I was walking up Longridge Road and spied an excavation, where a homeowner was replacing some water lines and renewing a driveway. Naturally, I sidled over and took the rare chance to look beneath the skin of Oakland’s Pleistocene fan. The material was massive—unbedded—and clean. I pried off this little piece . . .
. . . and nibbled on it. It was firm, but crumbled like Necco wafers and turned creamy on the tongue with just a hint of grit. Not sticky or chewy with clay. Not indurated like hardpan. No sand or pebbles to be seen. The more I thought about it, the more peculiar this sediment seemed, until I had a wild surmise.
Alluvial sediment is never very well sorted, because it’s carried short distances and laid down by streams. Longridge Road is, as the name suggests, a ridge road running up the crest of a ridge between parallel stream valleys along Trestle Glen and Mandana roads. The crest of a ridge should not be made of this fine silt. But it’s downwind from downtown, which is Pleistocene sand dunes (the Merritt Sand), cousin to the dunes of San Francisco. Dune sand is very fine sand, and the fraction that blows away from the sand is finer still. So my wild surmise is that the fan, at least this part of it, is dusted with a layer of windblown glacial silt—i.e., loess. It’s remarkable stuff, and something I never expected to see in Oakland.