The path to Bacon Ranch at Pinnacles National Park is a beautiful walk that just about everyone can manage, including folks in wheelchairs and toddlers in strollers. If you use a walker to get around, practice on gravel first and see how it goes. You might want to use a wheelchair instead if your muscles or joints are not up to handling the vibrations. The fresh air and natural setting could more than make up for some temporary discomfort, though, so don’t be afraid to give it a go if you are strong enough.
The “trail” is a narrow half-mile dirt/gravel lane that leaves the day use area behind the Visitor Center/Campground Store. It crosses a burly wooden bridge and leads you to the former homestead of Ben and Orea Bacon, among the earliest European American settlers in Bear Valley. In addition to the house (built in 1894), there is an iconic barn, a blacksmith shop (my favorite), a garage, a corral, and a few more out-buildings. There are plenty of shade trees and the grounds are peaceful and pleasant, with a sturdy plank picnic table if you need or want a rest. Historical placards full of informative descriptions and photographs have been placed near all the buildings. For an in depth look at the life of pioneer Elizabeth Quigley Shell Bacon, read Leslie David’s BenitoLink article here.
I was witness to an interesting coyote dust-up on a sunny February weekday around eleven o’clock. While exploring the barn and the grounds behind it, movement on the wooded hillside in back of the ranch caught my eye. I looked up to see two adult coyotes running down the ridge toward a gully that separates the ranch from the hills. There was something urgent about their behavior and I was definitely intrigued. When they reached the gully, my view was blocked by brush and trees, but instantly, I could hear loud and aggressive barking and high pitched wailing – unmistakably a mama coyote and her pups. A nasty, noisy fight ensued that lasted for two or three loud and anxious minutes. Then two coyotes (the same ones as before?) burst out of the gully, running away onto the ranch property at an angle from me as the barking and wailing subsided. I fumbled for my phone and caught one of them on camera before they disappeared across the road and down into Sandy Creek. What the heck was this? A Pinnacles family feud? Valentine’s Day gone bad?
Energized by the commotion, I decide to explore further. The Bacon Road, which runs past the house, was the original entryway into what is now Pinnacles National Park. If you want to get a little more exercise and learn some more history, you can walk the road another mile to the Butterfield Ranch. That sounded good to me, plus I wanted to see if I could spot the tracks of those ornery critters who had raised such a ruckus. Sure enough, there they were, two sets of fresh doggie paw tracks crossing the road, leading into some beautiful flowering bushes. Fittingly, I learned from friends when I got home that the name of that plant is Baccharis pilularis, commonly called Coyote Bush!
The Butterfield Ranch is just as cool as the Bacon place. If you are like me and you enjoy visiting old barns and corrals, do not miss this relatively undisturbed part of the park. George Butterfield and his family settled in the north end of Bear Valley in 1875, raising wheat, barley and fruit trees. The buildings are in great condition and the views of Bear Valley and its surrounding ridges are beautiful. It is easy to imagine the valley centuries ago when grizzlies and mountain lions roamed free and the Chalon and the Mutsun people lived and farmed on this land. The Pinnacles National Park staff has summarized the history of the region in a brief article here.
The Bacon Road’s sandy track is smooth and fast, a perfect surface for a leisurely walk or jog from the campground and back. Invigorated and relaxed from a morning in the sunshine, I arrived back at the day use area hungry for my sack lunch. A few bites into my sandwich, I noticed activity on the trunk of a nearby oak tree – woodpeckers! They were Acorn Woodpeckers, to be exact, relentlessly hammering holes into the bark, intent on eating insects and storing acorns. Local birder and naturalist Mark Paxton described a few of the Acorn Woodpecker’s special talents to me a few days later. Perhaps the most amazing thing he said was that this six and a half inch bird has a five and a half inch tongue. Those tree bugs don’t have a prayer! Read all about Acorn Woodpeckers here.
For a casual walk with tremendous learning opportunities, you cannot go wrong with this Bacon Ranch stroll. If you need a little more distance to make you happy and burn more calories, add an afternoon hike in the opposite direction to Peaks View or Bear Gulch. It’s your park, so get out and see it!
And please, my friends do not litter.
For a location map of Pinnacles National Park, please click here.