The California Rock Garden

Students examining rock in garden

Integrating the campus landscape into its academic culture

The California Rock Garden was created out of the vision of several UC Davis alumni, faculty, staff, and friends, who wanted to adorn the exterior of the newly constructed Earth and Physical Sciences building with both native California plants and rocks. The (then) Geology Department partnered with the UC Davis Arboretum to make this space part of the GATEways Project that integrates the campus landscape into its academic culture.

Visiting the Rock Garden

The California Rock Garden is open to the public every day. Located primarily along the eastern and southern sides of the Earth and Physical Sciences building, the garden features boulders and core samples representing various geologic features of California.

Amassing, transporting, and installing over fifty boulders for the California Rock Garden turned out to be a major logistical undertaking. UC Davis Geology alumnus Jeff Light (M.S., 2001) was working as a geologist for Granite Construction in 2008. Granite Construction has rock quarries throughout the state and – through Jeff’s efforts – they set aside and eventually transported around thirty specimen boulders for the California Rock Garden. Homestake Mining and the McLaughlin Natural Reserve donated a dozen or so boulders of hydrothermal sinter and volcanic breccia. Emgold Mining of Grass Valley donated an additional dozen 5' diameter cores of serpentinite and gabbro recovered from an 1125' vertical ventilation shaft bored into the Idaho Maryland Mine in the 1930’s.

Donations from passionate individuals rounded out the California Rock Garden collection. Donn Ristau (Ph.D., 1977) and Skyler Phelps donated a boulder of Turritella-bearing sandstone from Cement Hill in Solano County. Jim Wood donated several large fragments of petrified “drift” wood from Tertiary gravels in the Sierra foothills. And perhaps the masterpiece of the California Rock Garden – a giant polished slab of greenstone from the Smartville ophiolite – was prepared and donated by Ralph Mullican of Yuba Blue Boulders.

The California Rock Garden has been integrated into “field” exercises for introductory classes like Physical Geology, as well as upper division Geology major courses in Structural Geology, Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, and Field Methods. But it is also a destination location for scores of K-12 school groups from the greater Davis/Sacramento area. A quick stop off of I-80, it’s a great place to see California geology up close.

map of the California Rock Garden ]
campus map ] [ downloadable pdf campus map ]

Directions: From I-80, take the UC Davis exit, turn in the direction of campus on Old Davis Road and proceed past the Information Booth. Continue straight towards the Mondavi Center where the road becomes New Davis Road. Visitor parking is available in Visitor Parking Lots everyday, and in Parking Lots on weekends except during special events.