PAICINES (San Benito County) -- Did you know that three natural treasures turn 100 this year: the Grand Canyon, Muir Woods in Marin County and the Pinnacles.
All were set aside as national monuments in the span of seven days in January 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt.
You say you've heard of two of them but not the Pinnacles?
Pinnacles National Monument is just east of the prison town of Soledad, on Highway 101 between Salinas and King City. We entered on the east side after driving south from Hollister on Highway 25.
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The dry, craggy Pinnacles rise above the lush, farm-rich green of the Salinas Valley, 40 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The monument has 30 miles of hiking trails, rock formations and peaks ranging from 800 to more than 3,000 feet tall. Colonies of Townsend's big-eared bats live in the caves.
Pinnacles is more than 23 million years old. Part of an extinct volcano, it lends itself to investigations into cracks, crevices and caves.
One of the caves, the Bear Gulch Cave, closes to the public from mid-May to mid-July to allow the bats privacy while raising their babies. The Balconies Cave doesn't have this restriction and is open for exploration.
Upon entering Pinnacles, make a stop at the Bear Gulch Visitor Center for an explanation of the creation of the formations.
Or stop at the seismic monitoring station to see how movements along the San Andreas Fault are tracked. This is where hikers and climbers can pick up a map highlighting the trails, peaks and valleys.
Spring is a popular time for visits. The weather is mild and wildflowers are abundant. Many visitors gazing into the sky are lucky to glimpse an eagle or falcon -- or giant-winged condor or vulture. All make their home at Pinnacles.
Although there are two entrances, one from the east and one from the west, there is no throughway that traverses the park interior. The park might be old and rocky, but it is nature at its pinnacle.
WHAT: Pinnacles National Monument
WHERE: 5000 Highway 146, Paicines
WHEN: The east side of Pinnacles is open around the clock for hiking. The west entrance has an automatic gate that opens daily at 7:30 a.m. and closes nightly at 8.
COST: Day use fee of $5 per vehicle or $3 for walk-in visitors
GETTING THERE: Take Highway 99 south to Crows Landing Road. Stay on Crows Landing to Interstate 5. Go south on Interstate 5 to Santa Nella. Take the exit toward Gilroy and drive through Pacheco Pass on Highway 152. Just past Casa de Fruta, take the Highway 156 cutoff toward Hollister. From Highway 156, make a left onto Fairview Road. Follow Fairview to Highway 25/Airline Highway and turn left. Continue south to the entrance to Pinnacles National Monument.
DRIVE TIME: From Modesto, 2 hours, 8 minutes (MapQuest)
MORE INFO: 831-389-4485,
Contact Bee assistant librarian Karen Aiello at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2392.