Pinnacles asserts its rich history with a host of centennial celebrations.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
The met people at the entrance to Pinnacles National Monument with a rifle, a stiff upper lip and a demand for 50 cents. Olive Rivers wasn’t the kind of woman you’d want living next door – the word used most to describe her, diplomatically enough, was “cantankerous.” But the gal who guarded the gate circa 1932 was a personality, like many of the people who have been drawn to the rare beauty of this monument over the years.
This weekend, May 24-26, Pinnacles continues to celebrate its centennial anniversary by welcoming those characters back with a “Homestead Weekend” that will feature historically dressed actors as passionate about the place as ol’ Olive Rivers, a selection of ranger programs, and a wealth of hiking and climbing opportunities.
It’s not hard to see why so many are drawn to the place. Vibrant green volcanic rock and striking red, jutting formations dominate the landscape. From hikes that climb as high as 1,200 feet, views open onto the Salinas Valley, revealing the effects of millions of years of continental plates rubbing against each other. Huge, tree-filled valleys fill in the foreground.
A wealth of microclimates invite further adventure. Talus caves carved out by erosion and covered by old boulders that tumbled from their original structures offer shelter from the inland heat and bustle of the normal trails. Inside, gaps in the rock transform sunlight into natural art. The Bear Gulch reservoir, meanwhile, provides a home for a rare species of red-legged frog. Around almost every turn, especially in the summer, climbers challenge the many high chunks of rock that seem to appear from nowhere.
The documented reverence for such beauty can be traced back past Rivers.
The first proactive protectionist of the monument was Schuyler Hain, who was inspired by a professor from Stanford who unwittingly made a lasting impression on his young guide at the end of the 19th century, saying, “this geologic formation is the finest example of its type of scenery I have ever seen.” Over the next few years, Hain traveled California, sharing a magic-lantern show he constructed with hand-painted slides of the Pinnacles in hopes of bringing people to what had become his beloved retreat. David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford University, saw the show and sent a respected botany professor to verify the spectacle. When a glowing report was returned, Jordan decided to contact President Theodore Roosevelt. On July 18, 1906, 12,000 acres were set aside as a Pinnacles Forest Reserve. In 1908, the National Antiquities Act made it possible for Roosevelt to declare Pinnacles a national monument.
Pinnacles went unattended for many years, however, until its first custodian was hired in 1923. Herman Hermansen, along with his two friends, Viggo Peterson and Zotic Marcott, established a campground and carved trails for the salary of $1 a month.
Today the monument still functions as a result of a few hardworking individuals. Lisa Lee Smith, a woman with the strength of two cowboys, builds fences outside the monument on her days off. She has worked here for 30 years, and describes it as having a powerful draw.
“It calls to people,” she says. “It has an energy, a vibration that heals.”
Michael Rupp, an interpretive ranger and geology expert, is one of a dedicated band of employees, and often can be seen smiling outside the east entrance nature center with a cup of black coffee, welcoming people with cave and trail tips and stories about geology and the “critters” in the park, which include a population of rare condors.
This weekend’s events are the latest installment in a celebratory sequence of 100th-anniversary events. On March 29, along with their predecessors, park employees and contributors gathered for a huge centennial weekend, including a private event for all the alumni who have given their time and energy to the monument. The diversity was amazing; people who had literally just crawled out of the Bear Gulch caves attended alongside dignitaries in pressed suits, including Rep. Sam Farr. “Pinnacles is the perfect story of human beings who love nature,” he said at the event.
A landslide of other events also have been arranged. Upcoming events will both frame the beauty of Pinnacles and explore its history, as well as offer an opportunity to meet the personalities who still call this place home. Homestead Weekend’s living history exhibits will include activities like horseshoe-making demos, butter-churning events, ice cream making and “mountain men” role playing the lifestyles of Pinnacles inhabitants past, while longtime native families share photo albums and rangers lead kids’ activities and wildflower hikes. On June 7, a climbing event on the west side of Pinnacles National Monument – tabbed the “Rock Pile Rendezvous” will bring the park’s amazing structures into play as expert climbers test many of the 800-plus existing climbing routes.