PINNACLES NATIONAL PARK
Isolated. Serene. Majestic. A place for rejuvenation! These are some of the ways Philip describes Pinnacles National Park in Central California. It’s a peaceful place of great beauty, and our 70th National Park Service site in 10 years of RV’ing.
At only 44 square miles, Pinnacles is on the smaller size, and yet the single road running through it, doesn’t even run all the way through it! It dead ends from both the East entrance and the West entrance at the soaring rock spires in the middle which give the Park its name.
Giant rock needles and vertical canyons are left over from an ancient volcano that was sheared in two by the movement of tectonic plates a mere, oh, 23 million years ago. Not surprising, and a little alarmingly, Pinnacles sits squarely on top of the San Andreas Fault.
The signature hike is the Condor Gulch + High Peaks Trail Loop (5.5 mi); a steep, narrow and winding route right through the heart of the pinnacles over a high ridge, ascending 1,300 feet over just a few miles. Today, a thick blanket of fog was layered through the valley below.
At the top of the trail, the “Steep and Narrow Section” (as labeled on the map) thoughtfully provides rock footholds and handrails, saving you from certain death and making this trek fun and fanciful, rather than fodder for your eulogy.
Pinnacles is one of only 4 places in the U.S. that continues to release captive-bred condors into the wild, increasing their numbers to 400+ from only 22 left as of the 1980s. They are enormous, with 9-foot wing spans, and ugly little red heads. We didn’t see any condors, but lots and lots of turkey vultures, equally unattractive and majestic as they unabashedly swooped around us on the trails and roosted in the tree behind our campsite each evening.
The summer months are hot-hot-hot during the afternoon (90 in July) but drop to the low 50’s every night. Pinnacles has pitch-black talus caves you can visit (bring a flashlight!), but not during June & July during bat pupping season. Other wildlife on the trail included the cute, and the not-so-cute variety. Help!!
Whether cruising the trails, exploring dark caves, watching the rock climbers (or trying it yourself), stargazing the pitch-black skies, searching for rare condors, or just enjoying the total lack of cell service (!!), Pinnacles is worth a quick stop in Central California!
FORESTIERE UNDERGROUND GARDENS
Heading to Pinnacles, we stopped over in Fresno. If you have been to Fresno, you might suggest their official slogan to be Official Armpit Town of California™ and we would not disagree. However, they have Forestiere Underground Gardens, and that was enough of a reason to stop. How exactly do you grow a garden underground? We were about to find out!
All that’s visible from the surface, behind a barbed wire fence, are these pergola tops and a whole bunch of dirt piles.
But go underground, below those pergolas, and prepare to be amazed!
Baldassare Forestiere was an Italian immigrant whose family successfully grew fruit and olives on the Sicilian mountainside. He was a badass, a visionary, and a self-taught artist and builder, all rolled into one.
After emigrating to California when he was in his early 20s, he decided the only way he could survive the unrelenting heat of the Central Valley was to build a house and gardens underground, where it would be 15-20 degrees cooler than the surface of the desert. Quicker and easier to just move further north to Oregon, in my opinion, but who am I to judge?
Being an extremely hard worker, he spent the next 40 years digging, and hauling, and digging, and hauling, to create his underground world up to 25 feet underground. (Not surprisingly, he never married, finding few candidates who wanted to join him in a subterranean existence.) This was done in his spare time … after he left his day job as … you guessed it … a digger, of irrigation canals. In other words, he dug all day, then went home and dug all night.
The first foot or so wasn’t too bad, but after that he ran into 5 feet thickness of one of the hardest rocks on the planet. He pickaxed through it to create the tunnels down, and that 5 feet of rock formed his overhead ceilings.
Courtyards and skylights provided the light needed to grow citrus trees, grapevines, herbs and vegetables and more. Tunnels and passageways provided access to various areas of his home. Water came from an underground well … that he dug, 60 feet down. Did I mention he liked to dig?
He creatively “furnished” his catacombs, often by (chime in if you know the answer: DIGGING the “furniture”) including a “winter” bedroom and a “summer” bedroom, the latter next to an open window allowing cool breezes to enter. Does that carved-dirt bed look comfy to you? Did I mention he never had a wife? Perhaps that is why.
The dining room table was created by chiseling the rock up from the floor around the base into a circular shape. Outside the dining room window, a fish pond – he would scoop buckets of fish from the nearby canals and stash them in the pond until he was ready to eat them. In the center, a live dwarf orange tree, still growing from the earth, so guests could pick a before-dinner appetizer and eat it right there at the table.
And with all that sweaty digging, he of course needed to bathe often. No problem … al fresco soaking, anyone?
He devised peepholes and tubes which allowed him to see who was visiting him, before they even knew if he was home. The “doorbell” was an enormous church bell of that visitors would pull the cord, and the loud sound would echo throughout the various tunnels, allowing him to hear it, no matter where he was.
He followed the Italian tradition of tree grafting, meaning different varieties of citrus would appear on the very same tree. His piece de resistance at one time had SEVEN different varieties of fruit growing on one tree … navel orange, lemon, grapefruit, sweet lemon, valencia orange, sour orange and cedro (citron). Some of these trees have been here for almost 100 years!
His plan was for the tunnels to eventually cover his 88 acre property, but that goal was never achieved, only having excavated 10 acres in his lifetime. Nevertheless, his home was certainly one of the more unique places we’re found, speaking to his creative mind and physical endurance.
This California historic property property is still owned by Forestiere descendants and is definitely worthy of a tour – a testament to the power of one man’s creativity and sheer force of will!
For another super-unusual home dug by a dude who also really, really liked digging, check out our post about a sand cave dwelling we hiked to outside Abiqui, New Mexico!
Fresno will forever be in our hearts as the place we learned of the “Underground World of Baldassare Forestiere,” and the “Underwear Fiasco of Walmart.” And if you never fail to be amused by humanity, as we are, you just might like the People of Walmart Facebook page, where you’ll enjoy many, many, many more user-submitted photos of uh, er, “unusual” Walmart shoppers.
We’re leaving the hot, dry heat dome of Central CA and heading for the coast — the Pacific Coast, that is! It was 96 when we left Pinnacles and will be 61 upon arriving in Carmel/Monterey. Time to dust off those sweatshirts!