Desk-bound Nature Lover

My Blog: Occasional postings about the joys of birding, hiking, camping, and sightseeing.

My life: I spend most of my days in offices, looking at a computer screen, and waiting for those few weekends when I can get out and enjoy some remnant of our precious natural heritage. But, boy, do I live on those weekends!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Camping Among the Condors

I must camp and hike, as surely as I must eat and breath. Death from not hiking is a lot slower than death from asphyxia, but it is death all the same.

In day-to-day life, I am surrounded either by the oppressive sterility of office space, or by the possessions bought with the money I earn there: the house, the cars, the furniture, appliances, knick-knacks, and other accumulated manufactured objects. There’s nothing wrong with any these things individually, but as all this manufactured stuff builds up, it becomes like an infestation of spiritual parasites, sucking your soul away. I need to get out from under that load from time to time, to live for a day or two with a minimum of stuff, in order to renew the soul that all that stuff is sucking out of me, by closer contact with things of the natural world.

And so, to renew my soul, I went camping last weekend. The place I choose was Pinnacles Campground, which is just outside the east entrance of Pinnacles National Monument on land currently owned by the Nature Conservancy.

Pinnacles National Monument is a relatively small unit of the US National Park system in the mountains of the California Coastal Ranges, about two hours’ drive south of my California home in San Mateo. It is noted for its towering rock formations jutting up out of the chaparral, as though some ancient tribe of giants got half-finished with putting up a vast complex of primitive stone monuments. The actual cause of these formations is a great volcano and tens of millions of years of subsequent weathering. It is a popular place with rock climbers and wildflower enthusiasts.

Pinnacles is one of the few places one can reliably expect to see the California Condor. This magnificent bird went extinct in the wild a few decades ago. Captive-bred Condors have recently been re-introduced into the wild at Pinnacles, but, sadly, it is by no means certain that the population will become self –sustaining, as many of the factors which contributed to the earlier extinction still occur.

I had reservations for two nights at Pinnacles Campground. The weather forecast for the first night called for thunderstorms and hail. Not really wanting to fight the Friday afternoon traffic, only to then be putting up a tent in that weather, I decided to delay my departure until early the next morning. I was on my way to the campground as the sun was rising, and I could see a fair amount of snow in the mountains. That much snow is quite unusual in that part of California. Later that day, a park ranger told me that in fourteen years of working at the park this was the first time he had seen more than a light dusting of snow. I arrived at the campground around nine o’clock, set up my tent, and spent the rest of the day hiking and birding around the park. It rained occasionally, and the air was rather cool, but mostly it was a nice day for hiking.

It was cold as night was falling, and I was very glad when I went to bed I had brought a huge pile of blankets. I awoke the next morning to the sound of large tree limbs breaking all around me. During the night it had snowed even more than the night before, and many of trees could not stand the unprecedented extra weight. It was a little unsettling to think how little protection my tent poles would afford me if a limb broke off of one of the trees near me, but once it was light enough, I stuck my head out of the tent and saw that I wasn’t in any immediate danger.

I made my breakfast and folded my tent while enjoying the beauty of the snow on the mountainsides. Then, I was off again to explore that magnificent park.

I have never camped in snow before, and I liked it. It is nice to know that at forty-six years old, I am still doing some pleasant things for the first time.


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