Archive for May, 2008

Panoramic Way in (yes) Oakland

29 May 2008

panoramic way

Panoramic Way is one amazing street. It starts in Berkeley right at the Cal Stadium, crosses the Hayward fault immediately, and winds upward into the hills past one fine house after another. Then it enters Oakland, forming the spine of the city’s northernmost neighborhood. On a day like today, the view is as good as it is from anywhere in the bay area. Some day I’ll climb Panoramic Way all the way to its top, but today I’m beat.

Bedrock is scarce, but what I saw in one spot looked mighty like the basalt of the Rockridge Shopping Center quarry:

panoramic way

But the area is mapped as Great Valley Complex. Go figure.

Sulfur mine creek

25 May 2008

Lion Creek drains Laundry Canyon in the Leona Heights and Crestmont neigborhoods as well as the former Leona Quarry lands. It runs through Mills College, past Evergreen Cemetery, and into the bay at 66th Avenue — it’s the stagnant creek you see from BART just north of the Coliseum.

This is one strand of its headwaters, coming out of a former pyrite mine at the end of McDonell Avenue. The local chapter of the Society for Industrial Archeology says about this mine, the Leona Heights mine, “From the 1890’s to the mid 1930’s, iron pyrite was mined here and at the nearby Alma mine. It was processed into sulfuric acid at the Stege Works of Stauffer Chemical in Richmond (and other sites).” The photo was taken in 2003; I think it’s a little better today. The orange is iron oxides, not especially poisonous, but it looks awful. As I imperfectly understand it, sulfuric acid in the drainage water drops this mineral as it is neutralized. The acid comes from sulfur-eating bacteria in the mine environment.

Yes, Oakland has its own example of the same acid mine drainage that plagues the Appalachian states and many other lands. Every place the pioneers came to, they began mining everything they could, because that was the only way to build civilization. Sulfur is essential for gunpowder, and pyrite was the readiest source. Coal came from the Contra Costa hills, mercury from San Jose and from points north, lime from the San Mateo coast (and the local shellmounds), rock of all kinds from the Oakland Hills. This place was rich in timber and pasturage, we all know, but rich in minerals too.

The Big-Enough One

21 May 2008

The theme of this month’s Accretionary Wedge blog carnival is, “a geological event you consider most significant to you.” I know what that one is. It didn’t awaken my sense of awe and turn me toward science. It didn’t injure me or make me rich or poor. No famous historical figure was involved. But the very month my wife and I moved to Oakland, the Loma Prieta earthquake changed the city irreversibly.

Those first couple weeks of October 1989 were fun. We loved having a proper downtown with fine old buildings, great weather, a lively cultural scene and a city with real geography to it. We had moved our stuff from the house in Concord and were readying it for the next owner, so at 5:04 pm on 17 October we were out of town, cleaning the old house for the last time. It was totally empty. The shaking went on for a long time, but out there it wasn’t very strong. Driving back to Oakland a little later, we felt worse and worse as the news rolled in and the signs of damage appeared.

There was a pall over Oakland for a long time. I felt it for years, not just on the anniversaries but every time I went downtown; every time a new friend or neighbor told their earthquake stories and listened to ours; every time I saw the news from other places and people struck by earthquake. Even now the effects linger in the scars left on the map, buildings left empty and the new Bay Bridge yet unfinished. And while the downtown, the weather, the scene and the land have endured, I now have a deep-seated relationship with earthquakes, Oakland geology and the Hayward fault that gives me a pang every time I feel the little shakers from beneath our side of the bay and think of the Big One to come.

The US Geological Survey has unveiled three new publications on the Hayward fault, all of them well worthwhile. They are a four-page fact sheet on the current hazard, a 96-page field guide with tons of information and photos covering the whole length of the fault, and a Google-Earth virtual tour for deep background and visualization. Get learning!

The top knocker of Mountain View Cemetery

17 May 2008


Up at the very top of the public part of Mountain View Cemetery is this knocker. I think it has a mixture of rock types in it, but I haven’t lain down on it with my magnifier to tease them out. For now let’s call it greenstone, which is how the area is mapped. The stone is a bit dirty, unlike every other knocker in the yard. The groundskeepers ought to give it a good scrubbing with a water jet.

Across the road from here the other week, I passed a pile of rock and soil from a grave excavation and fingered a few of the stones—looked like a gray basalt. Greenstone is a mildly metamorphosed basalt; it often has wiggly veins of carbonate. See three examples starting here. It is somewhere between about 160 and 70 million years old, that is, Jurassic to Cretaceous.

The view of the bay and the city from up here is fantastic. The view of the hills has potential. The cemetery is slowly getting rid of the eucalyptus along the east side, and more and more of the lush hills and neighborhoods is visible every year.

Oakland Earth Art

14 May 2008

stone flower

In front of a building on Jean Street near Grand Avenue is an installation of stone-based artworks by Richard Botto. In my essay on Earth art over on my site, I distinguish several varieties. This kind ranks low on the scale of sublimity or artistic rigor, but it is a lot of fun to look at and quite a commitment to beautification of the public space. And, of course, it gets people to see rocks.

Dracena Park, Piedmont

9 May 2008

dracena park

Dracena Park is a repurposed quarry pit in lower Piedmont. The quarry was started in 1852 by Walter Blair, at the head of Pleasant Valley Creek (now culverted under east Grand Avenue), and supplied stone for Oakland’s first streets. After it was closed, the City of Piedmont used it as a maintenance yard, then converted it to a splendid park with an enchanting lawn surrounded by a walkway. At the entrance is a sturdy, attractive new play complex; to the north is a narrow ravine where the headwaters of the creek once flowed.

dracena park

The stone appears to be a faulted mix of sandstone and basalt of the Novato Quarry Terrane of the Franciscan complex, like the rest of Piedmont and its surroundings. Here the two rock types are juxtaposed. I’m eager to come back and poke around these rocks some more — with my hammer left at home, of course.

Protect our City from waste

8 May 2008


I’m not trying to single out one person — you can tell because this flyer is from an earlier election — but it illustrates something I think about often. Until civilization came along, there was no such thing as waste. Browsers leave stubble and turds, predators leave bones, and the bacteria handle it all. Monkeys are omnivores and drop lots of stuff, all biodegradable, from their nimble fingers. We are monkeys too, but our fingers and brains are too good at their jobs. We’ve invented stuff the bacteria can’t deal with yet. We drop it all over the place. The human age will be known to future paleontologists as the Age of Hominid Litter.

Watch someone drop litter in the street some time. That casual, automatic act might look like default behavior, what monkeys do as they roam the woods. But the style with which people do it, from their stance to their glance, is learned behavior, a product of culture. They release their trash with panache. You just know that if you called them out, they would be offended. So today Oakland is a shabby city. Too many of its inhabitants don’t see it as a home to care for, just a setting for doin’ shit.

To do otherwise — putting wrappers in pockets or waste receptacles, automatically — can be learned too and done gracefully. I learned it and I simply don’t litter. But can a whole civilization become sustainable, acting with, as Whitman called it, the prudence suitable for immortality?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,426 other followers