There's a move afoot in Congress to have the name of Pinnacles National Monument changed to Pinnacles National Park. U.S. Rep. Sam Farr of California believes the monument's 14,500 acres with their unique geology and many species that are either threatened or endangered at the state or federal level deserve the title.
"Upgrading Pinnacles to a national park makes sense for historic, natural and economic reasons,” the Democrat said Friday. “This area is much more than rock formations. It’s a huge swatch of land with historical significance for the state, it provides an important refuge for the California condor and it has great potential for tourism revenue.”
The monument is one of the oldest ones in the National Park System, having been designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. It received its name from "rock spires and crags that are remnants of an ancient volcano," notes the National Park Service. "The volcano eroded over millions of years as it moved northward along the San Andreas Fault. Rock debris in the form of boulders has weathered and settled, leaving behind spires of volcanic rock and talus caves."
Pinnacles National Monument has two main areas of caves; the Bear Gulch Caves are near headquarters in the East District, and the Balconies Caves are near Chaparral Campground in the West District.
There is no known evidence of Native American habitation in any caves, though extensive archeological work is yet to be done, and local Native (Mutsun and Chalone) stories have largely died with their tellers. Non-Indian legends that have survived refer to the use of the caves as a hideout by the notorious central California bandito Tiburcio Vasquez, whose brutal contribution to local history ended with his hanging in San Jose, California, in 1875. Stories of hidden treasure and robber’s roosts still cycle through campfire stories and local lore, but the location of Tiburcio’s hides seem speculative, notes the Park Service.
The Civilian Conservation Corps built trails through the caves in the 1930's and these trails have endured many storms and travelers. The stairways and bridges they constructed were needed to navigate the caves without the use of ropes and ladders. Today, the Bear Gulch and Balconies caves are principle attractions for visitors at the Monument.
Rep. Farr's move drew quick praise from The Wilderness Society.
“Congressman Farr’s work to protect public lands and wild rivers in his congressional district should be lauded," said Sam Goldman, the society's California Wilderness coordinator. "The California Wild Heritage Campaign, a coalition of hundreds of businesses and organizations around the state, stands with Congressman Farr to highlight the importance of this ecological and geological gem in the Central Valley.”