she told us about a Cougar presentation that was to be held in the campground amphitheater that evening.  We did attend and it was a decent presentation with lots of interesting "touch" items passed around.  The best thing about it was that it forced us to take a walk at night and get a look at the PERFECT view of the stars.  This was the first time these suburbia kids saw the Milky Way clearly. 

Lovely night sleeping in the tent, our alarm clock was a pair of owls chatting at about 6am.  Although chilly, both kids sat up with smiles on their faces.  I think sleeping outside agrees with them. 

The next morning we got an early start and by 9am had both kids on the Moses Spring Trail to explore the Bear Creek Cave.  The lower caves were open and we got up and back in an hour, well before the heat got bad.  The trail and cave was the best part of the trip, and fairly easy for a 7 and 3.5 year old to maneuver.  Keep an eye on the little ones when exiting the top exit of the lower caves...you're pretty high up and there are some dangerous edges along the rocks as it directs you back to the Moses Spring Trail.  We didn't see any bats at that time of day but took some nice shots and the kids have some good memories of bending a squeezing a bit to get through the cave.

The caves are actually crevices in which large boulders have wedged themselves into and formed the ceilings of the "caves".  So although there are the same warnings for people with claustrophobia (as in any cave), there are some openings in the ceiling and sky views that ease the tight feeling.  It is very cool to see the size of some of these boulders.  They have steps and handrails in portions, this is a well traveled cave system.

PROS: Close enough to the SF South Bay Area for an overnight, nice hiking trail and cave for younger kids, a National Monument to "check off your list", and beautiful, huge, pink rocks jutting out of the Central Valley.  CONS: Heat and bugs (in early September), Campground store closes at 5 on Saturday, and parking for the Bear Gulch Visitor Center and for the trails is minimal and fills up fast.  NOTES: bring lots of water and bug repellent, and a great star gazing guide if you're spending the night.
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