Happy 1st anniversary to Pinnacles National Park!

Photo: Pinnacles National Park.

Credit: flickr, thaths.

California’s Pinnacles National Park, known for its rare wildlife and striking geologic formations, celebrates the first anniversary of its designation as a national park on Jan. 10.

Though it had been a national monument for more than a century prior to 2013, central California’s Pinnacles area was considered something of a hidden gem. Now, with the added cachet of national park status, which was conferred one year ago today, the 26,000-acre stretch of land is drawing a bit more attention from tourists, rock climbers and nature-seekers.

Pinnacles National Park is named for its striking rocky spires, the result of volcanic and geological upheaval over the course of millions of years. Rock slides have formed several talus caves (openings between boulders) in the park, some of which are home to major bat colonies. Elsewhere, habitat ranges from dry chaparral to riparian forest full of flowering native plants. The park is home to unique and wonderful wildlife as well, including the threatened California red-legged frog and about two dozen California condors. The latter, managed as part of an ongoing recovery effort, are buoyed by their dramatic nine-foot wingspan as they survey the craggy peaks from high overhead.

Whichever element of Pinnacles most strikes your fancy, the park offers gorgeous scenery to suit. Here are a few sights visitors might consider:

Bear Gulch Cave

Photo: Visiting Bear Gulch Cave. Credit: flickr, Mat Honan.

Bear Gulch Cave provides residence for a colony of Townsend's big-eared bats, making the rocky hollow an important natural resource as well as a draw for visitors. The bats generally prefer to stay close to home, and they have been threatened by habitat loss and human incursion, making it especially important that tourists follow park rules and keep their distance.

Machete Ridge

Photo: Machete Ridge, in the western part of Pinnacles National Park. Credit: flickr, Peter Eimon

If you visit Pinnacles to hike or climb, you’ll definitely want to swing by Machete Ridge. This sheer rock wall and its immediate surrounding area in the western part of the park is a challenge for adventurous climbers--the Destiny climb, found along the Machete Ridge Trail, is among the park’s most popular--as well as a picturesque landmark for photographers and nature-lovers.

Balconies Cliffs

Photo: The view from Balconies Cliffs Trail. Credit: flickr, Peter Eimon.

The Balconies Cliffs trail reputedly offers great views of Machete Ridge and is considered a moderately easy hike. The trail loop goes through deep, dark Balconies Cave, but the wide-open section offers a pretty good vantage point to spot condors and other birds, including prairie falcons, American kestrels and golden eagles.

Learn more about Pinnacles National Park.