To stand atop the Pinnacles was to be close to God for the Ohlone Indians.
The climb to the peaks and the other rituals that took place at the Central California site are why tribal representatives still consider it sacred land — and are exuberant that its protection is more secure.
Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun tribal band of the Ohlone Indians, told a crowd of roughly 400 people Monday at the base of the Pinnacles in Paicines that the land's upgrade from a national monument to a national park could "redefine what good stewardship can be."
Elected officials, National Park Service employees and volunteers said Pinnacles' status as the nation's 59th national park would not o\nly mean it is guaranteed public land but is a boost for tourism.
The afternoon ceremony featured local school children delivering the pledge of allegiance in English and Spanish, an Ohlone song and prayer, dozens of park employees in uniform and hordes of media.
"One of the questions media folks and others ask is, 'Why is this such an important day?'" Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said. " ... The answer is very simple: Parks means jobs."
Salazar said 9million jobs were created a year through conservation efforts and strong tourism destinations made for a strong economy.
The Soledad City Council has already allocated more than $150,000 for the creation of signs to announce itself as "the Gateway to the Pinnancles" and hired a marketing firm to capitalize on the new designation.
Park volunteers Danielle Powell, 23, of Hollister, and Arianna Punzalan, 22, of Santa Cruz, said they have already experienced an increase in visitors since President Barack Obama signed legislation making it a national park last month.
Although the preservation of the land is shared by many, it was U.S. Rep. Sam Farr who got the most praise. His work with Sen. Barbara Boxer moved the upgrade legislation to the president's desk.
Salazar said before the ceremony the dust had barely cleared from turning Ford Ord into a national monument when Farr began lobbying him to turn the 26,000-acre Pinnacles into a national park. "We've already done enough in your district," he joked with Farr. "He never gives up."
In his speech, Farr said parks were the first place he really felt he could learn because of his dyslexia.
"With dyslexia, you have a hard time getting information out of books," he said.
The congressman said efforts to preserve the park, known for its volcanic rock formations and California condors, were "part of this ongoing mosaic of human involvement with this land."
One of the park's heroes was Schuyler Hain, the man who lobbied for the creation of a national monument on the site at the turn of the last century.
His great-grandson, Paul Hain, 59, was in the crowd at the ceremony and said afterward he thought his ancestor would be pleased with the designation and hoped it would bring more people to the area.
Comedic relief was provided throughout the day as Soledad Mayor Fred Ledesma and Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez playfully argued whose side of Pinnacles was truly "the gateway." At one point they even competed with Salazar for applause.
Ledesma said before the speech that Soledad benefited from being closer to a park entrance, along with its restaurants and hotels, than Hollister, in which people have to travel roughly a half hour from the city to get to the east entrance. Velazquez said "they are both important to each other."
Salazar read partially from a letter Obama sent for the ceremony, which was shown to The Herald afterward.
"Our parks offer opportunities to enjoy outdoor recreation with family and friends," the president wrote, "and they provide a safe and accessible setting to appreciate the bounty of our land.
"Pinnacles National Park is now among these cherished sites."
Phillip Molnar can be reached at 646-4487 or firstname.lastname@example.org