Redwood Ridge and the Parkridge land bridge

19 February 2018

Redwood Ridge is a name I made up to keep things straight. Let’s start with the part of the USGS topo map showing the south end of Oakland’s redwood country. Redwood Ridge is just east of Skyline Ridge (another name I made up), which starts where Joaquin Miller Road meets Skyline and extends to Lake Chabot.

Oakland was a redwood lumbering town before it was anything else, and the great redwood groves gave their name to features all over the hills. Redwood Peak sits at the top of the map, and east of it is Redwood Creek running down a straight valley that leads to Upper San Leandro Reservoir. That valley has no formal name, so I dub it Redwood Valley, the valley of Redwood Creek.

A major tributary of Redwood Creek flows out of a steep-walled valley named Redwood Canyon, clearly marked on the topo map starting with the 1947 edition. So, Redwood Canyon cuts through Redwood Ridge and ends in Redwood Valley at the point where Redwood Road meets Redwood Creek. Got all that? Good, because I won’t repeat it.

From here on out I’ll show maps that have been tilted for easier viewing. Here’s Redwood Ridge in the handy terrain view of Google Maps.

This post is about the south part of Redwood Ridge. It’s a pretty cool piece of land, just to look at on the map.

The top side is bounded by Redwood Valley and the left side is defined by the lower part of Redwood Canyon, a classic water gap. Now look at the bottom side. On the right is Grass Valley, with Grass Valley Creek flowing through it down to Lake Chabot. On the left is a smaller valley that lines up with the upper part of Redwood Canyon. It has an unnamed stream in it. I’ll call it MacDonald Creek, because that’s the name of the trail there.

The last thing to notice is that little land bridge leading from the end of Parkridge Drive, right where the valleys of MacDonald and Grass Valley Creeks meet. The two creeks have been eroding their way toward each other. They seem to be evenly matched, but I think Grass Valley Creek may have a slight edge. The photo portion of this post starts there.

But first, the bedrock map. It shows that those two creeks have been exploiting the softer rock of the Shephard Creek Formation (Ksc), sandwiched between the Oakland Conglomerate (Ko) holding up Skyline Ridge and the Redwood Canyon Formation (Kr) holding up Redwood Ridge. Rare are the places where Oakland’s bedrock is expressed so clearly on the landscape.

And here’s the park map with the details on the trails.

As you descend Parkridge Drive to the trailhead, Redwood Ridge appears as an island of forest.

In my three visits here, dog walkers made up the great majority of people using the park. (Be sure you or your walker supports the park by carrying a permit and following the rules.)

Starting out across the bridge feels magical.

And at the right time of day as if by magic, the bedding planes of the Shephard Creek Formation appear out of nowhere. The geologic map indicates that these beds are overturned.

The view from the bridge extends to the right down Grass Valley toward distant Fremont Peak.

And to the left, the view from front to back encompasses MacDonald Creek valley, Redwood Canyon, the massif of Redwood Peak and Round Top beyond with its bare southern shoulder. Redwood Canyon still grows a few redwoods, but in the mid-1800s they must have filled the canyon to the brim.

The MacDonald Trail is excellent for all users, including horses and (since 2016) bikes. The woods are enchanting in any weather, but they photograph best on shady days.

So does the bedrock in the road. The Redwood Canyon Formation is primarily fine- to medium-grained sandstone that shows the marks acquired over 80 million years of geologic history. It’s soft enough to be graded without blasting. The ridge stands as high as it does not because the rock is especially hard, but because it absorbs water so well, inhibiting the surface runoff that so effectively erodes the stream valleys all around it.

Off the road, the sandstone occasionally crops out in bulbous boulders. When Jim Case mapped these rocks for his PhD thesis in the early 1960s, he described these as “cannonball concretions,” but from my observations so far I think he was mistaken, and the description of this unit on the geologic map (circa 2000) does not mention them either. I think this is ordinary weathering like you see in arid and semiarid country all over the West.

The previous three photos are from the north side of the trail. The south side offers wider views of Grass Valley and beyond to Loma Prieta and the Sierra Azul west of San Jose at far right.

And you must not miss the stub of Brittleleaf Trail, which leads to a sandstone spur overlooking lower Redwood Valley. Surrounded by blooming manzanita at this time of year, the tranquil spot hums with bees and invites a long sit. Naturally I inspected the sandstone and determined to my satisfaction that its beds are overturned and dip steeply at 75 degrees. Notice that the fractures in the sandstone have no relationship to the original bedding.

The view south from here looks over the reservoir and watershed lands, the bare green ridge known as The Knife west of San Ramon, and the Diablo Range mountains south of Livermore against the horizon.

The view north, from far to near, includes the Briones Hills, tower-topped Mulholland Hill in Orinda and Moraga, the south end of grassy Gudde Ridge with its water gap where Canyon Road cuts through, a bit of wooded Canyon Ridge, and chaparral-covered Pinehurst Ridge, the type area of the Pinehurst Shale. All are worthy destinations of their own.

This is the best time of year to see these lands. Among other reasons, the poison oak has begun to sprout, making it easily visible, but not yet spread over the woods and side trails, keeping you out.

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Care and grooming of rocks and outcrops

5 February 2018

Photographers know that everything about a great shot depends on how you set it up. As I capture images of geological subjects, part of the setup involves prepping the model. Often it’s just a matter of removing a few stray twigs to get a decent picture, like these serpentine stream cobbles in Joaquin Miller Park.

Only rarely does nature present rocks in an untouchably satisfying way — and to tell the truth I might have brushed off a cobweb before I took this portrait of laminated siltstone in Shepherd Canyon.

But around here, as opposed to the Grand Canyon, rock exposures are generally kinda shabby. What are you going to do? Rocks are made underground, and once exposed to surface conditions they start to break down. And vegetation doesn’t care where it sheds things.

In many of my outings, I find myself doing some housecleaning. Whenever I lead a walk, it’s mandatory for me to go over the route beforehand and groom the features I plan to show off, like the splendid exposures of the Oakland Conglomerate in Montclair.

This textbook example of load casts always requires a thorough weeding session, followed by a good sweep with my umpire’s brush. Because shale wants nothing more than to return to clay, and weeds like nothing more than decayed shale.

There’s an outcrop in Dimond Canyon, along the trail, that I always take a minute to groom. The last time I did this I took these before-and-after shots.

This is something that any of you can do too, if the spirit moves you. I know people who routinely carry tools to prune snaggy or undesirable vegetation along the trail in a discreet way. Sometimes I do that, but more often I stick to grooming the outcrops. Because who else will? While one of my principles is to “leave the stone alone,” the stone can use a bit of care here and there. That’s my contribution to the geoparks movement in a country that badly needs it.

Tour of the Fan: Lobe 3

22 January 2018

This post takes a look at lobe 3 of the Fan. To orient you as we start, here’s where lobe 3 fits in the bigger picture on the geologic map.

This is the best time of year to walk around the Fan, in the Oakland midlands. When the trees are bare you can see farther and better — the landscape’s bones stand out, and the homes do too. So get yourself on out!

This lobe is more difficult to explore than the others. One problem is that the trees are larger and the landscaping thicker, which makes it hard to get a good view around you. Another is that the streets are laid out in a distributary fashion — that is, you aren’t expected to drive through it except in a couple of places. You’re supposed to drive into it, to your single-family home or small apartment building, and out of it, to work or shop. So getting around in any other direction is not straightforward.

Maybe this will be clearer on the geologic map. For convenience, I’ve divided the lobe into four sublobes.

I tend to analyze landforms from their ridgetops and divides and saddles, features on top of the land. But lobe 3 may be easier to comprehend as a set of stream valleys dissecting a highland, as shown in this watershed map from the county flood control district.

As with the other parts of the Fan, the edges of lobe 3 are pretty clear-cut. This is typical of eroded landscapes in arid country, which is interesting because Oakland isn’t especially arid these days. It was during glacial times, though. Here’s the north edge at the south end of Ramona Avenue, just west of Mountain View Cemetery in the valley of Glen Echo Creek.

This view across the Glen Echo Creek valley up Monte Vista Avenue gives a better idea of the height of this lobe — about 80 feet here, but it seems like much more.

At its westernmost edge, the lobe starts right where the Whole Foods store stands. Everything in front of the far hills is part of the Fan.

This shot from the toe of the Calmar sublobe shows why the Fan has always been land to make homebuilders salivate: fantastic views of the city, the Bay and the Golden Gate. Adams Point fills the middle ground.

And here’s a final view across the edge of the lobe, this time as seen from the freeway overpass over the homes in Trestle Glen. Longridge Road along the top gives its name to this sublobe.

The Adams Point sublobe is larger, but a little lower than the others, reaching about 160 feet elevation. Its highest ridge, along Fairmount, Kingston and Rose Streets, offers good views north toward lobe 2.

Points on the other side, like Jean Street and the knob of Nace Avenue, overlook nice vistas south and east. Or Cambridge Avenue.

The Warfield sublobe is a highlight of geology ramble 4. Whereas the Adams Point sublobe has saddles where three roads cross it (Santa Clara, Linda and Grand Avenues), you have to hump Warfield Ridge over Mandana Boulevard, as here:

or go up the Bushy Dell Creek valley on Wildwood Avenue and over to Winsor Avenue. In between it’s a bit intimidating, as seen from the foot of Jean Street.

The Calmar and Longridge sublobes are the highest, reaching well over 200 feet elevation at their upper ends. Longridge is particularly hard on landscape photographers because there are so many mature trees and big homes. (If only it were 100 years ago, when this whole tract was bare hills.) But I like this shot from Long Ridge. On the right edge it shows the red-brick Grandview Apartments building (Warfield sublobe), the Spanish Revival apartment complex on Crescent Street (Adams Point sublobe), and behind them the big palm tree at the top of MacArthur by the Chetwood overcrossing. A little bit of Elwood Street is visible to their left.

But if finding big views is frustrating, it’s easy to find cute little pocket valleys all over lobe 3. The only one I’ll point to here is the one with the Morcom Rose Garden in it.

Here’s where all twelve photos were taken.

A walk around Lake Merritt in 2100, after sea-level rise

8 January 2018

Everybody walks around Lake Merritt. I do it all the time. But I got the wacky idea of a walk that circles the lake without “touching” it — sort of a “floor is molten lava” version — and pedestrian paths count. Here’s what that would look like.

That’s a fun walk through some fine neighborhoods, and about 1-1/2 miles longer than sticking to the shore. The only quibble is at Grand and Euclid: you might be safer from the lava if you left Grand a block west, up Bellevue, but you’d miss some rare little streets and a stairway.

Then I thought, What will it be like after a century or so of sea-level rise? How would people get around the swollen lake in 2100? Laying out that walk required more care. The forecasts of future sea levels vary widely — so much depends on Antarctica and human actions — but a summary by NASA puts the worst-case upper limit at 2 meters above today’s elevation by the year 2100.

You could walk all over the lake shore and eyeball 2 meters elevation — and I did do that — but fortunately there’s a better tool available at the Risk Finder site, by Climate Central. That’s where I compiled the map below (1200 x 1000), showing the areas around Lake Merritt that would be inundated by a 2-meter sea-level rise. (You’ll also find a big page of stuff about Oakland.)

The map shows we’d lose nearly all of the shoreline roads. Along the west arm of the lake, most of Lakeside Drive would go under, and the water would reach up Harrison all the way to Whole Foods.

In Lakeside Park, the bandstand and the whole bird sanctuary would be submerged, though the rest of the park is on a Pleistocene marine terrace and would stay dry.

The east end of the lake would really take a hit. Forget the pergola — all of Eastshore Park would turn into tidal wetland, and Splash Pad Park? It’d be just Splash Park.

Grand Avenue as far as Elwood we’d have to rename Grand Canal. All the properties lining Lake Park Avenue would get their feet wet, including the Grand Lake Theatre, and a bunch of shops on Lakeshore.

Down at the boat landing, E. 18th Street would be underwater all the way to Park Boulevard, wiping out the heart of that commercial district.

And the Lake Merritt Amphitheater would mostly go under, though the roadway — Lake Merritt Boulevard — would be fine. So would the pedestrian bridge, for what that’s worth.

The geologic map shows that the new wetlands around the lake would be in areas of artificial fill (af), and because fill isn’t built up any higher than strictly necessary, it’s vulnerable to rising seas. In planning my round-the-lake walk I kept things simple and assumed the roads in these areas will be abandoned (but see more below).

Walking around the lake in 2100, you’d have to give a wide berth to “Thomas L. Berkley Creek” under 20th Street, Glen Echo Creek under Harrison, Pleasant Valley and Trestle Glen Creeks under Grand Lake, and Park Boulevard Creek under E. 18th. These detours will put you up in the hills, because that part of town is either really flat or stairstep steep. On the positive side, that terrain (lobes 3 and 4 of the Fan) is what makes Adams Point, Lakeshore and Cleveland Heights so charming.

Given all that, I came up with this 2100 Walk Around Lake Merritt.

Notice that almost none of it actually “touches” the lake. The shoreline roads will be swamped, along with each of the stream valleys entering the lake. As I field-checked this walk by eyeball, at two places in particular it looked like you’d still need wellies. One spot is Sunset Cove, at the north end of Wayne where it meets Wesley Avenue (at the end of the word “Lakeshore” on the map).

If that’s off limits (and the inundation map says it is) you’d need to climb up Newton instead and come down Stow, which would definitely call for a pizza slice from Leaning Tower (if it’s still there in 2100) to get you over that hump.

The other spot is on Harrison at the Whole Foods. If Bay Place (the continuation of 27th Street) isn’t above water, you’d have to detour up Vernon and traverse the hills of Adams Point on Lee Street to get back down to Grand Avenue. But you might as well stay up high, because the only way across the freeway, short of climbing all the way up to the Chetwood Street overcrossing and back down Santa Clara (about a half-mile detour), is the amazing pedestrian/bike crossing at the end of Van Buren Avenue. Here’s the view from the west end over I-580.

And from the end of the cage section, you can see the east end, where it winds behind the Lakeview School and then over the freeway onramp.

If I ran this city, I’d refurbish this valuable bypass with an arched cage of clean chainlink that allows better views. And while I was at it I’d build another overcrossing on the other side of Grand Lake, connecting the severed parts of Wesley Avenue, because the climb up to MacArthur and down again is oppressive (though picturesque).

And why not? Because in the next hundred years we’ll be doing a lot of building and rebuilding. Taking this walk will force you to picture your great-grandchildren’s landscape in detail. And in my vision, unlike my fever dream, the lakeside streets are too important to abandon to the rising sea. They’ll be built up. We’ll still be able to walk around the lake along the shore, and we won’t have to take the route I mapped out.

However, the buildings along the shore are a different story. Here’s a little-appreciated geological fact: as the sea rises, so will the groundwater in the dry land along the coast. Basements that are a few feet above the water table today will be permanent pools in 2100. Streets laid down on dry ground will find their roadbeds turning mushy, more prone to traffic damage. In that respect, rising sea levels will affect things much farther from shore than the tides reach.

By 2100, today’s lakeside buildings will have gone through two or three more mortgage cycles — plus at least one damaging earthquake — and will be a century older. Given that, I think the apartment buildings on Lakeshore, for instance, will be dismantled by then and their lots condemned. And the road will move onto their old footprints.

The largest and most valuable structures will stay on — the Kaiser Center and its neighbor the Lake Merritt Plaza building, the cathedral, 1200 Lakeshore, St. Paul Tower, the Grand Lake Theatre and so on. Their owners will cope by reinforcing the basement levels and installing permanent sump pumps.

Buildings of lesser prestige, despite their historic value and charm, will face hard choices well before 2100.

The city will need policies in place to handle sea-level rise. But it’s possible that everything we do to cope can be done in an orderly way. That will require far-sighted city officials, and voters, to ensure sound long-term budgets and timely bond issues.

That will be a test.

On the other hand, a lot can change in a hundred years — just look back to 1918.

This post is dedicated to the people born this year, who will be 82 years old in 2100.