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The Pinnacles National Park, recently demoted from being Pinnacles National Monument, is a small little cave system with a lake, and some beautiful mountain spires, just 5 miles east of Soledad, a sterile little town with one major industry and a plucky town council who are trying to rebrand the location as a wine trail destination.  “Don’t stop for hitchhikers”, proclaim all the highway signs for miles around the massive Soledad State Prison. 

This brings me back to the Pinnacles.  There were several major banditos in the old era of California who made life a living hell for the victims of their crimes, or just anyone who would not pay protection money to them, and Tiburcio Vasquez, San Jose mayor’s son gone bad, made Pinnacles his base of operations for a time because it had such excellent defensible geology.  All the locals allege that he hid his thieved gold bullion in a cave in the pinnacles, where it is still waiting to be found.  Vasquez was a mean hombre, he stole from shopkeepers, murdered innocent bystanders, sacked entire towns, and when caught claimed he was doing it all as a defender of Mexican civil rights.  He wasn’t above shooting his own men if he didn’t like how they spoke to him, he was sexually insatiable, which, as well raping the womenfolk of his victims (and conducting many consensual love affairs with others) led to him impregnating his own niece, an action which finally convinced the people sheltering him to turn him over to the authorities.  He was hung for murder in San Jose in 1875.  Here’s a more on Vasquez…  I don’t have the original source of the buried gold legend…it’s a local story.

The other interesting thing I could find about the Pinnacles, and much happier too, is the park’s highly successful condor breeding program. (carrion birds are definitely better than murderous desperados, I’m trying guys)  First established in 2003, they had their first nesting pair by 2010 and now manage 86 birds.…   They are also the only national park that manages a release site for captive bred Condors, which they get from the LA zoo and the San Diego zoo, the Oregon zoo and the World Center for Birds of Prey.  Condors are the largest bird in North America, at up to 9.5 foot wingspan and 22 pounds.  The aerodynamics of taking flight with wings that big and a body that heavy are very difficult as the bird has to get a full sweep of the wings under him to achieve lift.  Park service knows that Condors live 40 years in captivity, but also estimates that they’d live longer in the wild…which is a guess that I’d be interested to know what they base on, because animals usually live shorter lives in the wild where they’re more likely to get injured, poisoned, eaten etc.  There were 22 birds left in the 1980’s when the Condor breeding program first started, and it seems like the program’s efforts have been enormously successful, especially considering the dramatic increase of population (~450) in 30 years for a bird who matures so very slowly.  Good work men!   

Xander’s birds all have two heads.  I don’t know why.

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