LAUREL CANYON—Sometimes I like to travel without studying about my destination. I like to be surprised and have an open mind and be ready to get off the beaten path.

We hopped on a plane to Monterey, and drove the back roads, and I mean BACK ROADS to Paicines. It’s just a cluster of houses in the dip on the road. It’s the closest community to Pinnacles National Park. All in all it’s only 243 miles from Los Angeles, so we might have made better time just hopping in the car and hitting the open road.

Pinnacles National Park is an interesting “one-off” from many of our fancy local parks – Yosemite; Sequoia, etc. There is no main Lodge; there is camping; and there is an amazing abundance of birds and flowers. The focal point of the park is the sheer-faced Gabilan Mountains towering above the fertile Salinas Valley. You’re in John Steinbeck country now.

Touch the mountains, and you’re reaching back 23 million years. That’s before man roamed the Earth.

It totally messes with your head. The mountain represents a time when the area was volcanically active, spewing whole boulders down the hillsides, and moving the mountain range from where they were originally – Lancaster, CA.

We picked King City as our jumping off point for the long weekend. It’s the one place where entering either the east or west side of the park is equi-distant. King City has no guard rails on the road to town, just miles and miles of cauliflower, lettuce and grapevines, no street lights and very cautious, albeit polite drivers. ( No parking meters either.)

We started on the east entrance of the park where the mountains and the trails are rougher, steeper and ledges around the mountains, but plenty safe. The trail system was carved into the mountain by the CCC boys (Civilian Conservation Corps) beginning in 1933 as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The CCC boys worked on the trails for 9 years. The trails are broken rocks and gravel.

All along the trails there are markers with the image of a carabineer, pointing the technical climbers to various routes up the sheer faces of the mountains.

There are “coffees” with a Ranger on Sunday mornings for climbing orientations.

One of our trail adventures was a heated debate over whether I was looking at horseshoe prints on the ground, or some sort of weird climbing boot imprint. You have to keep your eyes on the trail, so you notice these things. I knew it had to be a mule’s hoof print. My husband insisted it was a Burro print (No way it was a burro). Sure enough. At the top of the trail we met 1 ranger , 2 mules and 1 horse at High Peaks Overlook.

What’s so amazing about Pinnacles beyond the geology are the flowers and the birds. We hit pay dirt for flower season. We saw flowers that I’d never seen before. The Mariposa Lily was stunning.

That’s just the beginning of the lilies in the park. Seems we often mistook poppies for variations of lilies. I had never heard of Miner’s Lettuce either. Paleo dieters can use it to make pesto. Woohoo!!

The birds are even more impressive. Pinnacles is a Recovery Center where endangered California Condors in captivity elsewhere are released into the protected habitat of the park. At the top of the High Peaks trail you can see the condors gliding overhead. They are so close you can read the tag numbers attached to their wings. Later you can drop in on the CondorCam ( to keep track of your bird after you leave. We also saw vultures coasting at the higher altitudes. In the lower park we watched a turkey do a lumbering take–off right in front of our car, and while we were enjoying a picnic lunch we saw a Prairie hawk zoom down to catch some prey and retreat to a treetop.

Legends have it that our own bandito, Tiburcio Vasquez, (who I believe was the model for Zorro), hid out from the law in the Pinnacles area. None of his loot from his very polite but brazen, yet gentlemanly, stage coach robberies from the Norte Americanos (never from the Mexicanos, and never from a lady) has been found (1870s).

What a great weekend. My tootsies are pooped.