Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Mirror of Us
CHS Celebrates the National Park Service Centennial and National Park Week

“The Bakery,” Pinnacles National Monument, date unknown
California Historical Society
“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” 
—Western historian and author Wallace Stegner, 1983
From Redwood National Park in the north to Joshua Tree in the south, California’s parks are as varied and diverse as the population of the Golden State itself. The oldest, Yosemite, was established in 1890; the youngest, Pinnacles, graduated from monument to park just three years ago, on January 10, 2013. Each California park has its own kind of beauty and all are a reflection of the society into which they were born.

In celebration of our national heritage, The National Park Service has declared April 16 to April 24 National Park Week. This year, the NPS—in conjunction with its centennial anniversary on August 25 and in partnership with the National Park Foundation—is offering free admission at every national park during National Park Week.

The California Historical Society joins the celebrations with the following images from the CHS and NPS collections of the geological and springtime delights at Pinnacles National Park.

Pinnacles National Park: A Walk on the Wild Side

High Peaks Wildflowers, Pinnacle National Park, 2013
Courtesy of the National Park Service
“In the spring, Charley, when the valley is carpeted with blue lupines like a flowery sea, there’s the smell of heaven up here, the smell of heaven.” 
—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962)
With its total of nine National Parks, California offers residents and visitors choices for every season of the year. In a year like this one, when rainfall in the northern and central parts of the state has been back to normal levels, this is the time to visit places that will soon turn “golden” as the weather warms. Right now, many landscapes are surreal shades of green and carpets of wildflowers are abundant.

Sitting astride Monterey and San Benito counties, southeast of the Salinas Valley, Pinnacles—California’s newest National Park—is a geologic wonder amidst rolling hills. Just west of the Gabilan Mountains, the park is on the wilder edge of what author Steve Crouch called “Steinbeck Country,” in reference to the region featured in the novels and short stories of California’s Nobel Prize–winning native son.

Rainbow, 2016, Pinnacles National Park
Courtesy of the National Park Service
The product of volcanic activity that began 23 million years ago, this National Park land once sat much further south in the state. Split down the center by the San Andreas Fault, Pinnacles is estimated to be continuing its journey north at a rate of two inches a year.

Ancient volcanoes and continuous seismic action helped create the park’s tall spires, talus caves, and the spring-fed valley called Bear Gulch.

High Peaks, Pinnacles National Park, 2013
Courtesy of the National Park Service
Talus Cave, Pinnacles National Park, 2013
Courtesy of the National Park Service
Bear Gulch, Pinnacles National Park, 2013
Courtesy of the National Park Service
Congressman Sam Farr has called Pinnacles “the missing novel in the grand library of the National Park System.” A National Monument since 1908, with Farr’s sponsorship Pinnacles became a full National Park on January 10, 2013.

Pinnacles National Monument, date unknown
California Historical Society
Pinnacles National Monument brochure, date unknown
California Historical Society
“Lizard Rock,” Pinnacles National Monument, date unknown
California Historical Society
Comprising over 26,000 acres, there are five distinct landscapes at Pinnacles: chaparral, woodland, riparian, grassland, and rock and scree. Between March and May 80 percent of plants in the park are in bloom. The abundant springtime flowers include poppies, bush lupine, mariposa lilies, larkspur, yarrow, and yellow pincushion. This may help explain the 400 species of bees in the park, perhaps the highest density of bee species anywhere in the world.

Yarrow, Pinnacles National Park, 2014
Courtesy of the National Park Service
California Poppy, Pinnacles National Park, 2014
Courtesy of the National Park Service
Green Bee on a Yellow Pincushion, Pinnacles National Park, 2013
Courtesy of the National Park Service
Pinnacles is perhaps best known as a refuge for the growing numbers of California Condors, which, when not confused with turkey vultures, can be seen soaring and catching updrafts among the park’s spires. According to the National Park Service, “on a good day” the park can be home to as many as 60 of these birds, some of which can be seen in the park’s “CondorCam”.

Condor Release, Pinnacles National Park, 2008
Courtesy of Sara Bartels/National Park Service
Another noted species common in the park are tarantulas, which are, according to visitors, easily visible from moving cars as they cross park roads on warm days.

Tarantula in the Sun, Pinnacles National Park, 2016
Courtesy of the National Park Service
As spring turns to summer, temperatures in the park will soar to over 100 degrees. In the warmer summer months only the heartiest of hikers will be drawn to the steep, dramatic trails that wind in and out among the spires. But in the spring, Chalone Creek and Moses Spring create a verdant oasis on the canyon floors, and visitors who venture up among the spires are rewarded with stunning views.

Large spiders aside, this National Park may truly be California’s springtime gem.

High Peaks at Sunset, Pinnacles National Park, 2013
Courtesy of the National Park Service
“The sun took a long time to set on the last day of May . . . the Santa Lucia range to the west was rim-lit interminably by the hot glare of the sun hanging poised above the Pacific; meanwhile across the valley the highest peak of the Gabilans and the jagged volcanic plugs of the Pinnacles were turning a deep red.” 
Steve Crouch, Steinbeck Country (1973)

Alison Moore
Strategic Projects Liaison
amoore@calhist.org

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager
skale@calhist.org

Sources

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Read about other parks in the CHS blog series, A Mirror of Us: CHS Celebrates the National Park Service Centennial:

A Mirror of Us: CHS Celebrates the National Park Service Centennial
Death Valley National Park; http://californiahistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2016/02/a-mirror-of-uschalliss-gore.html

A Mirror of Us: CHS Celebrates the National Park Service Centennial
Joshua Tree National Park; http://californiahistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2016/03/a-mirror-of-us-chs-celebrates-national.html
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Learn more about National Park Week
http://www.nationalparks.org/national-park-week






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Learn more about the NPS Centennial Initiative
http://www.nps.gov/nava/learn/management/centennial-initiative-2016.htm





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