Paicines Ranch Features
One of the things that makes the Paicines Ranch unique is the variety of water features, each of which creates different habitat and management challenges. They include the San Benito River, the Paicines Reservoir, the Teal Pond, and the Walnut Cienega. Our management strategy is to slow the water down, keep it out of the river and flowing across the landscape for as long as possible, and create as much healthy, diverse wetland habitat as possible. All of the wetlands and riparian areas are grazed using holistic planned grazing concepts.
Because of the wide range of habitats and the variety of water features, the ranch is home to a large number of bird species. In the uplands it is quite common to see red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, harriers, and magpies. The Paicines Reservoir and the Walnut Cienega host large numbers of migrating water birds, especially in the fall. The riparian areas are home to large numbers of songbirds.
The ranch is home to a wide variety of wildlife, along with our cattle. It is not unusual to see bobcats, black-tailed deer, coyotes, feral pigs, and wild turkeys. Mountain lion sightings are rare, but the big cats' tracks can often be spotted. There is a huge population of ground squirrels, a keystone species of California grasslands. They support our large populations of hawks and eagles, create burrows for a variety of other animals, and turn over huge amounts of soil and bury tons of organic matter each year. Muskrats are busily at work managing the pond and wetlands, and you can occasionally see badgers and weasels.
Because of our different habitats, our plant variety is quite large. We are still in the process of identifying our wetland plants, but we do have large stands of creeping wildrye (leymus tritichoides), usually near water. In the uplands we have increasing numbers of purple needlegrass (nasella pulchra), the state grass, along with poa secunda, fdestuca idahoensis, and melica. Some years we have large displays of wildflowers, including 3 types of lupine, poppies, and shooting stars. The upland habitats include open grasslands, blue oak savanah, and sage chaparral.
The 57 acres of the historic headquarters are home to a wide variety of historic buildings, dating from the 1860's to the present. Most of them have been restored and are in daily use as part of ranch operations or our event center. There are extensive lawns and landscaping, along with a large number of Shona sculptures from Zimbabwe. The ranch signature wind sculpture, titled Bio Ballet, and commissioned from wind sculptor Susan Pascal-Beran can be found in front of the historic Grogan house.
The ranch buildings date from 4 distinct periods in the life of the ranch. The oldest buildings date from the second half of the 19th century and are located together in the northwest corner of headquarters. They include the Grogan House, the guest cottage, and the Grogan barn and were built while Alexander Grogan and his sister owned the ranch.
The next spurt of building took place in the first 20 years of the 20th century when the ranch was owned by Kingsley Macomber. All of the Moorish style buildings, including the U-shaped horse barn, the old water tank, the well and pump houses, a residence, and the garage date from that period. There are also some more utilitarian buildings from this period, including the old stud barn. During this period the infrastructure of the ranch was completely re-built with a new water system, phones, and electricity.
During the rest of the 20th century, a variety of buildings were constructed, including the large pole barn, which was used for alfalfa processing, a Sears kit house, and a new home for the ranch foreman. We are not sure how old the small building used as the ranch office is, but it is constructed of 3 small buildings which have been joined together, one of which we believe was moved to the site from Bolado Park.
Matt Christiano and Sallie Calhoun purchased the ranch in 2001, and have done very little building, preferring to restore and use the buildings that are already at headquarters.
The new ranch owners were also long-time collectors of Shona sculpture from Zimbabwe, and the gardens at the ranch have provided the perfect setting for some of that artwork. They commissioned the large wind sculpture as representative of the ranch ecosystem. The blue blades are the color of water, which is prevalent at the ranch, but in the shape of the golden hills. The tall circular blades represent the color of the sun, and all of the small moving parts inside them represent the various plants and animals found on the ranch. As they turn they create a sound meant to evoke the sound of the wind through the willows. They all move and function separately, but are inextricably linked into a single whole, just like the ranch ecosystem.
The largest feature is the San Benito River, which runs approximately 7 mi north-to-south down the middle of the ranch. The river is dammed approximately 60 miles upstream at Hernandez Dam, which was built in the 1930's to provide flood protection. The river is silt-laden and inspite of the dam does experience large spring flows, which contribute to the sand banks and numerous meanders found on the ranch. The river is bordered by a riparian area, which varies in width from about half a mile to 100yards. The river is grazed at least once each year for a limited amount of time. Our management goals include providing enough rest from grazing for the understory plants to grow, keeping the river shaded, and encouraging growth of willows, sedges, rushes, and grass that can slow the river when it is high and promote the deposition of silt, along with providing much-needed habitat. It is estimated that approximately 95% of the riparian habitat in California has been lost, so we have a goal of maximizing this type of habitat on the ranch.
The best known water feature on the ranch is the Paicines Reservoir, a well-known birding location. The reservoir is filled through a ditch from the San Benito River and is used to move water into the Tres Pinos Creek so that it can percolate and recharge the local aquifer. The current reservoir was built around 1913, It usually peaks in size in April or May, and shrinks until the following winter, occasionally going completely dry. It is home to many water birds and to many migrating birds, especially during the fall. The reservoir can be seen from a pull-out on Hwy 25 in Paicines.
There is a small pond, known as the Teal Pond just below headquarters that is fed by a perennial spring. The pond is home to a number of different varieties of ducks and other water birds. The resident muskrats do most of the work of managing the pond, including keeping some bare sand bars to go along with patches of open water and large patches of rushes.
There are a number of perennial springs on the ranch, most of which are associated with wetland areas or cienegas. A cienega is a wetland formed by slow, shallow flow of water over a valley floor. The flow is fed by a perennial spring in a location with a year-round growing season. These occur generally only in the southwestern United States and Mexico. Our most prominent cienega, the Walnut Cienega, was created in the summer of 2009 and continues to grow and evolve.
The ranch is also home to Matt Christiano's pinball collection, along with samples from 6 other collections on loan. Visitors are often amazed by the quantity and variety of the pinball collection, which spans 9 decades - from the 1930s to the present,including the first mass-produced pinball machine (Gottlieb's Baffle Ball) and one of the latest (Stern Star Wars). On special occasions, the pinball barn is opened for visitors to enjoy. You can see some pictures of the pinball collection in the photo gallery here.