Eventually volcanoes lose their fire and go silent. So what happens to them after? California’s Pinnacles National Monument features the remnants of a volcano that has moved 185 miles (298 km) from its original location.
The cinder cones are gone. All that is left of the eruptions that originally took place near Neenah, California are strange, eroded rock formations. These are the Pinnacles, a bizarre landscape of basaltic spires, crags, and talus caves or karsts covered with ghost pines, live oaks, and other chaparral plants.
There are two Pinnacles: East Pinnacles and West Pinnacles. But though the ends of Highway 146 that lead to each lie less than five miles from each other, you must travel more than a hundred miles to enjoy both parts of the monument.
East Pinnacles features Bear Gulch including the Bear Gulch caves home to the rare Townshend’s Long-Eared Bats. A popular trail takes you to a reservoir where you can photograph reflections of the rock formations in the water. Two trailheads lead to the center of the Pinnacles where you can circle an island in the sky left by the lost volcano.
West Pinnacles – which is accessible via the town of Soledad (where there are the ruins of a mission that you might wish to photograph) – features a grand formation known as The Balconies. At the foot of the Balconies is the Balconies Cave, which you can explore with a flashlight. You will have plenty of chances to shoot rock climbers, wildflowers, and the odd California Buckeye, a tree which loses its leaves in summer when the creeks where it grows dry up and greens in the winter when the rains come.
Shoot in black and white or color. Get close or take in the panorama. Come in any season. The Pinnacles will please you in all respects though the fires that spawned them have cooled.