One of the impressive stories of recovery efforts focusing
on endangered species is the amazing work being done with
California condors (Gymnogyps californianus). The Big Sur
area along California's Pacific coastline is prime condor
habitat, but the birds have plenty of places to keep away
from the tourists. A little bit inland and less than 90 miles
south of San Jose, California, is an excellent location for
spotting these magnificent birds.
PINNACLES NATIONAL MONUMENT
National Monument is really a rockclimbing and geology
playground, with tall spires and steep cliffs. Condors and
all types of soaring birds seem to like the protection of
the cliff faces and the abundance of thermals. The landscape
is arid and almost stark. An excellent trail system, much
of it constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the
1930's, offers access to many parts of this federal protected
area. But bring plenty of water and be prepared to work. The
trails are excellent, but the climbs are significant -- "breathtaking"
might be another word to use.
On our first weekend visit to the area, we observed condors
during hikes on both a Saturday and a Sunday. We also had
a wonderful coyote choir serenading us Saturday night in the
campground. On a subsequent visit, we failed to see any condors
but we had a bobcat stroll past us while we were quietly eating
supper. Small bats were zooming overhead to harvest the late-summer
insect crop. Wild turkeys practically refused to get out of
Pinnacles National Monument is only 26,000 acres, not a size
that you would normally associate with a rich biota. Yet in
addition to the condor mega-fauna, the Monument hosts more
than 400 species of solitary bees. Size is important to biodiversity
because smaller sites can only support smaller populations.
If a population drops below a critical minimum threshold,
it faces increased risks from external threats like accidents
but also internal threats like a failure to find a mate or
to breed successfully.
Pinnacles is a release site for condors that have been hatched
in captivity and raised for a return to the wild. This might
account for ease with which we saw condors on our first visit
-- they might have been youngsters who were still getting
to know the area and its wind currents. None seemed to have
the reddish neck and head so characteristic of adult condors.
While taking this break from work to chase after biodiversity,
we also discovered that San Benito County (the jurisdiction
around Pinnacles) has a thriving wine-making
industry. (Funny name: I always thought that first you
grew grapes and then you made wine … This might be the
influence of Silicon Valley -- they must have found a high-tech
way to skip the intermediate steps and just grow the wine
In other writing, related to nature-based tourism, I am frequently
encouraging people to "think globally, travel locally"
-- to help reduce greenhouse gases and other effects of long-distance
travel. It certainly helps if you live somewhere with a serious
protected area system already in place.
Support your local protected areas! Get out there and chase
down some biodiversity -- from an appropriate distance, of