Archive for February, 2010


28 February 2010

Wacke is pronounced “wacky.” It’s a name for coarse sandstone that contains a lot of junk: clay, rock fragments and minerals other than quartz. This is a closeup of wacke from the Oakland Conglomerate from Shepherd Canyon (more about that below).


The geologist looks at this and envisions a young mountain range with rivers carrying its coarse debris offshore, where a submarine canyon carries the stuff into a deep basin. Something like the Russian River, or the Mad or Eel Rivers, and a canyon like the Monterey Canyon. This rock formed about 70 to 80 million years ago, in the Campanian Age of the Cretaceous Period.

I’m going to be giving a talk on March 17th to the Friends of Sausal Creek about the geology of its watershed, which runs through Fruitvale and up Shepherd Canyon and the slopes of Joaquin Miller Park. Everyone is invited and there is no charge. It’ll be at the Dimond Library, 3565 Fruitvale Avenue, from 7 to 9 p.m. I’ll be bringing rocks and showing Powerpoints and possibly being a little wacky. What else have you got to do the night of St. Patrick’s Day?


Punk shale

23 February 2010

Up along Skyline Boulevard between Snake and Shepherd Canyon Roads is a long section of crumbling roadcut. The rock there is mapped as brown mudstone that has been questionably assigned to the Sobrante Formation. OK, enough of that. What struck me about it is how weak it is. This exposure is an excavation, probably for a garage, dug a good four meters deep into the hillside. And all the way in, it consists of this crappy stuff. Click the photo for an 800×800 closeup.

punk shale

The bedding slopes to the right; you can see three different units in this shot which is maybe two meters high. On top is a blocky layer richly stained with iron; the middle is lighter and crumblier, and on the bottom is a dark claystone. The big vertical streaks are backhoe marks, that’s how soft this material is. You can pluck it apart with your hands, scratch it with your fingernail. The dark layer is as creamy as chocolate between the teeth. As I stood there, the rattle of falling pebbles was nearly constant.

Covered with soil and shaded by trees, this rock will stay in place all right. But excavate into it and it turns to dry rubble. The roadcut is a steep slope of loose shale bits, topped with a meter or so of fresh strata and a big tangle of exposed tree roots dangling in the air. When the next big earthquake hits Oakland, expect this stretch of road to be buried and barred by fallen trees.

I think it’s earthquakes that have shattered this rock so pervasively over the years. It took thousands of them to lift these hills, and the process continues as surely as the continents move. Also, high, steep hills tend to focus seismic waves toward their peaks. Consider this account of the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake in the Los Angeles Star (17 Jan 1857):

“We may here relate what has come to our knowledge through the Rev. Mr. Bateman, who was traveling to Fort Tejon at the time. Previous to feeling the earth’s vibration, his attention, and that of his party, was attracted by a tremendous noise issuing from a mountain in that neighborhood, south of the Fort. Immediately after, they felt the shock. In conversation with Mr. Botts, in charge of the mill at the Fort, he stated that his attention was also attracted by the same noise, and on looking towards the mountain, he saw issue from its topmost peak, a mass of rock and earth, which was forced high into the air—this was unaccompanied by smoke or fire. The shock immediately succeeded. Thereafter, a noise from that mountain was premonitory of every succeeding shock, no matter how slight.”

Redwood Canyon Formation

18 February 2010

I visited the Montclair Railroad Trail yesterday, while the sun was shining, and found it a delightful transect of some important Oakland bedrock, including this.

redwood canyon formation

The Redwood Canyon Formation is part of the Great Valley sequence, a thick sequence of sedimentary rocks laid down between 150 and maybe 60 million years ago. It’s a late member of the pile, largely sandstone and siltstone in thick layers like this.

The Redwood Canyon Formation runs in a ribbon from the fault at route 13, roughly at Thornhill Drive, up and across the middle of Shepherd Canyon and over the canyon’s south lip into the canyon of Redwood Creek outside the city limits. Skyline Boulevard runs through it between the Skyline Gate staging area and Ascot Drive. Redwood Peak is held up by it. As the name suggests, it’s well exposed farther south on the other side of the hills on both sides of Redwood Creek as well as the lower part of Redwood Canyon along Redwood Road.

Middle Harbor Park guards

12 February 2010

Middle Harbor Park is graced with large boulders. They look pretty and are interesting to study at close hand, but they’re not just lying there, they’re hard at work barring entrance to vehicles.

middle harbor oakland

None of them come from Oakland, as far as I can tell. The rock in the foreground is a lovely example of cobble conglomerate. Here’s a closeup.