Pinnacles National Monument

On Sunday Stephanie and I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and drive down to Pinnacles National Monument. This meant waking up early—a difficult task for the both of us—which we almost accomplished, leaving Santa Rosa around 12:30pm. It’s a 200 mile trek, with more than 2 hours spent just getting out of the Bay Area, and the rest on the 101 heading down to Soledad, California.

Map showing the route from Santa Rosa to Pinnacles National Monument near Soledad, California

I should note that we “planned” this trip around 1am on Sunday.

On the 101 near Soledad, California
View of the Diablo Range in the distance, near Soledad

Just before 4pm we exited onto CA-146 which took us through Soledad and then up towards the West Pinnacles. It was a long and windy single lane road most of the while.

west pinnacles of Pinnacles National Monument from CA-146
Our first glimpse of the West Pinnacles in the distance

I knew the gate into the park closed at 6pm, but since the actual parking lot was several minutes from the gate, I was a little worried about having enough time in the park versus making it out in time. Turns out the gate had a sensor to let exiting cars out and prevent cars from entering—which meant we were free to hike (as long as there was light) without worrying about the time.

west pinnacles of Pinnacles National Monument from CA-146
Along the way in we were treated to dramatic views of the pinnacles

Oh, and I finally got to use the National Parks Pass I’d picked up last year at the Grand Canyon—which I’d only used since at Zion National Park (the next day).

On the advice of the ranger, given our limited time before sunset, we took the Balcones Cliffs and Caves trail. A flashlight was required for the caves, which I had miraculously stowed in my CamelBak.

The Balcomes cliffs at Pinnacles National Monument
The Balcones Cliffs

That headlamp was indeed very necessary. We started squeezing through a tight crevasse, ducking under the occasional large boulder hanging overhead—all in waning daylight. But then we found ourselves at the entrance to a cave, no more than a hole leading down into darkness. There were white arrows pointing us in the right direction (sometimes straight down), but still it’s wholly unnerving to climb down into unknown darkness. After a few minutes of scrambling on rocks in the dark, we were out in the light again, hiking along the cliffs as the sun was setting.

Setting sunlight on the Balcones Cliffs at Pinnacles National Monument
Stephanie and Justin at Pinnacles National Monument
Me and Stephanie

Next stop: Soledad and Salinas


I happy you have that head lamp.


Is that the same Soledad where there is a barely-there mission? On my honeymoon we went to as many of the Calif. missions as we could. That one was one of my favorite. Tallulah was ALMOST named Soledad because of it.

Robin, you mean the Mission San Antonio de Padua? Unfortunately we didn’t make it. Maybe we’ll get there next time (there’s still the east entrance of the park to see).


Justin, I was looking through your picture albums and I noticed how many times those suckers have been viewed. Good golly! I bet you’ve set some kind of record with those babies. Thanks for putting them up for all to enjoy.

According to gallery’s stats the two pictures I wrote about recently in Hilarious and Spring have 40,000 hits each! Jeebus!

Nah, Nuestra Senora de Soledad is another mission than San Antonio de Padua. They built them in a chain a day’s walk apart, so in today’s distance, they are pretty close together. San Antonio de Padua is rad too – it’s filled with Franciscans now, some sort of retreat center – but doesn’t quite compare with the somber sadness of the almost-completely destroyed Soledad.

Another one you might want to check out in the Bay Area sometime is San Juan Bautista, down near, um, maybe Gilroy or thereabouts. That one was featured in a Hitchcock movie.

Yes, I know waaaaay too much about California missions. They make you learn all that stuff in 5th grade in the public schools.

i loveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee this place i fucking love it


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