Archive for March, 2012

Elmhurst Creek

30 March 2012

At the tower overlooking San Leandro Bay in the Martin Luther King Shoreline park, you can see the confluence of five Oakland creeks in four outlets, Peralta Creek on the north, followed southward by the combined mouth of Lion Creek and Arroyo Viejo, then Elmhurst Creek, then San Leandro Creek. Little Elmhurst Creek doesn’t get a lot of love, but this is it.

elmhurst creek

It runs past the south side of the Coliseum complex—did you know that the Coliseum is nearly surrounded by streams?—and it emerges from underground culverts just west of San Leandro Boulevard near 81st Avenue. What strikes me about that spot is that it’s the truck stop where sits the colorful Estrellas de Sinaloa diner, which appeared like a mirage on the gray day in 2008 when I walked the length of Oakland from the San Leandro BART to the Berkeley line on Shattuck Avenue.

estrellas sinaloa

The Oakland Museum’s watershed site has little to say about the creek, only that its headwaters were a willow thicket at International Boulevard whose drainage has now been diverted to its bigger neighbor, San Leandro Creek. Looking at the contours on the map, I can surmise that the spot was somewhere between 90th and 98th avenues, right where the historical town of Elmhurst once sat. Imagine the little farming village that Elmhurst used to be in the late 1800s.

Now I must eat at Estrellas de Sinaloa (how’s the food?) and walk to the corner to pay my respects to the creek.


Lift up your eyes

26 March 2012

One thing I love about the hills is that they grace every part of Oakland, even the plainest, most utilitarian parts of town, like Peralta Street. You don’t have to be riding BART or high on a freeway or in a park to enjoy the hills, just out and about.

peralta street

And those parts of town, in turn, don’t hold back. They get in your face and don’t pretend to be someplace else.

do something positive

Those parts of town help keep me honest. I recommend them.

The upper Piedmont walk (#29)

19 March 2012

This hills-and-paths walk is number 29, “Upper Piedmont Park,” in Charles Fleming’s Secret Stairs East Bay. It’s short and steep and quite scenic. Here’s the street route:

The geology is entirely on sandstone and related rocks of the Novato Quarry terrane of the Franciscan complex, so the geologic map looks a little boring, but the topography is on there too.

The numbers on the street route correspond to the photos that follow. The starting point is the elaborate exedra of Piedmont Park. It evokes the atmosphere of Piedmont’s first business, a “sulphur springs” resort that once sat here above the little city of Oakland.

Go behind the exedra and find the stairway down into the shady valley of Brushy Dell Creek. We have great weather in Oakland, but if you ever need to escape the heat, come here.

Brushy Dell Creek runs through a steep little ravine that exposes some bedrock ledges in the streambed: enigmatic Franciscan metamudstone. There is no trace of anything you might call a sulfur spring. Who knows what it really was.

This set of stairs on the other side is lined with serpentinite boulders for a colorful effect. But serpentine rock is not local to this spot; that would appear in the Franciscan melange higher up in the Piedmont hills at the Oakland line, the purplish patch in the geologic map.

After this the walk goes up into the hills where the views are wide. The local swales and ridges are charming.

The stairways and paths were designed into the neighborhoods back when streetcar lines served them. A hundred years ago it was still a virtue not to rely on a motorcar for commuting—automobiles were for pleasure and travel, and walking was simply the way humans were built to get around.

There is not a lot of bedrock exposed on this route, which is a bit surprising. But the Franciscan sandstone doesn’t have the variety of rocks that the melange has. It was quarried rather than cherished. However, this spot along Scenic Avenue exposes some of the shale that accompanies the sandstone.

Soon enough you get to the last, longest set of stairs. Be sure to turn around now and then as you ascend, to take in the views.

At the top is a little saddle from which you can peek across the neighboring ravine known as Moraga Canyon and spot the high Oakland Hills beyond.

The long stairs down from this point have the mark of their maker, the longtime contractor Ransome Construction Company. At one time Ransome operated the big Leona Quarry; at another time they were in Emeryville. Today they’re in San Leandro and going strong.

The end of the walk takes you along Highland Avenue, which as far as I can tell is the longest level road in Piedmont.

This topographic accident was surely exploited by the town’s founders to connect Moraga Avenue, the oldest road in the area, to the spring resort. And the street imposed its axis on the surrounding roads to make up the town’s largest area of traditional square blocks and straight roadways, a little bit of “flats” in a hilly community.