Field Notes from a 1931 Visit to Pinnacles NM

A visitor at Pinnacles National Monument in 1931

Pinnacles National Monument
San Benito County, California
March 4, 1931
Notes by George Wright

Dixon, Thompson and I visited the Pinnacles, arriving late in the afternoon of March 3, returning to Hollister for the night and completing our work at the monument the forenoon of this day. The primary object of this visit to an area not hitherto known to any one of the three of us was to ascertain whether it would be a suitable place for the Tule elk now in Yosemite. The weather was of the happiest, not a cloud in the sky and yet not too warm for comfort. The hillsides were a rich moist green but the deciduous trees were dormant except for the buckeyes. A few early flowers such as dodecatheon and dentaria were out. The Pinnacles National Monument preserves, in addition to its interesting rock formations, a very typical portion of inner coast mountains Upper Sonoran zone. Here are some of the finest Digger Pines to be found anywhere.

Some beautiful bird songs were heard, though the full burden of spring singing was not yet in evidence.

As might be expected, the Pinnacles provide an excellent congregating ground for the Turkey vultures. There were numbers of these birds milling about in the sky during the entire time of our stay. These birds find excellent nesting sites about the Pinnacles.

According to Hawkins, the custodian, the last Condors were seen here about forty years ago. The last egg taken is in the possession of [expunged from document].

Other raptorial birds seen were Western red-tails and sparrow hawks.

White-throated swifts filled the air with their dry chattering notes and their fast flight. They are apparently already carrying on nesting activities as they were circulating all around certain crevices into which they disappeared at intervals. Though it looked as though they used alternate wing strokes most of the time Ben and I were sure on two occasions when a swift was flying towards us and relatively slowly, that it beat both wings in unison.

Not by any means the least part of the show at Pinnacles is that afforded by the dotted canyon wren. Near the top of the trail our voices seemed to stir these birds to song. The concert they gave thrilled us through and through. Several times I had good opportunity to watch a canyon wren sing. The bird would jump to some little point of rock, throw up its head, and pour forth its liquid notes accompanying each note with a dip of its tail. Once a canyon wren was seen to sing while on the ground.

On both March 3 and 4, lutescent warblers were heard singing.

Other birds noted were linnet, plain titmouse, pallid wren-tit, western bluebird, western robin, California jay, Hutton vireo, mourning dove, red-shafted flicker, Calif. Towhee, white-crowned sparrow.

Near the Pinnacles were seen crow, California woodpecker, shrike, western kingbird.

Gray fox droppings were seen in the caves. Ranger Marcott spoke of two gray foxes being very tame, stealing campers food, running around to other sides of cars when people came, etc.

There were signs of woodrats and of raccoons under the ledges.

Outside, we saw digger squirrels and several Merriam chipmunks.

Hawkins said that there was control work on mountain lions in the vicinity but that none had been carried on right in the Pinnacles for three years.

We saw sign of black-tail deer and noted six of these animals along the road just up to the parking area. Dixon concluded that that the deer are present in fair abundance. Incidentally this is within about twenty miles of the type locality of the southern black-tail deer. The Pinnacles is surrounded by a state game preserve with an area approximately one township in size. This makes the Pinnacles important in the preservation of the southern black-tail deer.

As far as the tule elk are concerned we concluded that the animal probably did range up into Bear Gulch at the Pinnacles as temporary visitants from the San Benito Valley where they were known to occur. However, tule elk belong typically in the valley bottoms and not on this upland area. They would have to be fenced permanently and fed hay most of the year. About a half dozen animals would be plenty for the area in view. The preferable sight [sic] to our mind is in the mouth of the small canyon immediately northwest of the present park entrance. It is our opinion that the Pinnacles is not an ideal place for elk but that a few could be kept there.

This text was transcribed by Paul G. Johnson from a photocopy of George Wright’s field notes held at the UC Berkeley Life Science Building.

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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