We traded in our backpacking, two man, broken-poled old tents for the kind of monstrosity I would have scorned to sleep in, let alone own, before I had kids and a very finicky sleeper of a husband, and set out with some ridiculous number of other families to Pinnacles National Park. I honestly had no idea what to expect.
Camp site: If you like windswept plains with minimal trees, no privacy, sandwiched between a road and a parking lot, this place is for you. On the plus side, flush toilets and sandy soils which made tent-staking a breeze.
Multi-family large group camping: Well, there are the parents who put their kids to bed at 8 pm, and the parents who just begin to usher Very Loud kids to bed at 10 pm. Between 8 pm and 11 pm, if you're one of the former, there's a lot of soothing of disgruntled, should be sleeping kids. And then there are the kids who wake up at 5 am to sing showtunes, whose parents are apparently perfectly cool with that. Which again, lots of soothing of disgruntled, should be sleeping kids. On the plus side, we all got a 5 course gourmet dinner and a 5 course gourmet breakfast, and no one had to prepare more than one course, total, for the weekend. And somebody's stove was always going for hot water, so tea is infinitely easier than when you have to fire up your own camp stove every time.
National Park: On the tiny side, comparatively. Perfect for a weekend, whereas with most NPs, you could live on their borders for months and barely to begin to explore. I know, because I've done that. Excellent for: seeing brilliantly colored rock peaks, exploring caves (if you arrive later than 10 am, be prepared to explore them in a giant, non-stop queue that would rival Disneyland), animal and wildflower viewing (Condors live here. Sadly we didn't see them. Saw a coyote, and various other fun fauna and flora). Less good for: getting away from the madding crowds.
They like rockclimbing, apparently.
The rocks were phenomenal.
And as usually happens, we happened across wildlife that needed a bit of a hand. Does this only happen to me? I'm sure it doesn't. It started when I got a call from my husband, who was well ahead of me
in the line on the trail. He yelled "Rebecca! Snake!" And while, to most people, this would be a cue to stop walking and/or walk backwards, apparently for me it's a cue to leap down the trail with all the vim and vigor of a gazelle on Red Bull, because no way am I not going to see the snake.
She was pretty.
Problem was, she was cold. And trying to climb a near vertical rock (not shown), and being stared at and photographed by all the Disney crowd. Which caused her to lose her grip on the vertical rock, and freefall three feet to the rock on which you see her, above, which was wedged in a crevice below which there was a 50 foot drop - with various bits and bobs of boulders wedged here and there on the way down. So continuing to fall would have been a bad option for her, and she was clearly too cold to do much other than stubbornly continue to climb, in full view of, and less than 3 feet from, hundreds of people trooping down this trail. And... well. People aren't kind to snakes. See Eve and Adam and the whole crushing beneath feet thing. So I photographed her and I left her, and then ... I turned around and went back. She was being guarded and filmed by a lovely Swiss couple, but the lovely Swiss couple wouldn't stay there all day. Lovely Swiss Female found me a nice long stick, to replace the completely inadequate one I'd found, and Lovely Swiss Male held my camera for me, and we were able to lift her gently off the rocks without
1) dropping her into that 50' crevice, or
2) getting bit (non poisonous, but plenty big sharp teeth nevertheless).
So I moved her to the other side of the path with a nice gently sloping ravine and lots of brush to hide in and sun to warm up in, and everyone was happy. Win/win.
Lovely Swiss guys' camera was 4 times the size of mine, so you'd think he'd manage to film me in focus, wouldn't you? Sometimes I think it's not the size of the camera, it's what you do with it.
But that could just be me.