Archive for July, 2008

The labyrinths of Sibley

11 July 2008

sibley maze

Doing urban geology in a place like Oakland adds a new question to the mental checklist that cannot be bypassed: “Is this truly a natural feature?” A boulder may be imported. A terrace may be an old railroad bed. Sibley Volcanic Reserve is a former quarry, therefore it’s safe to assume that this huge pit is not natural and that the labyrinth, one of several in the park, is of even later vintage. But park staff and other visitors have told me that some people insist, against all persuasion, that the labyrinths were made by cosmic visitors.

There is something about human beings, isn’t there? I used to trouble myself over our ability to believe nonsense, but now I realize that banging my head against that wall just hurts my head, and the wall likes it. The fact is, the general run of people love to be amazed. The trouble is, they aren’t particular about what amazes them.

Don’t get me wrong about labyrinths—they are good to experience, they do things to your head, they help pull you out of tedium. That’s cool. I think that crediting them to space aliens is a failure of imagination and a poor reflection on human ingenuity. What amazes me about labyrinths is that we invented them.

But what amazes me more satisfyingly is that people could examine this ground and figure out that it used to be the insides of a small basaltic volcano, now tilted onto its side. It takes imagination first, then the perseverance to test your imagination against the rocks again and again until every question you can think of has been met with a reasonable answer. I haven’t done that at Sibley, but having been to geology school I know how to do it if I set my mind to it. The people who did do that amaze me. They used directed imagination and rigorous skepticism instead of listening for voices and watching for signs, unhuman as that is.

Horseshoe Canyon tramway

8 July 2008

leona graffiti

Horseshoe Canyon is a small, but dramatic gorge cut into the Oakland hills between Holy Names College, Merritt College and Mills College. The waterway in it is Horseshoe Creek, a branch of Lion (Leona) Creek. Today the canyon is preserved within Leona Heights Park, but in Oakland’s oldest days it was first logged, then mined and quarried. Great stumps remain from the aboriginal San Antonio redwood grove, the mine tailings stain the creek below the old sulfur mine, and the quarry scar sits in the undeveloped scrub at the north end of Merritt College.

This stout concrete structure once braced one of several aerial tramways, whose steel cables carried large buckets of ore and rock from a rail line coming down from the heights to another railhead near the mouth of Horseshoe Creek, in Laundry Farm Canyon. You can visit it by walking down from the Merritt College campus or up from the end of McDonell Avenue near the sulfur mine. This photo was taken in 2003, and the art has undoubtedly been painted over since then with something more contemporary. (click full size)

See more detail about this area’s history in Steven Mix’s History of Laundry Farm Canyon page.

The hunt for Rockridge Rock

3 July 2008

The Rockridge neighborhood has migrated over the years. Today Rockridge centers around the Rockridge BART station, in the valley of Temescal Creek. But a hundred years ago, Rock Ridge referred to the highlands between that valley and the one to the southeast, through which the Rockridge branch of Temescal Creek flows (in the Claremont Country Club golf course and upstream along Broadway Terrace). The ridge was supposedly named by the Livermores, who put their mansion on it amid their 600 acres of land making up today’s Upper Rockridge neighborhood.

There was a famous rock somewhere up there that became a popular picnic site in the late 1800s. Photos show it as being blocky, massive stone, maybe 10 meters in height and greater in width, big enough for dozens of people to stand on for their portrait. Lately I’ve been trying to find it. Old maps don’t show it, but Jonathan Chester’s excellent book Berkeley Rocks has some information. He claims that the developers of the area named the rock itself Rock Ridge and encouraged the public to visit it. Today I found an article from the Call of March 12, 1910 about the area:

“Hundreds of people went out to Rock Ridge park, during the week, to enjoy the inspiration found in the budding trees and flowers awakened by the first touch of spring. The visitors found that the opening of streets, avenues, walks and drives through the famous old Rock Ridge picnic grounds has facilitated access to the points of interest. Those who have known best and enjoyed most the peculiar charm of the place were delighted to find that the plans of the owners of the Rock Ridge property in laying out the tract with wide streets and avenues and ample lots have preserved the distinguishing features unimpaired. The army of admirers of Rock Ridge property has received new recruits every day. A number of sales of lots, were made during the week to people who will build immediately fine homes on their grounds. The street work is being rushed. The planting of flowers and shrubs along the cement curb line is also receiving attention from a force of [men].”

The story suggests that while the “famous old” picnic grounds were wiped out by subdivision, “the plans of the owners . . . preserved the distinguishing features.” From this evidence and that cited by Chester, the rock was widely known and hard to miss. Therefore I can’t understand why Chester thinks that the site of the rock is on Glenbrook Drive at the corner of Bowling Drive:

rockridge rock

It’s a beautiful outcrop, nicely integrated into the two properties that own it, but no way is that the Rock of Rockridge. It’s the wrong size, the wrong shape and the wrong rock type. And the Call story at least hints that the Rock was “unimpaired” as of 1910.

I think that Chester may not have looked hard enough. I have found at least two other candidates for the Rock, but there is still some ground to cover and many places for rocks, even huge ones, to hide.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,796 other followers