Pinnacles National Monument

 

Soledad to Pinnacles National Monument

-- click on thumbnails for larger image --

This is where we turn off for Highway 146 Pretty flat so far

The Salinas River runs for most of its 150 mile length northwards parallel to California's Pacific coast. The Santa Lucia Range separates it from the Ocean to the west and it is bounded on its eastern side by the Gabilan Range.

The Salinas River has, over its lifetime, carved out a wide flat-bottomed valley and is unusual in that it runs underground for just over half its length.

One of the numerous vinyards

The fertile soils in the valley support a major argricultural industry. A wide range of produce is grown including wine, fruit, vegetables, flowers and cereals.

The vineyard itself

I chose to start a short ride to the Pinnacles National Monument from the small town of Soledad.

Soledad is sited on Highway 101 which runs up the centre of Salinas Valley.

Neatly trained vines with the Gabilan Range in the distance What shall we grow next?
The flat-bottomed Salinas Valley ... more vines ...
Turn left here I'd better concentrate ... a bit of a climb and a bend ahead ...

Highway 146 leaves Soledad and leads all the way to the West Pinnacles. It ends there and starts again on the eastern side ... rather like the Salinas River.

From Soledad the route follows Metz Road and for five kilometres travels in a series of dead-straight and almost flat segments towards the edge of the valley.

Horse Ranch Ten more hours before it closes ... Good news for cyclists?
Not too far to go Posh sign Wind turbines
Rather more bendy here ... aaa

For the next seven kilometres the road climbs up Shirttail Gulch.

The cultivated fields are left behind and the hillsides are covered either in chaparral or grass.

Chaparral covered hillsides Road narrows

However one new crop does appear ... wind turbines.

The road gradually narrows to a single lane and steadily becomes steeper.

I passed the turn-off for Mann Canyon on the left and carried on climbing.

The road gradually steepens The road gradually steepens The road gradually steepens
I seem to be on the wrong side of the road ... ... and here ... ... back on the right side here
Loads of traffic Loads of traffic Loads of traffic
The road flattens ... ... and views open up to the Pinnacles

After a final section with a gradient of about 12% a crest is reached.

Immediately views open up to the Pinnacles some eight kilometres ahead.

Pinnacles emerging from the haze
The Inn at the Pinnacles Turnoff for Stonewall Canyon

The trail then dipped into an elevated valley and reaches the turn off to Stonewall Canyon.

More vines Chalone Vineyard

At the corner there is a sign extolling the virtues of the Inn at the Pinnacles. This promises whirlpool tubs, air conditioners, fireplaces and wet bars (whatever they may be).

Maybe next time ... I wonder if they let cyclists in?

Flowers in the verges

The sheltered valley is also home to a number of vinyards.

After crossing the valley the road climbs again ... this time up to over 600 metres.

The bright green of the vines contrasts with the dark green on the hillsides

The road then narrows further and drops down to the Chaparral Campground where there is a picnic area, restrooms, waste bins and a water fountain fed by spring water.

Will I make it before they close?

The waste bins have a complicated locking mechanism designed to defeat wild animals ... which almost defeated me.

Almost there ...

The Pinnacles are sighted right alongside the San Andreas Rift Zone. The rocks themselves were part of ancient volcano.

Narrow approach to Chaparral Campground

The Pinnacles are one half of the volcanic remains ... the other half has been transported some 195 miles southeast by the relative movement of the Pacific and North American Plates.

Balconies Trail leading towards the Pinnacles

Bikes are not allowed in the National Monument so I locked mine up and set off to explore one of the many walking trails.

Balconies Trail

Balconies Trail roughly follows the line of West Fork Chalone Creek through the rocks ...

Does the trail go this way?  ... !

... in some places literally so ... as you have to duck to pass under huge boulders piled-up higgledy-piggledy.

Yes ... it does go through aaa

The trail goes into a series of caves .. for which you need a torch to navigate safely.

Large chockstone

I decided it would be prudent to retrace my steps.

aaa

The massive rock faces on the sides of the Pinnacles provide a playground for technical rock climbers.

I nervously returned to where I had left my bike ...

aaa

... wondering whether tectonic movement had shifted it while I was away.

Fortunately for me ... it seemed to be more or less where I had left it.

Massive rock faces Infant West Fork Chalone Creek Retreating from the Pinnacles
Back to the straight.. and not so narrow Descending back to the Salinas Valley ... with the Santa Lucia Range in the distance

After a short climb the rest of the return trip to Soledad was all downhill.

The slope was sufficiently steep that I could freewheel ... but not so steep as to require constant braking.

After arriving back in Soledad ... all that was left to do was to find a café.

 

Kirby James