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Rancho San Vicente
20 Feb 2011
The preserve has large areas of rock-strewn serpentine soil.
The serpentine soil layer is thin and lacking in nutrients.
Only the hardiest trees and shrubs can survive in such poor soil.
But by mid-March, serpentine areas are carpeted with wildflowers.
Big-berry Manzanita, a tree-sized native shrub, thrive in small, dense groves at Rancho San Vicente.
Black-tailed deer like these are often seen grazing on its grassy hillsides.
The massive serpentine-rock spine, at about 10 o'clock in this photo, shows its volcanic origin.
Serpentine is igneous rock, born of fire deep in the earth's magma core.
Pressures along the earth's tectonic plates forces liquid serpentine upwards
through fissures along fault lines to the surface where exposed it hardens.
Areas with the highest amounts of serpentine often produce spectacular wildflower displays.
Photo taken 26 March 2010, Rancho San Vicente.
We start to see the first spring wildflowers in mid-February.
On grassy hillsides, especially in areas of serpentine, tiny Red Maids bloom.
A series of dirt roads wind their way through sections of Rancho San Vicente.
North and south-facing slopes in this canyon illustrate topo-climate areas.
North-facing slopes hold more moisture, hence they are more hospitable for vegetation.
A north-facing hillside clothed in moss-embellished Coast Live Oak.
Down canyon, run off from recent rains turned this area into a soggy morass several feet wide.
A small waterfall spills over a stone bank as it flows down canyon.
On drier, south-facing slopes, serpentine rock seeps like this one are common.
Groves of Coast Live Oaks crown hillsides throughout the preserve.
Near a lower boundary of the preserve, a side road heads up a narrow canyon towards a distant ridge.
The canyon is drained by tiny creeks and run off from small stock ponds.
The grassy trackway climbs gradually uphill.
With increased elevation, the scenery gradually changes.
Water from a hidden spring bubbled over the exposed rock in foreground.
Not a strong hiker, I appreciated the gentle route the road took to reach this spot on the ridge top.
We were within sight of a boundary dividing Rancho San Vicente from Calero County Park.
The grassy trackway continues over the ridge directly beneath this tree's limb-archway.
Moving beyond forest areas into more open grasslands.
Distant view of Calero Reservoir and adjacent Calero County Park.
Cattle enjoying the warmth of the sun on an open, grassy hilltop.
Cattle grazing is beneficial. Cattle prefer nutrient-rich non-native grasses to less tasty native species.
State law mandates the maximum cow/calf per acre ratio to ensure pasture lands are not over grazed.
In the distance what looked like an old stone wall.
In serpentine areas looks can be deceiving. These are row upon row of natural outcroppings.
Following the slope downhill, the old stone wall came into view.
Section of old stone wall, looking west towards Almaden Valley.
A simple barrier or boundary line, maybe 3 feet at its highest.
Looking east, towards the ridge top where we were standing when we first caught sight of the wall.
The stone wall ends in a small grove of trees that may not have been growing when the wall was built.
A solitary oak on a ridge strewn with serpentine.
Like these deer, it was time we too beat-feet out of the area.
Go to for more information on upcoming Rancho San Vicente hikes.
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