Walking through sometimes dense, sometimes sparse, chaparral manzanita and grey pines above the shrub in Hain Wilderness Trail in Pinnacles National Park, songbirds can be heard but only seen for a glimmer of a second when you are taken into Pinnacles wilderness. If you are lucky while stopping for lunch by a dry creek bed, you will hear nestling California scrub jays respond to a parent returning to the nest with food followed by the jays’ response to each morsel.
The 1964 Wilderness Act defines wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”
Pinnacles Wildlife biologist Paul Johnson cautioned against the wording of this definition, adding that Indigenous people had influenced the land that is now wilderness. He added, “We often think of wilderness as a vast area in an extremely remote location, but Pinnacles National Park protects an excellent example of much more accessible wilderness. For millions of Californians, in less than a two-hour drive and a 15-minute walk they can enjoy the nearly 16,000-acre Hain Wilderness.”
According to Pinnacles Superintendent Blanca Alvarez Stransky, 65% of Pinnacles is wilderness. People often hike much of it, such as parts of the High Peak and Condor Gulch Trails. Other areas include the South Wilderness and Hain Wilderness (formerly North Wilderness).
There are no motorized vehicles allowed in wilderness areas. National park staff use pack horses to travel in and out those lands. Drones are prohibited and the National Park Service prohibits pets on its assigned lands and camping is allowed under strict leave-no-trace principles.
Johnson said without cell towers, buildings and roads, wilderness is a “place where natural processes can go on the way they always have.”
Park Service Wilderness Communication and Outreach Steward Erin Drake said wilderness designation provides another layer of protection. She added that people often go to the wilderness alone or with a small cohort wanting to connect with plant and animal life.
She noted that while you don’t always see animal life, if you close your eyes and listen you will hear it. You may hear the buzzing, the bird song, or the sound of something moving in the distance.
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