Say Hello To Our 59th National Park, A Native Californian

Pinnacles National Park is a hotbed of epic, prehistoric rock formations and caves created by ancient tectonic plate movements. It is 1 of 3 active release locations in the California Condor Recovery Program and the only location in the scavengers’ original home range. It has been a National Monument, designated by President Theodore Roosevelt, since 1908. Now a national park, it is the latest natural treasure to be protected in perpetuity, conserving the riches in its peaks and caverns.


Colorful rock formations line the back side of High Peaks trail.

Our National Park System was born in the very late 1800’s. Under President Ulysses S. Grant, Congress designated Yellowstone (spanning Montana, Idaho and Wyoming) a protected area in 1872. Free from settlement and unlawful occupancy, this enchanting volcano-top labyrinth of geysers, hot pools, and waterfalls hidden in deep forest became the first national park. In 1916 the National Park Service was created to centralize management of our wild areas. Now, as of January 2013, President Obama signed into law our 59th national park, sponsored from the start by Representative Sam Farr: Pinnacles National Park in San Benito County, California.


Forest covering Pinnacle’s rolling hills.

Faced with the current ‘budget sequester,’ the National Park Service (NPS) is enacting an overall 5% cut in the federal budget. In a recent memo from NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis, these cuts became explicit: a hiring freeze on permanent positions, reduced maintenance, late road openings, and fewer law enforcement officers. Across the Park Service, at least 1,000 fewer seasonal employees are being hired this summer. At Pinnacles, because of its previous national monument status, no reallocation of funds was necessary. Instead, its previous ‘monument’ status was abolished and replaced with ‘national park’ status, and the previous budget was balanced forward (subject to the same across-the-board cuts).

Lucky for us. The park is bursting with unique, central California flavor that sets it apart. Climbers have access to all levels of routes across detailed rock faces. Most every trail has carabiner signs pointing the way to climbing nooks around a corner or sheer cliffs looming overhead. And the peaks provide hikers amazing vistas of mountain sides dotted with the pinnacles (the park’s namesake)– rock spires jumbled with the forest, piled on one another or jutting unexpectedly from mountainsides.


Entering Balconies Cave – headlamps required!

Beyond recreational opportunities is the intrinsic value of the land itself. The legislation passed via H.R. 3641 speaks to why Congress approved the new “expanded role” of the park, including that it: “…provides the best remaining refuge for floral and fauna species representative of the central California coast and Pacific coast range”. In addition it harbors: blue oak woodlands, valley oak savanna ecosystems, the highest density of prairie falcon nesting in the country, over 30 free-flying condors, and bat colonies in both Bear Gulch and Balconies caves.

These are just a few of the reasons the monument was upgraded. California now has the most national parks in the country (a total of 9), previously tied with Alaska. This speaks to the strong California environmental ethic, appreciation of nature, and understanding of ecotourism opportunities. This in fact is what is so special about this latest California national park: that we have recognized and cherished our home and planet, even in the face of government cuts, even in a struggling economy.


Man-made reservoir behind Bear Gulch Cave.

What gives us quite as much peace and joy as a colorful sunrise? Of nature’s splendor spread before us, rolling mountain tops draped in and peaking through fog, a condor unexpectedly soaring overhead with its breathtaking wingspan? The little things that drag us down daily disappear in these natural spaces. In January, California welcomed the latest national jewel meant to remind us of our place here and provide us respite from our hectic daily lives. How appropriate, nearing Earth Day and countless eco celebrations across the nation and planet, to have reaffirmed our commitment to our environment. As spring blooms, and you find yourself restless, maybe all you need to do is hit the trails, caves and cliffs of Pinnacles.



By Sarah Clark, LoaTree guest author


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