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Alamo, California

The Cow Bones of Mount Diablo

Cows on a ranch are commonplace, scattered cow bones everywhere? Not so much. 

Where there are cattle, there are eventually dead cattle, and Macedo Ranch has no shortage of bovines.

In the public foothills of Mt. Diablo State Park, you can’t miss the cows, but you might have to look a little more closely (and toward your feet) to find the bones that also litter these pastoral hills. 

The cattle occupy the niche of the long-since extirpated bison in this Northern California landscape. They graze and private ranch owners farm them for meat. Occasionally the cattle die before they make it to the chopping block and people and animals scavenge the pieces, leaving legs and ribs and vertebrae to be slowly buried and grown over.

The trails around Macedo Ranch are some of the most scenic trails on this quiet mountain with the sinister name. Called “Monte del Diablo” (meaning “mountain of the devil”) by Spaniards who blamed the disappearance of several Native American captives into a willow thicket on Satan himself, Mt. Diablo is a popular spot for Bay Area nature lovers. Small waterfalls, canopies, creeks, and an exposed dike flesh out the landscape, while flocks of red-winged blackbirds flit through the trees and perch on cattails. 

Since these are naturally grazed lands, the bones are not moved or cleaned from the area. They are left to return to the earth where the cow fell, creating a strange and unusual landscape of actual life and death – not what we’re used to seeing on a well-maintained cattle ranch, but a nice hunting ground for those who like to bone-collect.