Eastern Mojave Vegetation Ulistac Natural Area, Santa Clara County, California.


See also: Jean Sweeney Open Space Preserve.

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Ulistac Natural Area
California's Landscape in 41 Acres

The Ulistac Natural Area is representative of California's valley landscape west of the Coastal Range, much as it appeared before the footfall of European settlers.

The park encompasses seven diverse biotic communities -- grassland, coastal scrub, oak savannah, riparian woodland, sycamore woodland, oak woodland, and wetlands. Each is gradually strengthening its natural, distinctive identities and supporting an array of wildlife often specific to one commuity but sometimes common to many.

Ulistac -- What's in a Name?

“Ulis” was an Ohlone chief, and his village, in this general location, where seasonal campsites once existed, was called “Ulistac.” The name “Rancho Ulistac” was adapted in 1845 to describe the Mexican land grant for this same area.

This area along the Guadalupe River has undergone many changes through time.
  • Before 1776: A rich lowland valley where the Ohlone lived.
  • 1776 through the 1800s: Ranchland for grazing cattle and sheep.
  • Late 1800s through 1950s: Cultivated fields and orchards. (Photo: Courtesy of the California History Center Foundation, De Anza College, Cupertino, CA)
  • 1960s through 1970s: A golf course. (Photo: Courtesy of the City of Santa Clara.)
  • Today: A natural park. (Photo: © Frank Balthis.)

Rancho Ulistac
Changing Lands, Changing Hands

The Spanish established nearby Mission Santa Clara in 1777. They used the surrounding land as pastures for cattle and sheep, a move that had profound ecological effects. Native grasslands were soon overgrazed, so ranchers seeded the pastures with fast-growing exotic (non-native) grasses. Native grasses soon disappeared from the landscape.

With their lands and lifestyles disrupted by the mission, many native people left the area. Others who remained were lured into the mission system and were forced into hard labor and a complete cultural change. Disease, unknown to the Indians before European arrival, ravaged the dwindling local population.

California passed from Spanish to Mexican to American rule between 1822 and 1846. Likewise, ownership of Rancho Ulistac passed from the church to Native American and then to European American hands. Farming and grazing continued here during that time.
The Guadalupe River was used to transport goods to market until the mid-1800s, when Alviso, at the mouth of the river, was made into a seaport. Native people were believed to have been involved in this commerce both during and after the mission period.
This 1845 map of Rancho Ulistac identifies several Indian dwellings and a garden along the Guadalupe. The Native American owners, Marcello, Pio, and Cristobal, stayed in the area after the mission system was abolished and built three houses and a sweat lodge. Their garden produced corn, beans, and wheat.

(Note that the map orientation is upside down. North is to the bottom right of the map.)

Latitude: 37.405511 Longitude: -121.955155 ( decimal)
Elevation: 12ft, 4m.

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Date and time this article was prepared:8:15:59 AM, 7/13/2024.