Archive for August, 2011

Lava rampart at Grizzly Peak

28 August 2011

The other week I noticed a big outcrop of basalt of Moraga Formation right next to Grizzly Peak and remarked that it would be worth a visit. And so I did, while preparing my post for KQED Quest Science Blogs last week on the Moraga Formation. It’s easy to reach from a couple of different pullouts on Grizzly Peak Boulevard. Here’s a view looking south.

moraga basalt

The rock is thoroughly covered with lichens, so you can’t tell much about it, but it appears to be a massive flow of lava that, like all the rocks in the Berkeley/Oakland Hills, has been tilted nearly upright with the top toward the northeast. Stratigraphically above it, beneath the road, it’s mapped as sedimentary rocks associated with the Moraga Formation. The area was a lake or wetland at the time, about 9 million years ago, with high hills on the west where the Bay sits today. And on the other side of the road just behind Grizzly Peak the bedrock is the Bald Peak Basalt, a slightly younger volcanic unit.

Here’s a better view of the west face.

moraga rampart

There’s quite a large rock face exposed on that side of the lava bed, but almost nothing exposed on the uphill side. The rock has a lot of paint on it here and there, including some marks that look like rock-climbing instructions. The rock is pretty sound for climbing, but be careful anyway because its strong exposure to sun and weather can weaken this basaltic rock without showing. (The rhyolitic rocks in Berkeley proper are better that way.)

It’s a well-used outcrop, but still, please don’t take a hammer to it as it’s located on UC Berkeley land. It’s the headwaters of Strawberry Creek.

Here’s the view back to the place where I first spotted this feature: in the row of trees just to the left of the rock.

view to claremont ridge


North point

23 August 2011

north point

This is Oakland’s northernmost point, a little wedge of land between Summit Road and Tilden Park. It’s mainly occupied by a large EBMUD water tank and is supposedly underlain by Moraga Formation basalt, though I didn’t see any.

Oakland’s southernmost point is a runway at the airport, a place I expect never to visit, although I’ve certainly flown over it enough times. But that’s artificial fill. The southernmost bit of real land seems to be just north of the San Leandro water treatment plant between the end of Eden Road and Davis Street.

Hayes Creek – Dracena Park walk (#34)

10 August 2011

Last week I bought a copy of Secret Stairs East Bay, by Charles Fleming, and met the author in person at a book event at the Solano Street branch of Pegasus. As I leafed through the book and heard the author, it was clear that while the walks offer lots of insight into Oakland’s history and culture, the geologic stories to be seen on these walks were yet to be told. I thought, Well, I can try that.

Sunday my wife and I took one of the walks, number 34, to Dracena Park (featured here before) in Piedmont. It begins at Chapel of the Chimes on Piedmont Avenue and takes you on a pathway across the valley of upper Glen Echo Creek (which I’ve called Mountain View Valley). Here’s the view back toward the Chapel from the other end.

glen echo creek valley

The stream was culverted long ago, but on the 1897 topo map it’s shown as Hayes Creek. Today it’s Glen Echo Creek. The valley floor is so flat because it was graded and planted to houses. But in my unprofessional opinion, its flood hazard today is as low as anywhere.

Onward! The book directs us to the head of this little gorge, part of Pleasant Valley Creek’s watershed, and thence to the old quarry pit now known as Dracena Park.

pleasant valley creek

You should always suspect humans as a land-shaping agent in Oakland, and indeed Walter Blair, who ran the quarry and before that a dairy at this site, may have had a flume or a transport line of some sort here. But its original form appears to be intact.

We turn into the park proper, and glorious bedrock appears—Franciscan sandstone, ready-fractured for its purpose.


Go ahead and inspect the stuff; no hammer is needed (and none allowed anyway) when it crumbles so readily. Fracturing and tectonic movements—and surely some seismic work, like a bartender’s cocktail shaker—has rubbed and even polished parts of the stone.

hand specimen

Fleming says that the stone went into the homes of Oakland, but that is not true. This is not dimension stone by any means, but rather the usual quarry of Bay Area stone hunters in general: crushed stone and aggregate for roadbeds, underlayments and concrete mixes.

What was once a noisy scene of dynamite and dust is now a green bowl punctuated by the cries of children.

dracena bowl

The walls of the park are pretty well greened over, but watch out anyway: bedrock exposures are not forever. Maybe in a marble or granite quarry, where solid rock is sawed away in blocks, but here rockfall is a continuing potential hazard.


These are not decorative boulders emplaced by landscape designers, but fallen rock. And that ivy-covered fence at the left? It’s really a safety measure to keep landslides away from picnickers. Here’s the whole thing.

slide guard

Dracena Park is a worthy way to remake an old quarry. But if you’re here when an earthquake strikes, get away from the walls.

The Oakland seismic landslide map

3 August 2011

A few years back, two guys at the U.S. Geological Survey did an exercise with a database that was subjected to a mathematical version of the Big One on the Hayward fault in the middle of the wet season. Their result was published as Miscellaneous Field Studies Map MF-2379, “Seismic Landslide Hazard for the Cities of Oakland and Piedmont, California.” Here’s a piece of it.

oakland landslide map

Dark-green areas are relatively fine, red areas are relatively awful, and the in-between colors are in between. Gray areas have slopes less than 5 degrees and don’t count. There’s a purple line running from top left to bottom right representing the Hayward fault; students of our street patterns may recognize the upper left corner as the intersection of 580 and 13. The lower right corner is 580 at the exit to the zoo. The left edge of the band of orange down the middle is Outlook Avenue. There are two bits of blue; the upper left one is the pond at Mills College and the lower one is the big hilltop reservoir near Toler Heights.

This map is of very little real use, because it’s just one worst-case scenario of one particular simulation, but it’s well worth studying anyway. (For real uses, like assessing your own property, you should hire a pro.) One big point is that bedrock matters. The big dark-green swath represents the solid metavolcanic rocks that are exposed in the Leona Quarry; they also underlie King Estates Open Space and part of the hill with the reservoir on top.