Terra Galleria Photography

Pinnacles National Park


I’ve not blogged much recently because I’ve been traveling this summer. I’ve quite a backlog of National Parks images to edit and process, including many from Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Sequoia, Rocky Mountains, Badlands, Wind Cave, Theodore Roosevelt (and soon Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas). The ones that I did process are from our newest National Park: Pinnacles.

The legislation for the new status was signed by President Barack Obama on Thursday, January 10, 2013. On January 11, the first day Pinnacles opened as a National Park, I arrived at the East Entrance at the crack of dawn. Instead of the spectacular rock formations for which the park is named, the first image of the new National Park that I made depicts grasses and shrubs covered with a layer of frost which would melt away a mere half-an-hour later. It is almost certainly the first large format photograph made in Pinnacles National Park.

As part of my National Park project, in the first half of 2013, I photographed Pinnacles more thoroughly, resulting in maybe the second most extensive gallery of photos of Pinnacles on the web. One afternoon, in order to photograph the namesake rock formations, I hiked up the High Peaks (1,200 feet elevation gain) with my 50 lbs large format camera bag to photograph at sunset. The sunset was weak. I didn’t take a single picture with the 5×7 that day and hiked down entirely in the dark. After a short night, the next day, I hiked up in the dark, arriving at a pre-scouted location half an hour before sunrise. However, just at sunrise, some clouds lighted unexpectedly and didn’t fit the composition I had set up with the 5×7. I frantically tried to recompose: take the holder out, open the lens, get the dark cloth on, move the camera, close the lens, stop down the lens, re-insert holder, re-meter. By the time I was done, the light, which lasted only minutes, was gone. I was left with he following large-format image:

Pinnacles was one of the oldest national monuments in the nation, having been established in 1908 by none other than President Theodore Roosevelt using the power given him in the Antiquities Act of 1906. At that time, though, there were no drivable roads into the Monument, and in 1922, the superintendent of Yosemite National Park, after a quick survey visit, even recommended that the monument be abandoned. By the late 20th century, the value of the area had become clear. Only Congress can designate a national park, but many national parks began as president-established national monuments.

I’ll dwell a bit of the history of the bill which re-designated Pinnacles into a National Park because it sheds some light on the workings of the US Congress. It is the brainchild of Democratic Congressman Sam Farr who represents California Central Coast (Carmel – CA-20) district – who had been working on this since since he was elected to Congress in 1994. Its main goal was in fact to boost tourism dollars to the local area, since National Parks draw more visitation than National Monuments. The legislation consists in essence of just designation changes: Pinnacles National Monument becomes Pinnacles National Park, Pinnacles Wilderness within becomes Hain Wilderness (after Schuler Hain, an early 20th century proponent of Pinnacles National Monument), and is expended by 3,000 acres using existing park land. You’d think that given that there are almost no costs, it wouldn’t that hard to pass.

However, first introduced in the House of Representatives in 2009, the bill got nowhere, dying inside a committee without getting to the floor for a vote. In 2011, Sam Farr tried again, with the help of a Republican ally (Jeff Denham CA-19) who co-sponsored the bill. This time with bipartisan support, the bill cleared up the House in July 31, 2012, but not before Sam Farr was forced in the House subcommittee to remove expansion of the Hain Wilderness within the park – that Congress was the 1st one not to designate any single additional acre of Wilderness. Senate was to vote quickly on the bill, but a senator put a “hold” on it using arcane rules, because of an unrelated dispute about public lands and fisheries in South-East Alaska from where the relevant senate committee chairwoman hails. Without action in the senate, when 2012 ends, the whole process would have had to be restarted again from the House. Eventually the Senate got their act together at the 11th hour, passing the bill on Dec 30, 2012.

I had visited Pinnacles National Monument in the year I arrived in California, 1993, for the same reason that initially drew me to Yosemite: rock climbing. I also occasionally returned to Pinnacles just for hiking. Although other areas have more resources, I am pleased with the recognition Pinnacles is getting. The park’s area is quite small. At 38.3 sq miles (99.2 sq km), it is one of our smallest National Parks. But as it is not crossed by a road, the park feels larger, since you have to explore it on foot. To my surprise, I found within the Pinnacles one of the steepest trails that I have ever hiked, kind of similar to Half-Dome, but with barbed wired to pull yourself up instead of cables. For 12 miles, I did not see a single soul.

Unlike parks like Yosemite, Pinnacles does not have icons, so the park rewards personal seeing. Only an hour and half away from the major metropolitan areas of the San Francisco Bay area, an isolated, wild, and quiet area where a variety of subjects awaits your exploration: spectacular rock formations, expansive vistas, rare talus caves, a beautiful and reflective body of water, an abundance of wildflowers in the spring, and dark skies. I’ll write in more detail about my findings in Pinnacles National Park at another times, but for now I’ll let the images speak for themselves. Please let me know if you have any favorites, and if you have any questions about locations, feel free to ask.

More images of Pinnacles National Park


  1. Paul Beiser says:

    Fantastic set of images, QT, and thanks so much for the fascinating background on the creation of the area as a National Park,

  2. Sherrie says:

    Thanks for sharing these photos, QT! I think I will try to visit next time I’m in California.

  3. wei chong says:

    Very nice images here, and in those you took in Hawaii. Suggest you put a simplified map in the blog, so people know where it is you’re talking about at a glance. Also gives a scale of how to get there.

    Thanks for sharing.

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