Ten energetic children between the ages of 2 and 12; 2 perky indefatigable Mormon moms; the biggest pile of boulders you’ve ever seen, and…me. It made for quite an adventure, even if at times, for me, it was like Fear Factor as hosted by Disney, with a bottomless box of snack chips.
Among the other trips Becky suggested for Spring Break was a trip to Pinnacles National Park, and since it was at least a 2-1/2 drive for the closest of us, we combined it with a camp out. I’d been intrigued by Pinnacles, especially since many a neighbor and friend has raved about it, but I didn’t think my family would be into it, and it was too far away for a day trip. But now that Becky was making it into a party, it was a chance I couldn’t resist. I’d get to see Pinnacles, Neil could hang out with Ethan, and Kelly would get to go camping again. As an additional bonus, Becky’s other friend who was coming, Dawnika, just happened to be a geology teacher. Oh, and Dawnika and Becky would bring all meals, which included infinity hot dogs; gourmet s’mores; smorgasbord sandwiches; snack fruit in all shapes, forms and sizes; and a box of chips that never seemed to run out even though all 10 children (and yours truly) were in non-stop chip consumption mode.
After we’d set up our camping sites, the 13 of us went on one of the park’s most unique hikes through the Bear Gulch Caverns. Just to set up the story of Pinnacles Park, it’s the remains of half an ancient volcano which slid up the San Andreas fault about 130 miles north from its origins (and the other half of the volcano). I think Dawnika told us the Bear Gulch Caverns were a narrow canyon most of which had been blocked on the top by falling boulders.
In short, it felt like being in the still frame of an Indiana Jones movie, except it’s not pretend. You can hear a creek running through and past in the caverns, and for much of the trail, it’s so dark, you need a flashlight to get through.
I loathed it. I don’t like small, narrow spaces to begin with, and this made me downright claustrophobic, even though we were a large group and our combined flashlights made the place probably as palatable as possible. But this was one of the Carolyn-friendliest sections of the hike:
When we got to a section that was so low and narrow that I had to squat-walk through it while tightly holding Kelly’s hand and my flashlight in the other, and then it turned out we had to either navigate slippery rocks or slosh through a 4-inch deep creek, I called it quits and just turned around. Neil and Ethan were already way ahead and I just asked Dawnika to bring him back alive.
Kelly and I went back to the entrance of the caves where we ate snacks and like Cassandra warned all passersby of the dark, dank, flooded caves. A pair of teenage boys said, “We’ll just take care not to slip and fall, then.” Thx, luzrz. Needless to say, all the older children loved the caverns, and declared themselves to be the Adventure Club.
Official membership requires having thrashed your pants into unwearability and getting your shoes so muddy they’re barely recognizable as footwear.
We’d put Dawnika in charge of selecting our hikes, and the next day, she decided we’d all climb a mountain for the great views.
I have to say it actually was quite pretty, and Kelly held up as long as she could take a sit and rest once in a while. Some of the other younger children didn’t do as well, and Becky ended up carrying her 40-pound 2-1/2 year old son up and down that mountain. She did it with a smile and spring in her step, by the way, no kidding. Just like she and Dawnika had navigated the damp narrow caverns with preschoolers and others just the day before.
We got to the top of that hill and by sliding down the face of a boulder, we came to a small grassy area, big enough for us to take a break and admire the view. The children played in a small creek in which they saw tadpoles.
The Adventure Club looked into the option of climbing even higher, but it wasn’t a realistic option for the preschoolers. Ever the lazy one, I found a way out that didn’t involve scaling a boulder, even though it meant walking through spiky chaparral. I carefully held the chaparral aside for Kelly to pass through, but who should decide to follow us, running right into it, but Becky’s little boy. He didn’t complain though: never heard a complaint, wouldn’t know how to do it…
The Adventure Club wanted to take another run through the Bear Gulch caverns, but to Dawnika’s regret, her youngest children were beyond wiped, and Becky’s younger ones were, too. But Neil and Ethan had their heart set on doing the caverns again. Becky offered to watch Kelly, and so who was left to follow the boys through the boulderous dark caverns but…me.
To add to the awfulness of it, by this time our flashlights were dimming, so instead of lighting up my path, I only had a small circle of light to follow. I made the boys go slowly enough so I could focus on Neil’s feet and follow carefully behind. As it was, I still banged my head on a ledge, but this time I made it through. It was actually kind of personal victory for me, even if I’d been led through it by 10-year-olds.
Then, from under the shadow of massive boulders, we had to climb a narrow, narrow stone staircase to get just above the caverns, where we saw the reservoir which fed the waterfalls and creeks running through the cavern. Here are Neil and Ethan in front of the reservoir.
From there, we followed the Rim Trail overlooking some of the boulders and the top of the caverns we’d gone through. It was not for the vertiginous, and though that isn’t specifically one of my phobias, I still kept away from the edge.
There were also a lot of rock climbers out and about, which strikes me as the more advanced version of this Adventure Club.
To my relief, we made it back down safely, with only one beetle viewing and a reported snake (which I didn’t see.) And no bats, even though the Adventure Club had been looking out for them. Indiana Jones step aside: the Adventure Club and their chipper moms are on your trail!