Within our first hour at the park, within the first mile of trail, Elizabeth and I both had the same first impression of Pinnacles. Pleasant. Not jaw-dropping, not breathtaking, but very pleasant. And pleasantness of our surroundings was accompanied by a comforting peace in ourselves that brought another level of enjoyment to the park.
It reminded me that beauty in the parks is not only about the headline superlatives (like the highest point in Texas in Guadalupe Mountains NP) or flashy things found nowhere else (like the island fox at Channel Islands NP) that we often pay attention to. The parks are beautiful simply because they are places of unspoiled wilderness where our souls can connect to the call of nature.
Since that first moment in Pinnacles I’ve tried to understand our reaction. As I reflected, I realized that our visit portrayed some commonly stated, yet often forgotten pieces of wisdom. Here’s what rang true for us:
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew– Pinnacles is one of the smallest National Parks. Of the 14 maintained trails, we hiked all but 3 of the lesser ones. Surprisingly, we found the small size was liberating. So often, we are jumping into these gigantic parks (like Great Smoky Mountains) that have so much to do you could explore for weeks. At Pinnacles we felt we could do experience nearly everything the park had to offer and we didn’t feel like we were missing out or compromising at all. We couldn’t bite off more than we could chew, because the meal was so small we had no choice but to savor it.
- Life is in the unexpected– We recently visited Death Valley during the Superbloom and the wildflowers were incredible, as advertised. What I didn’t expect was to enjoy the flowers at Pinnacles even more. It wasn’t that they were better. It was that they were unexpected. My expectations for the Superbloom were sky high because of the pictures we saw beforehand on social media and news articles. When I saw all kinds and colors of flowers blooming in bunches up and bringing he trails to life at Pinnacles, it was a very pleasant surprise.
- Make your own luck– When we asked the Ranger at the visitors center about our chances of seeing the very rare and endangered California Condors, he did not inspire confidence. We saw three within the first two miles of our first trail. We debated for a long time about whether we were just seeing turkey vultures, but the white armpits, level wing angle and oversized wingspan (up to 9 feet!) were giveaways. I attribute our luck to putting ourselves in a good position. We were climbing the strenuous High Peaks Trail to the top of the Pinnacles – right where the condors like to be. This saying has really been relevant throughout our whole trip from sponsorships to media attention.
- Don’t judge a book by its cover- After our first impression of pleasantness, we realized that Pinnacles also has a few adventurous surprises up its sleeves. The main one was the talus caves. There were two different spots in the deep valleys of Pinnacles were giant boulders had wedged themselves together over a stream to form a winding maze. Visitors can follow the steam as they wriggle and squeeze through the crevices and passages of the caves. I think we were both caught off guard by the challenging navigation. And we were even forced to get our feet wet.
It may be hard to believe, but this living and loving the parks full-time thing can be a lot of work. Researching, planning, navigating, and plain old roughing it. Pinnacles was a welcome break where we could slow our pace and still feel like we experienced the full park. There was some unexpected beauty, chance wildlife sightings and a spice of adventure. But most importantly, we enjoyed nature because it’s just that nature. We feel so blessed to be experiencing all the wonders of our nation’s greatest treasures and Pinnacles was no exception.
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