Known for its talus caves and granite spires, Pinnacles National Monument in Central California last week was elevated to national park by President Obama. The 26,000-acre park east of Monterey between the 101 and 5 freeways claims another distinction too: It's now the smallest national park in the state.
So what changes with the new status? Not so much, really. "We'll have a name change and more recognition from the visiting public, nationally and worldwide," park ranger Nichole Andler said Monday.
The ancient volcanic field will pretty much look the same as it has since it was first named a national monument in 1908. It's not a drive-up park you can experience by car; indeed, there's no road that connects the park from east to west.
For visitors who want to see what's special about the nation's newest park, Andler suggests these must-sees best explored on foot:
--Caves: Balconies and Bear Gulch caves were formed when narrow canyons filled with rocks and talus. The debris formed a roof and an entryway to crawl and walk through.
--Pinnacles: "They protrude from the ground in odd shapes and colors, from rusty to pinky to beigy," Andler said. These are best viewed from either side of the park via two- to five-mile hikes that may be strenuous in places.
--Wildlife: The state's comeback bird, the California condor, has been reintroduced and is thriving in the area. Spring is a good time to see the birds and the wildflowers too, Andler says, noting ranger talks begin in mid-February and continue through May.
The ceremony to mark the park's new status hasn't yet been set but is expected to take place in the next four to eight weeks. California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein as well as Reps. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) and Jeff Denham (R-Atwater) sponsored bills in their respective chambers to create the national park.
Contact: Pinnacles National Park, (831) 389-4485