Sunday, July 08, 2007

Bay Area living provides many opportunities to enjoy camping trips not too far away from home. Finding places to go is the easy part, dealing with the weather or other environmental factors can be the real challenge.

To deal with the weather we decided to have flexible travel options based on how the temperature flowed and fluctuated. We started our trip by visiting
Big Basin State Park, the oldest California State park. North of the City of Santa Cruz, Big Basin is known for it's Redwood trees and waterfalls.

Leaving Sunday, driving to Big Basin is pretty easy, only 65 miles from San Francisco the route we took went through the quaint
City of Saratoga and some curvy mountain roads which didn't compliment my driving skills but the scenic Route 9 and Hwy 236 provided an enjoyable entrance to the park.

When we checked out our campsite we found our neighbors had three large tents. We decided to request another site and received a walk-in campsite at the, Huckleberry campground. When making reservation's through
ReserveAmerica I was only able to designate the type of site I wanted. However, at the park you can request a specific location or reject the one you received based on availability.

Our campsite was quite lovely peaceful and surrounded by redwood trees, the site contains a picnic table, locker and fire pit. The bathrooms were a few yards away but clean with showers. Best showers were on the RV side of the campground. They were under used by the RVers. My only complaint was the mosquitoes, we were near a creek, and during the evening protection was required. Insect repellent and our fire pit produced enough smoke to discourage the biting varmints but it did get a little rough.

Big Basin has several miles of hikes at various levels; it was easy to join trails near our campsite. Pleasant walks through redwood trees abound. For a more challenging hike we chose the Pine Mountain Trail to Buzzards Roost, a nice moderate hike that rewards you with views from one of the highest point in the Basin. Hiking on a Monday was great we barely saw 5 people. When we arrived at Buzzards Roost we had lunch and enjoyed the views that we shared only with the wildlife around us.

We left Big Basin on Tuesday and drove to Monterey. We were going to camp in the Ventana Wilderness near Big Sur if the weather on the coast looked good. Unfortunately it was completely foggy, after a few phone calls I found out the temperate in Big Sur was 59 degrees. A bit chilly so we headed east through the
Salinas Valley to Pinnacles National Monument.

While driving through the Salinas Valley we stopped at Mission Juan Bautista. A nice location to stop have lunch or just stretch your legs. There are picnic tables on the grounds. The Mission is also available to the public for touring. I have mixed feeling about the Missions they are apart of California History and I enjoy viewing and touring them. But many native people died in the development of the Mission System across the State. I can't look at the Missions without remembering the great suffering they caused for so many. After our break we continued to through Hollister everyone favorite biker town to Pinnacles.

Pinnacles is the remnants of a volcano, It's a beautiful place with fascinating geological formations, bat caves, plus it's a condor habitat. However, the temperature is hot during the summer. We arrived around 7:00 PM and stayed at the Pinnacles Campground, it was empty and about 75 percent of the campsite were closed to the public. Since the joint was empty we had our choice of the sites and picked one with some tree cover. Most of the available sites did not have trees and were completely exposed to the sun.

Well the campsites were devoid of humans but there were plenty of raccoons. Before we could get dinner started a raccoon was on top of the car testing the doors handles. Another climb a tree right above our site apparently doing reconnaissance. Humans versus the raccoons was our evening activity. They were very persistent and bold, one camp mate tent was unzipped during the night and their cloths were found outside the tent the next morning. The raccoons didn't dare enter my tent it must have looked like a lighthouse with this beacon of light shooting out over the campsite every few minutes. I was constantly using the flashlight whenever I heard a rustle. Didn't sleep too good especially when the coyotes started to howl but somehow I got a few hours in.

Next morning I awoke to the sound of pecking woodpeckers. They greeted me when I exited my tent by flying low and close to my head but at least the raccoons were gone. We drove over to the trail head at the Bear Gulch Visitors Center. We started hiking early in the morning and missed most of the morning heat. The hike Condor Gulch High Peaks Loop also has climbing but the rewards were very beautiful views. At one point we could see the fog on the coast and breeze at the top of the climb was appreciated. We stopped for lunch and again enjoyed the privacy on the trail.

We returned to the visitor center chatted with the ranger and made our way back to the campground. CampPinnacles may not have partially exciting campsites excluding the wildlife but they have a nice pool. We had the pool pretty much to over selves. One side has grass and is shaded with trees; it was cool, comfortable and fun. When we left the pool around 2:00 PM it felt like the low 90s and it was time to leave Pinnacles. We slowly packed our campsite, no raccoons but we enjoy the presents of a few shy wild pigs. They were not on or in the car so everything was good.

We made our way out of the park back through
Hollister where we found a Diary Queen. A place loved in childhood may only provide mild enjoyment and a larger tummy ache for an adult. But is was cold, retro and tasty in an artificial favor sort of way. After our ice cream stop we were back in San Francisco in a couple of hours.

In a few days we enjoyed redwood forest, ancient volcanos, nice hikes with beautiful views and wrestled with raccoons. Our trip was modestly priced the most expensive part was the rental car. I can only encourage folks to get out and explore the natural world that is so close to home.


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