Archive for June, 2008

Oakland Paving

16 June 2008

oakland paving company

Oakland’s sidewalks are full of old mason’s marks. They’re like fossils in the city’s hardscape. Since I started paying attention to them a few years back, the oldest have reached a century’s age. There’s a mark on 49th Street that dates from 1906, another at John and Gilbert streets from 1907, and several around town from 1908. Some of the makers operated from addresses that don’t exist any more, such as one from a street number that’s now underneath the Kaiser complex, or from streets that have changed their names. If someone has a blog about them (and why not?), let us know.

Just last week I learned that the operator of the Rockridge Shopping Center quarry was called the Oakland Paving Company. The very next day, I spotted this mark on Claremont Boulevard near The Uplands. Presumably, if we broke this pavement open we’d see gravel made of the quarry’s basalt inside. That is, the quarry produced the aggregate, while the cement came from elsewhere, possibly the giant plant in Davenport, which has produced cement since 1903 (and which I’ll be visiting this weekend). My hypothesis is that the Oakland Paving Co didn’t do much of this labor-intensive retail-type work making sidewalks, which is why its maker’s marks are so rare. But they say the best geologist is the one who’s seen the most rocks, and maybe I just need to see more marks.

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Fire on the mountain

13 June 2008

hiller highlands fire

Yesterday there was a fairly small fire in a treacherous place, the Hiller Highlands neighborhood. There was confusion in the media accounts I saw, but here is the correct version, as you can see in this view from across the freeway this morning. The streets, from top to bottom, are Charing Cross Road, Tunnel Road, Caldecott Lane and Route 24. (A typo in the Tribune, “Charring Cross Road,” may give you grim amusement.) The blaze began on Tunnel where street work took place a few months ago, and nearly reached Charing Cross. As I shot this photo, fire crews were still combing the burn area in search of embers.

The hills love fire, and the ecosystem is adapted to it, but civilization here is not. Given that we have irreversibly encroached on the hills by permitting residential construction there, we’re stuck with the price in dollars and lives in perpetuity. Not even the next major earthquake on the Hayward fault, less than a kilometer west, will change this even though the whole neighborhood would likely burn down again, just like 1991, if it happened today.

Yesterday not an hour before the fire started, I was standing on Grizzly Peak Boulevard looking down at this part of town and sensing just how dry everything is. Instead of coming down through here, as I have before, I walked down through the Grandview neighborhood to its north. Upper Grandview is an uncanny place, having been wiped out in the 1991 fire and disneyfied since. Today I was going to visit the fire site, but I got this shot because instead I took the opportunity to try the fire road above Broadway that ends overlooking the North Oakland Regional Sports Center. If you visit the park, have a look at the fire-resistant garden there. The rocks are mapped as undifferentiated Great Valley Sequence and are mostly an undistinguished gray sandstone.

Huckleberry

11 June 2008

huckleberry chert

Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve is a little-visited piece of wildland just over the Oakland Hills crest south of Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. It owes its existence to this rock, the Claremont Chert. The brochure lavishes attention, and rightly so, on the plants of the botanic preserve, but it’s also a good place to see the chert in many settings. Cliffy here or buried there, shaly or rugged, the chert asserts itself amid the soils and growth like the bass player in a jazz combo.

Owing to its history, the Claremont Chert is high in silica and low in nutrients. It drains quickly and breaks down slowly, and for the purposes of today’s vegetation it slows down the natural process of faunal succession—the series of plants that goes from pioneer species to climax forest. Thus where much of the hills is a uniform oak/madrone woodland, the Huckleberry Preserve is a variegated assemblage of everything from gravelly manzanita balds to soft seeps populated with irises, plus huckleberry thickets of course. Hike the nature trail and meet some of the natives. The self-guiding brochure carefully states the role of fire in maintaining the hill ecosystems, mainly to show how the Huckleberry is an exception. But these days, everywhere you look in the hills is a fire long overdue. Some day we will have to catch up with the Ohlone tribes, who managed these lands with regular burnings.

mount diablo

The trail provides several fine views eastward. You can pretend that white settlement never happened and imagine Mount Diablo pristine, as it was when Cabrillo forced his men through this land 250 years ago. (click for larger version) And you can enjoy Round Top’s symmetry from the rare southern vantage:

round top

Heights and flats

6 June 2008

oakland heights

In the East Bay, the Hayward fault separates high ground and low, with a few exceptions. Oakland is an exception (so is San Leandro, Berkeley and points north). From Oakland’s southeastern extreme at Lake Chabot up to the Panoramic neighborhood, the fault generally has a few hills on its Bay side. If you ride BART and look up at the hills, the fault is almost entirely hidden. The hill Piedmont sits on is the largest body of rock west of the fault. So Oakland is not like Hayward or Union City, where the fault is quite stark.

But here on upper Dwight Way, at Oakland’s far north end, is a spot where the height/flats dichotomy is laid right out plain. (Click the photo for a 900×750 version.) This little canyon is the one just north of Claremont Canyon, and I don’t know if it has a name. Behind me is little Dwight Canyon and just to its north is Strawberry Canyon, where the Cal stadium sits. High rock hills lie above the fault, and a plain of deep sediment lies below, an area where seismic shaking is liable to cause ground liquefaction. Of course landslides could happen where I stand; the brown patch below looks like a landslide scar . . . pick your poison.