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Pinnacles National Park West and the Saga of CA 146 (West)

This is will be my first blog post on this site, so with that in mind a little background on myself probably is in order.  My name is Tom and I live out in the Central Valley of California.  Usually I'm out on the road doing something different every week so I figured a road trip oriented site such as this would be a decent fit in regards to actually start blogging about my travels.  I've always been interested in transportation ever since I was a kid and largely I don't believe that I've left much on the table as far as notable roadways to traverse in the Continental United States.

But with that all in mind almost every road I've been on usually has had some notable end point, or at the very least had an interesting aspect.  From a historical perspective I do enjoy finding old road alignments and the general history of why/how a roadway came to be.  One such roadway I've had frequent encounters with the last couple years would be California State Route 146 which is a route with a gap in Pinnacles National Park.

For me, getting to Pinnacles National Park usually involves some routing through the Diablo Range which is usually done via California State Route 198.  I'll probably touch on 198 in more detail in the future but west of the town Coalinga you're basically in no-man's land with almost 60 miles between services.  Westbound out of Coalinga, 198 traverses the Diablo Range, Peach Tree Valley along the San Andreas Fault, and finally the Gabilan Range before terminating at US 101 in San Lucas.  198 is a lot of fun and definitely is a mountain route that can be given aggressively unlike many of the roadways in the Sierras far to the east.

At the beginning of the descent to Peach Tree Valley I've found a particular black rock outcrop which I call "The Illuminati Rock" given the copious amounts of vandalism.  The Illuminati Rock has excellent overlook view of the area:






From the overlook the following can be seen looking west from the Diablo Range:

-  Peach Tree Valley/San Andreas below which just so happens to be where the Pacific Plate begins.
-  The Gabilan Range which is ultimately where Pinnacles National park is located.
-  Salinas Valley which is traversed by most on US 101.
-  The Santa Lucia Range which rises from the Pacific Ocean and where Big Sur is located.

The rest of the journey to West Pinnacles was pretty straight forward which entailed taking US 101 to King City and cutting north on the entirety of County Route G15 via Metz Road.  County Route G15 ends at Shirttail Canyon Road but continues westward to Soledad as CA 146.  CA 146 cuts east off of Metz Road up Shirttail Canyon Road to the western district of Pinnacles National Park.  The western segment of CA 146 just so happens to be one of the few remaining sections of single lane state highway left in California.  The oddity was on 14th it seemed Caltrans was actually completing a paving project which was really the last thing I expected to find on a one-lane state highway.  Irregardless it was an easy climb via CA 146 into the Gabilans and the National Park Boundary:


Pinnacles National Park is notable from the large rock formations that were created by volcanic activity near modern-day Lancaster over 20 million years ago.  The Pinnalces were gradually shifted northwest into present position by the San Andreas Fault.  The Federal level Park History with Pinnacles started in 1906 when it was added as a reserve but was quickly changed to a National Monument by 1908.  Pinnacles was recently elevated to National Park status in 2013 and many older signs in the Salinas Valley Area still reflect the previous Monument designation.  The main feature of Pinnacles is the rock formations which really bewilders a lot of tourists that are expecting giant mountain vistas like Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks all offer.



Usually I come out to Pinnacles once or twice during the summer to avoid the crowds up in the Sierras.  I'm from Phoenix and really temperatures in the 80s or 90s isn't something that I find to be much of a obstacle on a hike compared to 110 or higher.  I had a guest on this trip who had never been to Pinnacles, that being the case I thought the Balconies Caves would be a nice introduction to the Park.


The trail to the Balconies Caves is pretty easy and involves crossing a couple streams on an even footing.




The Balconies Cave is pretty tame by the standards of most caves I've been in.  The cave entrance is narrow on the south side and can be somewhat difficult to traverse without a flashlight.  Given it was summer the route to the northern mouth of the cave was pretty easy to reach, it can be extremely slick in the winter.






Getting back over to the Balconies Cave southward was fairly straight forward via the Balconies Cliff Trail.  Interestingly I noticed a family with no drinking water heading the opposite direction.  The father was wearing business casual clothing and the it appeared that the entire group was generally unprepared.  The group took a turn on the Old Pinnacles Trail which is when I noticed the father had a high pixel-large zoom lens camera.  I suspect that they likely were one of the tourist groups that saw "National Park" and thought there would be a car-side vista.  I'll never understand why people head off into the heat like that with no supplies or even a little bit of water










Leaving Pinnacles I decided to do the entirety of the western segment of CA 146.  CA 146 as a whole is only a 15.15 mile route if you count the incomplete 2.52 mile section between the West and East segment.   CA 146 East is only 2.44 miles in length from the old boundary of Pinnacles National Monument to CA 25 while CA 146 West is 10.19 miles from the park boundary to US 101 in Soledad.  Approaching the start of CA 146 there was some stray construction signs.  It seems that CA 146 West was actually closing 9 PM to 6 AM during the recent paving operation.




Beyond park boundary the asphalt changed color and the first CA 146 West shield came into view:


Looking back towards Pinnacles CA 146 is surprisingly well signed with an "end' placard:


The one-lane segment of CA 146 West is approximately 4 miles in length.  The roadway is generally wide enough for two vehicles provided they pass each other carefully.  There is no speed limit signs but the legal limit is technically 55 MPH like all other highways in California with unsigned speed limits:






Approaching the Inn At the Pinnacles CA 146 West intersects Stonewall Canyon Road.  From 1934 to 1964 what is now CA 146 was part of an unsigned state highway known as Legislative Route Number (LRN) 120.  LRN 120 used Stonewall Canyon Road from 1934 until it was replaced by Shirttail Canyon Road sometime between 1940 and 1942:




Looking back at Stonewall Canyon Road there is a CA 146 shield directing traffic eastward  towards Pinnacles National Park.  I would assume that before this route was paved that it probably wasn't as obvious not to turn left to go to the Inn at the Pinnacles.


Which is why I assume there is a "One-Lane Road" warning sign on westbound CA 146 directly after Stonewall Canyon Road.






Oddly CA 146 West includes a wishing well on the road side in the one-lane segment.





Eventually traveling west CA 146 gets a center stripe and is a full two-lanes all the way to US 101.  Salinas Valley and the Santa Lucia Range become more evidence descending out of the Gabilans approaching Metz Road.  CA 146 uses Metz Road northwest to reach Soledad and G15 traverses south back to King City.  Oddly neither CA 146 nor G15 is actually signed at the intersection of Metz Road and Shirttail Canyon Road.






Westward on Metz Road CA 146 is relatively flat and pretty mundane.


Approaching Soledad CA 146 crosses the opposite junction with Stonewall Canyon Road.  I'm not sure if Stonewall can actually be driven as through road today or if is in private hands.


Entering Soledad westbound the speed limit drops to 25 MPH and CA 146 takes a left at East Street.



CA 146 continues down East Street and takes a left on Front Street, but you wouldn't know it from the lack of shield.


Oddly if you turn right on Front Street and double back there is a CA 146 shield with directional signage.


CA 146 continues on Front Street while passing under the railroad before terminating at US 101.




All and all I find CA 146 fascinating.  There isn't a ton of information clarifying if the highway was meant to actual have been complete between both sides of Pinnacles but I believe it was.  I base my theory off the fact that on the 1935 California Divisions of Highways map of San Benito County the eastern segment of LRN 120 was shown to be state maintained past the modern terminus of CA 146 to approximately where the Bear Gulch Trail Parking Lot is today.   Said map of San Benito County can be accessed via the link below.

http://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~247336~5515379:San-Benito-County-?sort=Pub_List_No_InitialSort%2CPub_Date%2CPub_List_No%2CSeries_No&qvq=q:california%2Bdivision%2Bof%2Bhighways;sort:Pub_List_No_InitialSort%2CPub_Date%2CPub_List_No%2CSeries_No;lc:RUMSEY~8~1&mi=59&trs=163

The terrain of Bear Gulch is far more suitable to fill the gap in CA 146 than the Old Pinnacles Trail would have ever been.  The map of San Benito County clearly doesn't show a reservoir in 1935 but the Park Service does elude to it being built no later than 1942.

https://www.nps.gov/pinn/learn/historyculture/index.htm

So really the true story about why LRN 120 and later CA 146 never being completed seems to lost to time.  But my opinion is based off the evidence and documents I've seen that it was indeed meant to be a complete route at some point.  Given the terrain being somewhat remote and the National Monument status of the Pinnacles it would seem that a reservoir ultimately was more useful than a through highway would have been.  Either way it would have been cool to take a one-lane road across the Gabilans to take advantage of seeing both sides of Pinnacles National Park in one shot by car.  Really the Pinnacles is an interesting place in general and somehow has stayed off the radar despite becoming a National Park.

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