California is a state with natural beauty that stretches the entirety of the state to each of its borders. It is also a state where the beauty above ground in some areas pales with the beauty below ground. Like a sunset on an unknown beach, each of these areas offer solitude, otherworldly beauty, and in some cases, some of the most unique terrain on the planet. Even if you've never explored a cave before, each of these spots will interest and intrigue you, and provide you a great introduction to the world below your feet.
At Pinnacles, the two main areas for spelunking are Bear Gulch, which I talked about in December, and the Balconies network of caves, which I’ll talk about today. All of the caves in Pinnacles are talus caves, which are formed over a period of time when rocks have fallen atop other rocks at the base of a cliff. In particular though, the caves at Pinnacles formed in the following manner: “…when steep, narrow canyons filled with a jumbled mass of boulders from the cliffs above. The canyons are the result of faults and fractures in the central area of volcanic rock. These shear fractures filled with gigantic toppled boulders are clear windows into the geologic wonder of the Monument.” (More information on the geology of Pinnacles here and here). In any case, both the Balconies cave and the Bear Gulch cave network provide a great spot to explore over 50 million years of geologic history over the course of a morning or afternoon.
Let’s say you’re in California, or thinking about visiting California, and you’re looking for a National Park that you can hike in, camp at, climb at, and possibly do a little spelunking at. If you were seeking recommendations for such a place, chances are that you’d get the usual recommendations – Sequoia National Park, Yosemite National Park, or even Joshua Tree National Park. There’s nothing wrong with any of these recommendations – these parks are known world-wide because they’re stunning. But there’s another National Park in California that’s a little bit off the beaten path, and not as well known that has all of these things, and is equally stunning in its own right. That park is none other than Pinnacles National Monument.