Big news for park enthusiasts: the House of Representatives passed a bill to make the Pinnacles a national park. It has been a national monument for over 100 years, preceding places like Zion, Glacier, Denali, Grand Canyon, Hawaii Volcanoes, Death Valley, and Grand Teton into the National Park System.
We’ve talked about the Pinnacles here, but it’s fairly remote and off the main tourist circuit. The pinnacles, spires, caves, and other formations were created by a volcano right on top of the San Andreas Fault nearly 200 miles south of today’s park. Its ”twin” on the other side of the rift zone, the other part of the volcano, is on the North American Plate in the southern Tehachapi range near today’s town of Lancaster. After the eruptions, tectonic movement of the Pacific Plate over the eons brought this part of the volcanic north.
Entry to the Pinnacles is from either Hollister (U.S. 101 to CA 25) or Soledad (101). These are the only real roads in the park; they do not meet and there is no vehicle access from the east to west sides. It’s largely a foot park. Hikers, rock climbers, bird lovers, and sky watchers appreciate its isolation and lack of development to interfere with wildlife or dark skies. Wildlife biologists working to preserve the endangered California condor have released young birds in the Pinnacles where they have a good chance to survive without a lot of disruption from people or traffic.
The west (Soledad) side has a visitor center but few other amenities and no camping. The east (Hollister) side has a more extensive visitor center, campground (one of the nicest you’ll see in a national park area), and trail access to more areas that would probably interest first-time visitors.
The Pinnacles doesn’t get the same attention that Yosemite, Sequoia, and Death Valley do, or even Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Alcatraz National Historic Site, and Muir Woods National Monument. But if approved (the Senate still needs to pass it), the Pinnacles would be the closest National PARK to San Francisco. There are nearly 400 units in the National Park System, but fewer than 60 of the greatest places of unique natural significance are designated as parks. National Monuments are not “memorials” in the usual sense that we think of, but lands not deemed to be quite National Park status: e.g. Muir Woods, Craters of the Moon, or Death Valley from 1933 to 1994. National Monuments are created by presidential proclamation, but it takes an act of Congress to make a National Park; one reason Death Valley waited so long was concern from mining interests that their activities would be limited by NP status. The places I mentioned in the first paragraph are all NPs, but some were NMs first. When I said the Pinnacles preceded them all into the system, I meant before any of them came into the custodianship of the NPS in any way—quite a distinction for such a small, lesser-known place.
I was last there winter, and maybe I’d better make another trip before all the crowds start coming. While I was working in Death Valley, most visitors talked about going or planning to go to Yosemite, Sequoia, Zion, or Grand Canyon, and now little Pinnacles may join the same distinguished company.