I felt a pang of post-Reunion sadness when I left the Crown Plaza at the crack of dawn on Sunday, August 15. It was a bittersweet farewell to the area where I was raised and nurtured. But at the same time, I had a keen sense of excitement knowing that I was heading south to make just one more visit to Pinnacles National Monument, my first Park Service home, . My friend Eric, who was now superintendent of the park, had just accepted a transfer to the Badlands of South Dakota so this would be my last chance to visit with him and his family for awhile, and my last chance to spend a night in Bear Gulch.
Nearly forty years ago I moved into a 12’ x 16‘, one room cabin in the Bear Gulch area of the Pinnacles, a sturdy little structure built toward the end of the 1920s as part of a series of one and two-room tourist cabins, made out of wood with a solid stone facade covering the lower half. It had a stove, sink, cabinets and water heater on one side, and a small bathroom cubicle in the back. I hung a cheap Cost Plus Indian print across the middle to define a bedroom space.
I lived in Cabin #8 as it was called for two years, and it was a wonderful place to hole up after a day’s work. I often had families of raccoons as visitors but seldom any humans. When friends did visit, they slept on what little floor space was available. The winter darkness could be deep and cold. One time I nearly got flooded out when the banks of Bear Creek overflowed. But mostly I loved the unique isolation of the place.
By the time Eric took over several years ago, all the cabins had been converted either to offices or storage space with the exception of Cabin #10, just up the hill from my old place (which is now the Condor Program Office). It seems that Cabin #10 had been tricked out as an overnight pad for visiting researchers or special guests. It is even smaller than Cabin #8....perhaps 10’ x 12’ at the most with the basic amenities and a bunk bed. And Eric gave me the opportunity to stay there one more time.
After dinner with the family at their ranch land home near San Benito, I made the dusky five-mile drive into the park proper. As I reached the wooded confines of Bear Gulch, I was flooded with memories of those early park service days...the steep learning curve, the federal bureaucracy, the anxieties of talking to park visitors. Later there was the quickie first marriage, the ignored induction papers, and plans to head for Canada (but that’s another story). Lots of emotional ups and downs bouncing around Bear Gulch.
But tonight it was quiet, empty and warmly welcoming. I moved into Cabin #10 with minimal gear, unpacked the sleeping bag on the lower bunk, and then spent several minutes just sitting on the stone porch watching the darkness settle into the canyon and looking down at Cabin #8, just a few yards away. What a fantastic twist of fate it was that allowed me to live and work here, and be privy to its magic. And here I was 39 years later, spending one last night.
The following morning I left it all behind and drove out to highway 25 before the sun was up. I headed north toward Hollister, stopping frequently to photograph the first light on valley oaks and golden grasses, to watch a flock of wild turkeys, and admire the migrant workers who were already at work in the fields near Paicines. At a small cafe in Tres Pinos called Flapjacks, I had breakfast and chatted with the owners Phil and Karen who proudly posed for me in front of their place. After that it was back to the road, toward the Sierra Nevada and the first leg of my long trip home.