Rising out of the Gabilan Mountains east of central California’s Salinas Valley, Pinnacles is the result of millions of years of erosion, faulting and tectonic plate movement. Within the park’s boundaries lie nearly 27,000 acres of diverse wild lands. Visitors delight in the beauty and variety of its spring wildflowers and more than 400 species of native bees. The Pinnacles rock formations are a popular destination to challenge technical and beginner climbers alike.
Designated as a national monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, the park’s management will not change by the legislation. The Pinnacles National Park Act recognizes the broader significance of park resources, specifically the chaparral, grasslands, blue oak woodlands, and majestic valley oak savanna ecosystems of the area, the area’s geomorphology, riparian watersheds, unique flora and fauna, and the ancestral and cultural history of native Americans, settlers and explorers.
We’re rethinking Mount Rainier. While it is the most accessible, in some ways, during our trip to Portland and Seattle next month, it is also the least accessible in others. I had been prepared for there to still be a lot of snow on the ground, and that we’d essentially be driving into the park up to where the road is closed at Paradise to look at the scenery, etc. In my mind, I’d likened it to the trips to Park City we’d taken when I was younger. Snow? Mountains? No problem.
In digging further, though, apparently all vehicles entering the park are required to carry tire chains until May 1, a big problem with a rental car. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think that it would be going to the park at about the least optimal time of year just to say we’d done it. Advice from a friend in Seattle had some impact on this thinking.
So, we’re going to a different park, which I think will be much more rewarding, and which won’t alter our larger travel plans at all:
This morning as I lay in bed waiting for it to be time to get up and face the aftermath of a Chicago blizzard, I tried to name all 58 parks from memory, counting off on my fingers. I remembered 55 of them.
Virtually every project I’ve ever undertaken has begun with, or sometimes extended from, reading. And this National Parks project is no exception. My old, beloved copy of the Reader’s Digest Our National Parks from childhood is sorely outdated, both stylistically and factually. So I turned my attention, at least to start, to this volume:
National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the United States, Sixth Edition, March 2009.
The immediate origin of this project was a trip to Akron, Ohio that Sean and I took in July 2010 to celebrate the marriage of friends. Although for years I’d seen the sign announcing Cuyahoga Valley National Park as I’d driven the Ohio Turnpike from the Midwest to New York, New England or D.C., I’d never really had the opportunity to see the new park.
But there we were with the valley rolling north into the distance clearly visible from our downtown Akron hotel room. We decided to get up earlier than we needed to the next morning in order to have a chance to drive through the park on our way back to Chicago.
And such has it been. Save for two family excursions to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, my other encounters with the National Parks have involved spontaneous, almost foolhardy, reroutes of trips that had nothing to do with visiting a National Park.
But each pell-mell trip, whether it be a drive from Kittyhawk to Ann Arbor diverted through Shenandoah National Park because “we’re in the same state so why not?” or deciding suddenly to truck it to Badlands National Park in the middle of January because a massive snowstorm was blocking routes south, resurrected the nagging little voice that at thirteen had been certain that I would see Arches, Glacier, Olympic and all the others before I died.
At 31, driving through Cuyahoga Valley on a warm, sunny Sunday summer morning, I asked why not see them all?
Why not indeed?
This project is predicated on the idea that it is possible for an average American to visit all 58 National Parks in a lifetime, regardless of how daunting American Samoa or Gates of the Arcric may feel. The sixteen-year parameter is less a fixed deadline than a guideline. And I fully intend to live my life normally, advancing my career, pursuing other interests, and doing other traveling during this time.