The upper Piedmont walk (#29)

This hills-and-paths walk is number 29, “Upper Piedmont Park,” in Charles Fleming’s Secret Stairs East Bay. It’s short and steep and quite scenic. Here’s the street route:

The geology is entirely on sandstone and related rocks of the Novato Quarry terrane of the Franciscan complex, so the geologic map looks a little boring, but the topography is on there too.

The numbers on the street route correspond to the photos that follow. The starting point is the elaborate exedra of Piedmont Park. It evokes the atmosphere of Piedmont’s first business, a “sulphur springs” resort that once sat here above the little city of Oakland.

Go behind the exedra and find the stairway down into the shady valley of Brushy Dell Creek. We have great weather in Oakland, but if you ever need to escape the heat, come here.

Brushy Dell Creek runs through a steep little ravine that exposes some bedrock ledges in the streambed: enigmatic Franciscan metamudstone. There is no trace of anything you might call a sulfur spring. Who knows what it really was.

This set of stairs on the other side is lined with serpentinite boulders for a colorful effect. But serpentine rock is not local to this spot; that would appear in the Franciscan melange higher up in the Piedmont hills at the Oakland line, the purplish patch in the geologic map.

After this the walk goes up into the hills where the views are wide. The local swales and ridges are charming.

The stairways and paths were designed into the neighborhoods back when streetcar lines served them. A hundred years ago it was still a virtue not to rely on a motorcar for commuting—automobiles were for pleasure and travel, and walking was simply the way humans were built to get around.

There is not a lot of bedrock exposed on this route, which is a bit surprising. But the Franciscan sandstone doesn’t have the variety of rocks that the melange has. It was quarried rather than cherished. However, this spot along Scenic Avenue exposes some of the shale that accompanies the sandstone.

Soon enough you get to the last, longest set of stairs. Be sure to turn around now and then as you ascend, to take in the views.

At the top is a little saddle from which you can peek across the neighboring ravine known as Moraga Canyon and spot the high Oakland Hills beyond.

The long stairs down from this point have the mark of their maker, the longtime contractor Ransome Construction Company. At one time Ransome operated the big Leona Quarry; at another time they were in Emeryville. Today they’re in San Leandro and going strong.

The end of the walk takes you along Highland Avenue, which as far as I can tell is the longest level road in Piedmont.

This topographic accident was surely exploited by the town’s founders to connect Moraga Avenue, the oldest road in the area, to the spring resort. And the street imposed its axis on the surrounding roads to make up the town’s largest area of traditional square blocks and straight roadways, a little bit of “flats” in a hilly community.

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