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Yes, it's true: the United States Senate passed a bill to designate Pinnacles National Monument as a national park, reports the Los Angeles Times. Rising out of the chaparral-covered Gabilan Mountains, east of the Salinas Valley in eastern Monterey County, Pinnacles is the spectacular remains of an ancient volcanic field. In recreational users' language, this means sheer cliffs for climbers, nesting spots for California condors and other raptors, and rare talus caves for hikers and bats.

The core of Pinnacles was first designated a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt over a century ago, and slowly enlarged over the years. Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA-17) introduced a bill last summer to declare it a national park. And yesterday, the Senate passed Senator Barbara Boxer's companion bill, unanimously, without amendment. Boxer praises the legislation: "I was proud to work with Congressman Farr to recognize Pinnacles as a National Park. Now we will attract even more Americans and visitors from around the world to enjoy this spectacular piece of California's natural and cultural heritage," Senator Boxer said. "The rugged splendor and unique wildlife at Pinnacles have long made this park one of California's greatest treasures, and this bill will ensure that it gets the recognition it deserves while also boosting the area's tourism economy."  

The change in status will, it is hoped, create more tourist revenue for an undeveloped and primitive area. (When I visited a few years ago, the concessions stand consisted of a ranger selling water bottles from an ice chest and a few stuffed condor toys.)

Pinnacles makes an interesting day trip a few hours south of San Jose/San Francisco. It's a small park, easily hiked in a day. Its talus caves were formed by rockfall alone, without the benefit of water eroding limestone caverns. The caves have been known to work magical transformations; a sulky teen deprived of an iPod goes in one end and a smiling, "way cool!" teen emerges at the other. As an inland California park, it's best visited in spring, when wildflowers may color the chaparral.

In other Senate news yesterday, the Senate confirmed Carol Galante to be an Assistant Secretary for HUD and William Baer to be an Assistant Attorney General. So who says the Senate is completely useless?

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