February 26, 2021
The cold settled in overnight and when we eventually said good morning to each other, we laughed as we could see our breath inside the truck. It had gone down to 29 degrees and there was frost outside, even though the high was forecast to be nearly 70.
During the night, a flock of nearby and very loud turkeys woke me several times. I didn’t know turkeys were noisy at night, but I assumed it was getting close to mating season and the toms were making all the noise.
We decided that we’d seen enough of the eastern side of the park and decided to head to the western entrance for another hike from a different vantage point. To get from one side to the other meant a drive of almost an hour and a half.
But what a beautiful drive! We turned out of the park onto a meandering road along a wide valley floor as the sun lit the cattle and the occasional barn dotting the low hillsides. The day was cloudless and we drove slower than usual to take in the scenery. Dramatic mountain landscapes are certainly great to see, but sometimes the quiet backcountry roads are what the soul needs. At one point, a lone coyote loped across the road in front of us. A few cows looked up at him but none had calves and, unimpressed, they got back to their grazing.
After passing through the beautiful countryside, We stopped in King City to pick up some breakfast. King City is a thriving agricultural town with a large Latino population located at the southern end of the Salinas Valley. It was a pretty upscale town compared to most of the farming communities we’ve been to in the agricultural valleys of California.
We found a busy Mexican-style bakery/cafe where I ordered a take-out breakfast burrito. Mexican food has always been our go-to for good and inexpensive food while traveling. This was one of our least expensive breakfasts, with a total cost of under $7.00, including Susan’s cinnamon-flavored Mexican coffee.
After we’d driven off with our breakfast, I noticed they had given me two (delicious!) burritos instead of one (or maybe I got the price wrong and they were two-fers). The experience reminded us of when we were in Baja last year and ordered one huevos rancheros only to be served two. I saved one of the burritos in the cooler for later.
From King City, it was a short drive to the west entrance of the park. The road into the park has a sign saying it’s a dead-end, so what little traffic we saw was either lost or going to the park. Eventually, the road turned into a curving one-lane road.
At a small picnic area near the parking lot, I enjoyed a bowl of cereal (“second breakfast”) and Susan warmed up her coffee as the sun was taking the chill out of the air.
When we finished our picnic, we headed up a trail of about 3 miles–choosing a shorter trail after yesterday’s challenging hike.
The trail followed a small creek for a ways, then descended into a small and somewhat chilly gorge filled with oaks and pines.
Soon the trail climbed and twisted around switchbacks as the other side of the pinnacles came into view. This trail didn’t climb directly into them like yesterday’s hike, but followed around at their base, skirting huge boulders, climbing only to get around the pinnacles.
After making our way around the boulders, we came to the caves section. The caves were home to several species of bats, but were closed off with an iron gate due to Covid. The air coming out of the cave was refrigerator-cold compared to the now 65-degree temperature along the trail. We peeked in, then unable to make the loop back to the trail through the caves, we retraced our steps, over enormous, slippery boulders and then into the bright sun, climbing a few hundred feet again, then back to the creek. On the way, we noticed the opposite entrance to the cave near the creek and quickly discovered that, of course, it too was gated shut.
We sat by the creek for awhile, then headed back to the trailhead while we discussed whether to head up a second trail. The second trail was about 8 miles long, which we decided would be a bit too much after the hike we’d just done. Plus, unfortunately, the condors were nowhere to be found.
So, where next? Should we just head home directly or meander along the way? Arriving back at the truck, we looked at our maps and decided to take advantage of the uniquely California ability to hike in desert scrublands and then walk along a Pacific Ocean beach merely an hour away.
So, we crossed the Salinas Valley (stopping to buy giant oranges and twenty-cent avocados), weaving across low mountains until we found a place to park near the Santa Cruz boardwalk.
Though it was a sunny Friday afternoon, with temperatures in the 60’s, the beach was nearly as empty as the boardwalk, where the amusement park and nearly all the shops and restaurants were closed—presumably due to Covid but perhaps some closed seasonally.
We wandered off the boardwalk and along the beach where the Salinas River empties into the Pacific, watching a few hardy families play in the sun-warmed sand as well as a few dozen people playing beach volleyball, all very California. After the beach trek, some people-watching and a walk to the end of the long pier, we checked the GPS on our watches and realized that between the morning hike and our boardwalk, beach and pier trek we’d clocked nearly as many miles we had yesterday.
It was past 4:00 when we returned to the truck and pointed ourselves homeward. Home was about 3 ½ hours away but we knew it would be longer in expected traffic. Almost immediately upon leaving the beach we hit local traffic, and not long after we found ourselves crawling along six lanes of highway for an hour or two in Friday afternoon outer-Bay Area rush hour traffic.
I tried to think of how to get into VW bus camper mode (slowing down or chilling to better take in the voyage) but couldn’t come up with anything (and we couldn’t go much slower anyway). Those guys were likely on some back road or on a beach waiting for the sunset. I vowed to be a bit more like them next time.
We didn’t stop for dinner, and instead I enjoyed the extra breakfast burrito we’d kept in the cooler, and Susan munched on some nuts and other snacks as well as one of the giant oranges we’d bought earlier in the day. By 9:00 pm, we were home.
The weather at home was beautiful and spring-like for a week or two, followed by a rare snowfall in the mountains about a mile from our home. After gazing up from our house to the snow in the nearby mountains, we took a short 10-15 minute drive up the Feather River for a closer look—the beautiful scenery a reminder that no matter how far we wander, there’s no place like home.