Friday night as Paul and I were talking about what to do this weekend, he mentioned driving down to Pinnacles National Park, which is the newest (59th) national park in the U.S and the ninth national park in California. It is only about 1 hour 40 minutes from us and was originally created as a National Monument by Theodore Roosevelt back in 1908 under the Antiquities Act. I had a very interesting chat with a ranger over lunch who explained that Pinnacles has been lobbying Congress for national park status for nine years and it was finally granted at the end of 2012 and officially became Pinnacles National Park on January 10, 2013 when President Obama signed the legislation.
The ranger I talked with said that the primary reason for the name change (from monument to park) was for marketing purposes, in the hopes that more people will be drawn to Pinnacles now that it is a national park, but that there was no change to their funding or staffing or anything because the only difference between a national park and a national monument (other than the name) is the way the park was created. National monuments are created solely through executive power (by the President of the United States) whereas national parks require legislative power through an act of Congress for their creation. The ranger huffily explained that people seem to think that national parks are somehow "better" than national monuments and so they get more traffic and Pinnacles is hoping to see an increase in visitors now, thanks to the change of status. Fascinating, right? All of the park signs still say "monument" though, because they didn't get any extra funding to change all their signs and literature so they will have to do it piece-meal over the next few years.
Anyway, we LOVED Pinnacles. We went on the most glorious hike I have been on in a while (maybe my favorite hike ever, even). It was called the Bear Gulch Cave Trail and it was about 2.5 miles round trip (maybe a little less). We saw rock climbers (we knew beforehand that Pinnacles is a really popular climbing spot) and a very few wildflowers (the impetus for our day trip was to see the wildflowers since this is the prime season for them but we learned once we got there that the park didn't get the rains this year that they normally do so there weren't nearly the number of flowers that they usually get), then we hiked through tunnels and caves where flashlights are required in order to get to the top of a reservoir where we ate a little picnic lunch of strawberries, string cheese, and protein bars.
Clara enjoyed taking her sunglasses on and off. And sometimes taking mine on and off too.
There were a number of areas where I had to crouch down and crawl with Clara but we managed just fine. There is an alternate section that we didn't do which is even tighter and more like spelunking which we will have to try when she is older and can do it on her own rather than in a pack.
Paul was really looking for condors the whole time (this park is a sanctuary for them) but we never saw any, although he managed to point out half a dozen lizards to Clara.
The hiking backpack worked out really well, too. We weren't sure how Clara would do since the last time we used it (in Yosemite last October) she hadn't been a huge fan but I think that she fits it better now that she is bigger so she can look out better and it is more comfortable for her. I enjoyed carrying her in it because she played with my ponytail and gave me a shoulder massage most of the way.
The pictures sort of look like slot canyons in southern Utah but the caves didn't feel like that - they were more damp and mossy with a little waterfall running through them. We were a little concerned about how Clara would handle the hike through the caves but she LOVED it and babbled in my ear "dark! flashlight! water! rock! go!" (although on the way back she was SUPER tired because it was WAY past her nap time so the only thing Paul heard (since he carried her on the way down) was "home! home! home!" with an occasional "night-night! snooze!" for good measure so that we understood her message.
We started our hike around 11:30 and finished around 1:45, but that was with a nice long break at the reservoir. Clara was asleep within 5 minutes of being in the car and we had a peaceful drive home. If you are in the area, we absolutely recommend checking this place out because it was fabulous. I can't wait to take my parents/sibs hiking here next time they come visit.