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
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
- 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
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:11:02:42 AM, 1/15/2021.