Archive for the ‘oakland geology puzzles’ Category

Chimes Creek and the Hayward fault

7 February 2015

Chimes Creek is the second of the three streams in Mills College. It is said to get its name in reference to the college’s church bells. The sound would have traveled up the creek bed to the meadows behind Millsmont ridge. Today the freeway noise drowns them out. Here’s how it looked to the mapmakers of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1897—it’s represented by the dashed blue line in the middle. Below that is the same patch of land in Google Maps as of today.

chimescreekmap1897
chimescreekmapnow

The land has been changed substantially in the last 118 years, but the creek continues to drain its catchment. Let’s look at the changes from the top down:

  • The headwaters have been filled and paved and are now occupied by Viewcrest Drive.
  • The Leona Quarry removed all the overburden below a short stretch of the upper creek, exposing bare rock.
  • The flats beneath have been leveled and developed, and the creek is culverted.
  • Seminary Avenue has been widened and straightened, putting more of the creek underground.

All of these changes have added to the runoff seeking to enter the creek while constricting its course. A stream will respond by running higher and faster and eroding its banks.

I haven’t yet visited the highest part of the catchment. Here’s a look at it down Altamont Avenue.

chimescreek1

The original creekbed is high above the left edge of the quarry, and the creek ran toward the lowest part of the foreground. Next is the view one block over, at Delmont Avenue and Hillmont Drive looking north. The creek comes out of its culvert behind the houses on the left.

chimescreek2

I should note that the Hayward fault is mapped running right up the valley to this spot. That’s an important detail that no one seems to acknowledge. For my purposes in this post, it means that Chimes Creek is probably cutting downward through fault gouge, the finely ground material that faults make all over California.

Farther downstream, this is looking across the creek valley at Nairobi Place. The sides are quite high here because the stream cuts downward rather strongly.

chimescreek3

The presence of the Hayward fault also explains why the right (opposite) bank of the creek valley is elevated above its surroundings—it’s not a levee, but rather a pressure ridge. Farther downstream along Oakdale Avenue, the valley is at its deepest.

chimescreek4

The lots along Hillmont Drive, across the creek, are being undermined as the invigorated stream does its work.

chimescreek5

I’ve love a good look at this material, but I’ll probably never get the chance. The geologic map shows this area as the northernmost splinter of the San Leandro Gabbro.

The creek enters a culvert under Seminary Avenue here . . .

chimescreek6

. . . and emerges here on the grounds of Mills College for a couple hundred feet. Then it enters its last culvert and joins Lion Creek underground.

chimescreek-mills

The Chimes Creek Neighbors site has thorough documentation of the human squabbling over this much put-upon watercourse. The neighbors know it as a permanent creek, although the 1897 map showed it as intermittent except for its lower reach on the Mills College campus. I suspect that the land-use changes of the last century have turned it into a permanent and more powerful stream.

Pine Top, Mills College

20 January 2015

At the back of Mills College is a steep little hill called Pine Top. It looms especially high over Lake Aliso. The geologic map shows it as consisting of Jurassic basalt.

mills-college-geomap

As I walked up Pine Top Road to reach it, I saw only what looked like nondescript sandstone, but I didn’t look closely. Rocks may be altered, and the Hayward fault running through here is notorious for swapping splinters of rock from one side to the other, so who knows.

As you round the hill, the view opens across Seminary Avenue, which runs up the valley of Chimes Creek, to Millsmont hill.

pinetop1

At the top is this big old stone stage, where it’s easy to imagine the young women of Mills assembling for all kinds of ceremonial occasions.

pinetop2

What’s harder to imagine is the view that this place once commanded. All the trees are so mature, both pines and eucalyptus, that it’s frustrating.

pinetop3

On the other hand, people live on all sides now, so privacy is more important. And the freeway behind the hill is so noisy that any ceremony you could think of would be spoiled by the din.

As I said, there was no obvious evidence of basalt exposed along the road to Pine Top. So what was this lump of conglomerate doing there behind the stage?

pinetop-cgl

Just another reason to come back and poke around the flanks of this hill.

The Mills College high-grade blueschist block

14 January 2015

Longtime commenter artisancrafts reminded me, in a comment to my last post, that there’s a nice exposure of blueschist at the north edge of Mills College. Yesterday I easily located it by following his/her directions. First there’s the old railbed that once ran to Laundry Canyon. This stretch of it, which once continued down through the Fan parallel to High Street, used to be part of Courtland Street.

mills-railbed

At the spot in the distance where the sun shines across the roadbed is this lovely exposure, about 2 by 3 meters.

mills-bluschist1

It’s clearly worn by water, and a little concrete-lined ditch running along the uphill side of the roadbed feeds it. Following it upstream takes you right up to the 580 freeway abutment, where it veers north in a culvert. The stream is a mystery that I won’t try to solve today.

Back to the rock. Getting closer to it, you may not believe your camera. Clear blue skylight can do that.

mills-bluschist2

This closeup, showing tightly folded lamination in the cleft on the right edge of the first shot, is a truer indication of its color thanks to my camera’s flash.

mills-bluschist3

It’s classic blueschist, the largest outcrop of it I’ve seen in Oakland. Let’s call it blueschist-grade melange, what’s usually referred to in Franciscan circles as a high-grade block, and I’m very pleased to know that we have one in town.

Geranium Place rocks and runoff

27 July 2014

Geranium Place occupies a sloping bit of land just north of Horseshoe Creek below Redwood Road. This map shows the location plus the sites of the photos in this post.

geraniummap

The bedrock here is mapped as Franciscan melange on the west and the Leona volcanics on the east, the same stuff exposed in the huge Leona Quarry just down the Warren Freeway. The rocks I saw were clearly the latter, but you have to take the lines on the geologic map as approximations. If I’d been there fifty years ago when the homes here were being built I might have been able to tell better, while the foundations were exposed. BUT! there is bedrock to look at in any case.

The first thing that caught my eye, though, was the gutters. What’s going on here?

geranium1

Iron-rich runoff like this is not expected from undisturbed land. Perhaps the area was once a borrow pit or small quarry. Across Horseshoe Creek is the big quarrying operation above Laundry Canyon, and just beyond is the notorious McDonell sulfur mine site, so naturally the resemblance to the nasty-looking streambed down there is striking. What etched away the cement in the gutter? Probably not acid drainage.

geranium2

The white crust is another clue. In our deathly dry conditions it might conceivably have been salt, but it had no taste when I nibbled a fragment of it. It’s probably either gypsum or carbonate; without any chemicals handy I couldn’t learn anything more. But a buildup of crystals like this could gradually disintegrate the cement in the gutter. It may also be seepage from the serpentine exposed along and above Redwood Road here. In sum, very hard water here, but probably not nasty water.

The bedrock is heavily iron-stained and chewed up. Being so near the Hayward fault (it grazes the lower left corner of the map area) surely accounts for that.

geranium3

Some of the households here have worked with it to good effect.

geranium4

A closeup is impressive.

geranium5

This is breccia—pervasively shattered rock—that has been abraded by tectonic shearing so the pieces are rounded, as if you took crushed rock and rubbed it between your hands with a giant’s strength. It’s fairly well cemented, not crumbling apart, so this process happened at some depth.

At the northernmost bend of Geranium, up against the highly cantilevered Redwood Road, the ground is empty and there are monitoring wells of some sort. We have deeply disturbed this area.

Courtland Creek cut

19 July 2014

Courtland Creek runs just south of High Street; presumably the valley was a footpath long before High Street was laid out in the 1800s. It has the peculiarity of crossing the old alluvial fan without cutting out a floodplain, as shown here in the geologic map.

courtlandcreekgeo

I visited it a few weeks ago. As you go upstream along Courtland Avenue, this dirt road appears. Dirt roads are always interesting in this city.

courtlandcreekrow

It’s the old right of way for the Key Route line, and it leads to Courtland Creek Park, a cool streamside strip with some understated concrete work meant to evoke the history of the area. At one point there’s some unusually elaborate rockwork leading down to the creek itself.

courtlandcreekrockwork

Farther upsteam, too, is a cut into the side of the Maxwell Park hill; this view is looking back west.

courtlandcreekwall

And at the upper end of the park is one of those excellent mosaic trashcans that make this city so special.

courtlandcreekcan

As I’ve mentioned before, the topography of this part of Oakland, in the Allendale flat, suggests to me that the drainage has switched between streams at various times. It will be fun to poke around here some more.

The Hayward fault in Redwood Heights

3 May 2014

It happens that a commenter asked about the Hayward fault hazard in an area that I surveyed only yesterday, just south of the part of town I discussed back in January under “The 35th Avenue cut, Jordan swale and the Franciscan spike.” This post looks strictly at the Hayward fault between 35th and 39th Avenues and not, as I usually prefer, at the bedrock (there’s almost none to be seen here anyway). Here’s the fault trace, as mapped in 1992 by the US Geological Survey.

RedwdHightsfaultmap

First, note that the map is tipped clockwise to make the fault run vertically. The fault is mapped here with an uncertainty of less than 40 meters; the ticks on the dashes indicate the downhill side. To help orient you, here’s much the same area in Google Maps, tilted to match.

HF-RedwoodHights-map

The two arrowheads mark where the fault is mapped and the two numbers are the localities I’m showing below. The lower arrowhead coincides with the fiduciary mark on 39th Avenue.

The first locality is the lower end of Dunsmuir Avenue at Victor Avenue, where the street curbs are offset to the right.

HF-dunsmuir-victor

The offset is more subtle on the south side (to the right in this view). The pavement on the corner is cracked, but that can happen when a garbage truck cuts across it, to name just one possibility. But there is an offset there, along with a recent sawcut to help gauge any motion there.

HFmark-dunsmuir-corner

To the north, the next street to cross the fault trace is Atlas Avenue. The curb is offset there, too.

HF-atlas

This is marked on the 1992 fault map with the notation “C2,rc,rs,ec.” That signifies “distinct creep evidence, right-laterally offset curb [and] sidewalk, en echelon left-stepping cracks in pavement.” The cracks are not evident now; presumably they were where the pavement has been patched. Offset concrete is harder to hide. (On 39th Avenue the code also includes “right-laterally offset fence line,” “surveyed offset feature” and the code L91 for a particular report documenting the survey.)

The features marked “G” are geomorphic ones, G2 for “distinct” and G3 for “weakly pronounced.” The codes are as follows: sl, linear scarp; lv, linear valley; ss, swale in saddle; df, fault-related depression.

The land is weird here. Drainage from the reservoir area appears to run north instead of west, perhaps feeding the head of Courtland Creek just south of 35th as I envisioned it happening from north of 35th too. If that’s correct, it would be another example of an offset streamcourse (and a corresponding shutter ridge). As earthquakes and creep affect the landscape here, water could shift from one drainage to another in this area where three different creeks run very close to one another.

Harrington valley and ridge

22 February 2014

Harrington Avenue runs up a small valley cut into the Fan by a branch of Peralta Creek. It has a high ridge on its south side and a slightly lower one on the north side. Here’s the Google terrain map:

harringtonGmap

and the geologic map to match, marked with the sites of six photos. This part of the Fan is an odd flat area, which I call the Allendale Flat, crossed by several different streams separated by low ridges. The valley of Harrington Avenue holds the Harrington Branch of Peralta Creek. The watershed map posted by the Oakland Museum of California will help keep the streams straight. As for the topography, I’ll name the ridge on the north side Harrington ridge and the one on the south Jefferson ridge (part of lobe 6 of the Fan).

harringtongeomap

Harrington ridge is today’s geology puzzle. Its color stands for “Pleistocene alluvial terrace deposits,” and this is the only locality in all of Oakland, indeed the only one between Point Pinole and Hayward. It’s described as sandy gravel with boulders larger than a foot across (“35 cm intermediate diameter”). Only a very powerful river, or flow anyway, could have put such material here. My preference is to suspect a flooding event, given the dynamics of Oakland’s geologic setting: something like the sudden release of a large body of water. If you’re thinking what I am, Lake Chabot is about 5 miles, make that 8 kilometers, down the fault. At the rate the fault is slipping today (about 10 millimeters a year), the two features would have lined up 800,000 years ago. However, I haven’t seen any of this bouldery gravel because it’s covered with homes and yards. If anyone is excavating in the area, let me know.

This view is looking from Harper Street, on Harrington ridge, across the valley (behind the front row of houses) at its lower end.

harrington1

This view is from the top of Harrington ridge a block farther up, on Galindo Street. Looking straight down the left-hand sidewalk, across the creek, you may see the long stairway of Carrington Way climbing Jefferson ridge.

harrington2

And this is the view looking back from the top of that stairway (click to see it big).

harrington3

This next shot is from a point behind the previous one, zooming in on Galindo to show the crown of Harrington ridge (click for a big version). Note that it’s slightly lower than the rest of the Fan’s high points. The building with the colorful roof is the United for Success Academy on 35th Avenue. The four palm trees behind are on Galindo on the far side of Fruitvale Avenue, in the floodplain of Sausal Creek. The trees in front of them, I believe, are on the grounds of Patten University, across Peralta Creek. Behind them all is the Kaiser Center building, 3 miles away.

harrington4

This next view north is from one more block east, looking up Gray Street across the informal park called Jungle Hill. At least four homes used to sit here before landsliding took them out in the 1930s. (All I know about this is in a MacArthur Metro article from 2007.) Harrington ridge is relatively even lower here.

harrington5

And here’s a view looking almost due north across Jungle Hill and the upper end of Harrington ridge. The valley fades out of existence pretty rapidly as Harrington Avenue climbs out of it and enters the Allendale Flat.

harrington6

And there on the far right, as always, are the two ranks of high hills, one on each side of the Hayward fault. If you pick your spots carefully, Jefferson ridge offers a satisfying set of views around mid-Oakland.


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