America’s newest National Park is just a few hours away from the South Valley. Located in the Salinas Valley, Pinnacles National Park was first established as a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. It was passed by congress for National Park status in 2012, and signed in by President Barack Obama in January of 2013.
The Pinnacles started forming some 23 million years ago with the eruption of the Neenach Volcano in what is now the Antelope Valley near Lancaster. Movement of the Pacific Plate along with eruptions of the San Andreas Fault split off part of the rock moving it nearly 200 miles to the Northwest. Weathering and erosion have aided in creating the area now known as Pinnacles National Park. Small, but Western National Park standards, the park is approximately 26,600 acres.
The rock formations attract wildlife such as bats and birds, including the endangered California Condor. It is currently home to 25 of these majestic birds. Once extinct in the wild, a captive breeding cooperation between the San Diego and Los Angeles Zoos began in the early 1990’s with offspring of the last remaining birds eventually being introduced into the wild in the coastal mountains of southern and central California, as well as northern Baja California, the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. There is at least one pair of California Condors nesting within the park, according to the Pinnacles National Park Facebook page.
Bird watching enthusiasts from all over are drawn to the park for the opportunity to possibly spot one of these rare birds, as well as other bird wildlife including falcons, hawks and kites; geese, ducks, gulls and shorebirds; swallows, hummingbirds, sparrows and flycatchers; and more. The best opportunity to see the condors is soaring along the ridge next to the Pinnacles Campground and above the peak formations near Bear Gulch.
Rock climbers are also attracted to the park. Here there are easy to mid-level climbs, from easy topropes to multi-pitch climbs. Certain areas may be off limits at various times, due to weather conditions and raptor breeding habits, so climbers need to check in with the visitor center. General climbing rules and common sense apply to rock climbers.
The park has more than 30 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy walks to more strenuous trails throughout the park. They range from one to one-and-a-half hours to eight hours in length, although the trails do not have to be completed. For example, the Condor Gulch Trail offers fabulous views just a few minutes in, and the Condor Gulch Overlook is just a mile in, but the full trail is 1.7 miles one way. Information for all trails is provided at the visitor
Yet another feature of the park are the Talus Caves. Those leery of bats, might want to stay away. There are 14 bat species in the park, one of which, the Townsend’s Big Eared Bat, is considered a sensitive species within California. Since the Bear Gulch Cave is a breeding area for the species, the cave is closed during breeding and pup-rearing season. However, parts of the cave will be opened when deemed safe for the bat colony.
Both the Bear Gulch Cave in the east part of the park and the Balconies Cave to the west may also be closed at times, due to high water.
The Pinnacles campground is available for tent camping. RV camp sites with electrical hookups are also available. Advance reservations can be made and should be for any holiday weekend. There is a campground store.
Pinnacles National Park is open 365 days per year. Entrance fees are $10 per vehicle or $5 for those on foot or bike. A $20 annual pass is also available.
For more information on the park visit the website, http://www.nps.gov/pinn/index.htm
For camping reservations, call (877) 444-6777.