On this rather dreary and anxious day, we take a few minutes to remember a much happier day from this summer.
That day trip which included the drive down highway 25 also included a side trip to the eastern section of Pinnacles National Monument. Both the east and west sides are approached by highway 146, but they are not connected (unless you walk).
The main features of Pinnacles are the volcanic rock formations that appear out of the otherwise soft hills of central California. They seem transported from the southwest.
This was a great day to visit the park. It was completely empty, I did not encounter a single person on the trails. Surprising, considering it was just after July 4. But it was very hot, over 100F, and that probably discouraged most casual visitors. Really not so bad, though, if one carries plenty of water and sticks to the simple trails.
Actually, for the middle of summer, things were quite lush in spots, and there was plenty of shade.
Even a few small critters remained out and about:
Although the wildlife and vegetation was interesting and welcome, the focus of Pinnacles remains the rocks:
Large boulders like these form small caves and tunnels beneath which one can walk (or crawl). There are also real caves formed from lava tubes, but these were closed for the season to protect the bats.
There is something quite rewarding about solitude in a place like this (as opposed to just being alone at home or in a crowded place). There was more of that beyond the borders of the park as well. Those who have not yet read the original highway 25 article are encouraged to do so.
So this is a drive I have had on my list for a while. Why, you ask? I don't know really. I guess it's just that it seemed to go nowhere. Actually, it's a country highway that runs approximately along the San Andreas fault in San Benito County, in between mountain ranges. And a quiet fun drive into uncharted territory is exactly what I was looking for.
This scenic yet off-the-beaten-path route runs by Pinnacles National Monument in Northern California. It includes a wide variety of corners, from slow hairpins to fast sweepers, a smooth road surface and scarce traffic. [Forbes]
Highway 25 splits off from 101 just south of Gilroy. Gilroy is famous as the “garlic capital of the world”, but it has also become an exurb of San Jose overrun with subdivisions. Our friend Burbed did Gilroy Week back in March.
Upon landing on highway 25, I was greeted by the “scarce traffic”:
Oh yeah, I forgot. This coming weekend is that big motorcycle thing in Hollister, or more formally the Hollister Motorcycle Rally. The other sleepy farm-town-turned-commuter-town fills up with motorcycles, as well as the people who sit upon them, which of course explained the heavy traffic and the detours around the main party in downtown Hollister:
But it's worth a stop, how often do I find myself surrounded by handsome machines such as these?
Not to mention an interesting breed of people I don't usually encounter. It seems one needs a minimum body-mass index (BMI) to ride Harleys or other large bikes. I even picked up motorcycle-rally T-shirt for $5, figuring it would be very ironic at my next avant-guard electronic music show.
South of Hollister, highway 25 becomes a more bucolic two-lane highway, with only the occasional vehicle (or motorcycle).
Most the land along the highway is scrub ranch land, and rather dry. Really dry, actually. Hopefully no one lights a match. Here are some winter photos of the same area from Wandering Lizard, when things are a lot greener. There is barely any green left in summer, just hills covered in brown grass. One passes the occasional herd of cows and delapidated farm equipment. I can't imagine living out here, far away from any sort of town but without the “abstract emptiness” that makes the desert so attractive.
One industry that does seem to be growing in rural San Benito county is wine growing. Indeed, it is now listed as an official winegrowing region. Certainly, the character and prestige is nothing like the Napa Wine Country, but one does see a lot vines in neat rows amongst the brown hills:
A little further south, one comes to the turnoff for highway 146 and the eastern entrance to Pinnacles National Monument. I had never been to “East Pinncales”, so I took the opportunity to visit and even do a little hiking despite the 105F heat. Actually, it was a good opportunity to see the park without a lot of other people around, and to walk off some that “biker cuisine.” I will be writing about Pinnacles in a separate article.
Highway 25 continues south towards, well, towards nowhere in particular. The farming towns of King City and Coalinga are the main places to note, even though the highway never intersects either of them:
Looks like some has been taking target practice on the distance marker?
Actually, this stretch of the road provided some amazing moments of nothingness, such as these images all from one spot:
Not only is it visually stark and minimal, there was almost no sound. Silence like this is a rare occurence for those of us in more developed metropolitan areas, and when one does find silence, it is always worth stopping to listen. The silence and the landscape together were an amazing experience. I stayed for maybe ten minutes until it was interrupted by…of course, a Harley roaring by.
Highway 25 eventually ends at a very modest junction with Highway 198 somewhere in rural Monterey County.
It seems appropriate to end on such a minimal note. Heading west (right), one eventually reaches highway 101 for the return trip home.