Friday, June 11, 2021

Pinochle National Park

Which is how I began to pronounce it after an exhausting afternoon there. It's actually Pinnacles National Park, an eroded extinct volcano out in the deepest countryside, the main entrance 20 miles even from the nearest country store, yet less than 2 hours' drive from my house.

It's only been a national park for 8 years, but before then it was one of the earliest national monuments. I hadn't been there since many years ago when it was still a national monument, and an intent to re-visit last year was derailed by the pandemic. So now that travel has eased, a visit from my brother - who's up for expeditions of this kind - seemed like a good excuse to try out a day trip. Back in pre-pandemic times I used to take trips like this all the time, but I actually felt a little nervous about this one beforehand, so out of practice was I.

I needn't have been. There's nothing to do at Pinnacles except hike, and it's pretty clear that my hiking days are now behind me, but you can at least look at the rocks from a distance. They look like this:

Pinnacles may be approached by road from either west or east, but the roads terminate with a trail gap between them, and while the gap is only 2 1/2 miles in length, it's a 60-mile drive around from one end to the other. Amazingly, we had time to visit both sides. The eastern and more isolated side has got the visitor center and campground, and most of the trails, but the western side - overlooking the Salinas Valley - though it has less there, it does have the better roadside views of the rocks.

We had both lunch and dinner out, at restaurants in towns along the way. Both places were open for spaced-out indoor dining, and the customs were the same as I'd observed at my only previous post-pandemic meal out nearly two months ago: servers keep masks strictly on, customers take them off to eat and then don't bother to put them back on again.

At dinner, in a slightly pretentious bar-cum-restaurant improbably set in a ranching town far up the Salinas Valley, as I wasn't the one driving I indulged myself with the very rare ordering of a cocktail. It was made with corn vodka, so I judged accurately that it wouldn't taste as rancid as something with whisky or rum. I couldn't resist the name of the drink, which was "Grapes of Wrath," though it tasted mostly of mint and the grapes were restricted to three speared on a tiny plastic skewer laid across the top of the glass.

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