Pinnacles National Park: At Camp, Part Two

Tule Bluet Damselfly

After our long morning hike on Saturday (June 1), we were back at our campsite by early afternoon. We lunched on tortillas filled with peanut butter and potato chips. We were considering an evening walk, but for the afternoon, we decided it was time to relax in the campground, particularly since it was so hot.  (We’d learn later that it hit 104 degrees in the park that afternoon.)

A fair amount of wildlife visited us, dragonflies and damselflies, birds, jackrabbits, butterflies. I managed to capture images of some of them.

Wilson’s Warbler

We walked up to the visitor center and campground store. I hoped to charge my camera’s battery somewhere. A ranger said I was welcome to plug it into an outlet on the back of the building where there were some tables and chairs overlooking the pool. We bought some beers and went around back to sit and wait for the battery to charge.

The campground was quite kid friendly, particularly in that it had a pool. Originally, the campground was not within the park boundaries, but as the monument expanded, it enveloped the campground, which is run by an NPS concessionaire.

Image: Sean M. Santos
Tiger Swallowtail

Back at our campsite, we relaxed in the shade, reading and listening to birdsong and the slow gurgle of Sandy Creek below.

Sandy Creek

Since we were tired and had been drinking, we decided to save a hike along South Wilderness Trail for the morning. We had an early dinner in camp with a bottle of wine we’d purchased at the campground store.


We attended that evening’s ranger talk, “Butterfly Dreams.” It was given by Ranger Paul Johnson, the lead biologist at Pinnacles National Park. It was a talk he’d been giving for about a decade, but usually only once or twice a year. The following day was the annual butterfly count, hence his giving this talk.

Ranger Paul, who is responsible for all the wildlife in the park except for the condors, was extremely knowledgeable. He also brought his own projector so that the images he presented would be as true-to-life as possible. All of the dozens of images of butterflies in his presentation, save two, were captured at Pinnacles National Park. Often he would share the exact location of the image.

He led us through the general life cycle of butterflies, the flowers and plants they feed on, the differences between butterflies and moths, habitat and distribution within the park and the general region, and regional threats to butterflies. It was a very fine interpretive talk, easily on par with the exceptional interpretive talks by geologist Justin Olsen and naturalist Candy Peterson at Isle Royale.

A really good naturalist talk is like great theater. It leaves you with a feeling of having witnessed something special with a small group of lucky others, tied to a particular time and place.


Back at our campsite, we took a few moments to look at the stars before it was time for bed. Just outside the men’s toilet, a camper noticed a bat clinging to the overhang near the door. He pointed it out to me and a few others, thinking that it might be a Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat. (Bear Gulch Cave at the park was currently closed because this particular species of threatened bat uses it for breeding.)

After researching later, I am certain that it was not a Townsend’s but a Pallid Bat. Either way, it was quite handsome. I ran and got my camera and was able to capture a few images of it using my headlamp for illumination.

Pallid Bat

Soon Sean and I were asleep, but we both awakened pre-dawn due to the howling of coyotes. It was so great to lie snug in my sleeping bag listening to them carrying on while the world slowly lightened around us.


I rose early to begin coffee and breakfast. We wanted to get in a hike on South Wilderness Trail before we had to pack up and start driving to San Jose International. In trying to be as quiet as possible, I managed to set the car alarm off momentarily. Blerg.

Soon we’d breakfasted and were ready for our final hike at Pinnacles.

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