The full moon remained shrouded behind clouds, but the three dozen hikers nonetheless were treated to wildflowers, tent caterpillars and snatches of the history of the Montini Ranch Open Space Preserve in Sonoma.

The recent ?moonlight hike? was one of several offered this spring around Sonoma County. The outings provide the means to get on land that often has limited access to the public.

Montini Ranch, once part of the domain of Gen. Mariano Vallejo, abuts the Sonoma State Historic Park and Vallejo Home.

?It forms the hillside backdrop above the town of Sonoma, so it?s what you?re looking at if you?re at the Plaza,? said Caitlin Cornwall, a biologist with the Sonoma Ecology Center, which sponsored the hike.

Mark Newhouse, the ecology center?s restoration projects manager, called the ranch an important property in an urban setting, ?and yet it still has a wonderful oak forest.?

Arthur Dawson, the center?s historical ecologist, said the ranch also has a history of basalt mining. More than 100 years ago Italian stonecutters cut cobblestones there. The stones later were taken to Shellville and shipped out by boat to pave the streets around the Bay Area and as far away as Sacramento and Stockton.

Sonoma County supervisors approved protecting the 151-acre ranch in 2005. Under the purchase plan, $11.5 million came from the county?s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, $1.15 million from the city of Sonoma and $1.25 million from the state Coastal Conservancy. Funding for the open space district comes from a quarter-cent sales tax.

On May 2, the Ecology Center will lead another hike at Montini Ranch that focuses on the geology of the land. The hike will be from 9 to 11 a.m. To reserve a spot, contact Elly Seelye at 996-0712 ext. 124 or e-mail at:

Here are other less trampled spots for spring hikes:

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