Archive for the ‘Oakland geology views’ Category

Redwood Ridge and the Parkridge land bridge

19 February 2018

Redwood Ridge is a name I made up to keep things straight. Let’s start with the part of the USGS topo map showing the south end of Oakland’s redwood country. Redwood Ridge is just east of Skyline Ridge (another name I made up), which starts where Joaquin Miller Road meets Skyline and extends to Lake Chabot.

Oakland was a redwood lumbering town before it was anything else, and the great redwood groves gave their name to features all over the hills. Redwood Peak sits at the top of the map, and east of it is Redwood Creek running down a straight valley that leads to Upper San Leandro Reservoir. That valley has no formal name, so I dub it Redwood Valley, the valley of Redwood Creek.

A major tributary of Redwood Creek flows out of a steep-walled valley named Redwood Canyon, clearly marked on the topo map starting with the 1947 edition. So, Redwood Canyon cuts through Redwood Ridge and ends in Redwood Valley at the point where Redwood Road meets Redwood Creek. Got all that? Good, because I won’t repeat it.

From here on out I’ll show maps that have been tilted for easier viewing. Here’s Redwood Ridge in the handy terrain view of Google Maps.

This post is about the south part of Redwood Ridge. It’s a pretty cool piece of land, just to look at on the map.

The top side is bounded by Redwood Valley and the left side is defined by the lower part of Redwood Canyon, a classic water gap. Now look at the bottom side. On the right is Grass Valley, with Grass Valley Creek flowing through it down to Lake Chabot. On the left is a smaller valley that lines up with the upper part of Redwood Canyon. It has an unnamed stream in it. I’ll call it MacDonald Creek, because that’s the name of the trail there.

The last thing to notice is that little land bridge leading from the end of Parkridge Drive, right where the valleys of MacDonald and Grass Valley Creeks meet. The two creeks have been eroding their way toward each other. They seem to be evenly matched, but I think Grass Valley Creek may have a slight edge. The photo portion of this post starts there.

But first, the bedrock map. It shows that those two creeks have been exploiting the softer rock of the Shephard Creek Formation (Ksc), sandwiched between the Oakland Conglomerate (Ko) holding up Skyline Ridge and the Redwood Canyon Formation (Kr) holding up Redwood Ridge. Rare are the places where Oakland’s bedrock is expressed so clearly on the landscape.

And here’s the park map with the details on the trails.

As you descend Parkridge Drive to the trailhead, Redwood Ridge appears as an island of forest.

In my three visits here, dog walkers made up the great majority of people using the park. (Be sure you or your walker supports the park by carrying a permit and following the rules.)

Starting out across the bridge feels magical.

And at the right time of day as if by magic, the bedding planes of the Shephard Creek Formation appear out of nowhere. The geologic map indicates that these beds are overturned.

The view from the bridge extends to the right down Grass Valley toward distant Fremont Peak.

And to the left, the view from front to back encompasses MacDonald Creek valley, Redwood Canyon, the massif of Redwood Peak and Round Top beyond with its bare southern shoulder. Redwood Canyon still grows a few redwoods, but in the mid-1800s they must have filled the canyon to the brim.

The MacDonald Trail is excellent for all users, including horses and (since 2016) bikes. The woods are enchanting in any weather, but they photograph best on shady days.

So does the bedrock in the road. The Redwood Canyon Formation is primarily fine- to medium-grained sandstone that shows the marks acquired over 80 million years of geologic history. It’s soft enough to be graded without blasting. The ridge stands as high as it does not because the rock is especially hard, but because it absorbs water so well, inhibiting the surface runoff that so effectively erodes the stream valleys all around it.

Off the road, the sandstone occasionally crops out in bulbous boulders. When Jim Case mapped these rocks for his PhD thesis in the early 1960s, he described these as “cannonball concretions,” but from my observations so far I think he was mistaken, and the description of this unit on the geologic map (circa 2000) does not mention them either. I think this is ordinary weathering like you see in arid and semiarid country all over the West.

The previous three photos are from the north side of the trail. The south side offers wider views of Grass Valley and beyond to Loma Prieta and the Sierra Azul west of San Jose at far right.

And you must not miss the stub of Brittleleaf Trail, which leads to a sandstone spur overlooking lower Redwood Valley. Surrounded by blooming manzanita at this time of year, the tranquil spot hums with bees and invites a long sit. Naturally I inspected the sandstone and determined to my satisfaction that its beds are overturned and dip steeply at 75 degrees. Notice that the fractures in the sandstone have no relationship to the original bedding.

The view south from here looks over the reservoir and watershed lands, the bare green ridge known as The Knife west of San Ramon, and the Diablo Range mountains south of Livermore against the horizon.

The view north, from far to near, includes the Briones Hills, tower-topped Mulholland Hill in Orinda and Moraga, the south end of grassy Gudde Ridge with its water gap where Canyon Road cuts through, a bit of wooded Canyon Ridge, and chaparral-covered Pinehurst Ridge, the type area of the Pinehurst Shale. All are worthy destinations of their own.

This is the best time of year to see these lands. Among other reasons, the poison oak has begun to sprout, making it easily visible, but not yet spread over the woods and side trails, keeping you out.

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Orinda’s 1204 Hill

30 October 2017

As far as I know this hill has no name, but it’s a highly visible part of Orinda. You pass it on Route 24 between the Wilder exit and downtown, as seen in this Google Maps perspective view. The USGS topo maps give it an elevation of 1204 feet, so I’ll call it 1204 Hill.

It’s part of San Pablo Ridge, but the west branch of San Pablo Creek cut a deep gorge through the ridge while it was being uplifted, forming a classic water gap. That’s clear to see in the 1915 topo map, made before anything significant was developed there.

During the mid-20th century, at least four quarry pits ate their way into this hill, one on the north side and the others on the south. Now it provides a bit of seclusion to the exclusive luxury Orinda Wilder development. I paid the hill two visits this month, and to me it offers seclusion from Orinda Wilder. Here it is, as seen across Wilder Valley last summer.

A fire road encircles the hill for your visiting convenience. It offers good views all around. This is looking north across 24 to grassy Eureka Peak along with wooded Vollmer Peak behind it. Both are also part of San Pablo Ridge.

And in the other direction is the last, southernmost lump of San Pablo Ridge, separated from 1204 Hill by another branch of San Pablo Creek.

Looking west, Route 24 approaches the wall of the Oakland Hills. Eureka Peak, at the right edge, and 1684 Hill on the left, part of Gudde Ridge, form the sides of Siesta Valley.

Both peaks are made of the same lava of the Moraga Formation. The formation is folded like a taco shell under Siesta Valley, a geological feature called a syncline, and hey why don’t we look at the geologic map now. This is the same area shown in the topo map.

“Tmb” is the basalt lava of the Moraga Formation — the taco shell — and “Tst,” the Siesta Formation, is the filling. That red line with the little arrows is the axis of the syncline. The light-yellow unit “Tms” is sedimentary rocks, also in the Moraga Formation, that were laid down between eruptions of lava. To the right of the black toothed line — the Moraga fault — the rocks are much younger and I won’t mention them again.

The quarries were excavating freshwater limestone from the Siesta Formation, used to produce cement and soil amendments, and basalt from the Moraga Formation, used for crushed rock. Here’s the lava.

Where lava flowed onto wet ground, the underlying clay got baked and the steam oxidized the lava, turning both materials red. It’s not always easy to tell what’s what.

There are bits of light-gray limestone here and there. You can tell by the way a drop of acid fizzes vigorously on it. I didn’t take a picture, but I did stop to shoot examples of mineralization in the lava. They might be copper compounds, or phosphates, or several other possibilities that aren’t easy to identify just by eyeballing.

There’s also a little conglomerate that looks for all the world like the Orinda Formation. It goes to show that a geologic map is a simplification of a wacky, complicated Earth. However, I don’t quite trust the stone because it’s loose, not a proper outcrop.

Climbing the hill from the fire road is a scramble. There are only subtle trails, the kind that deer make. But on top of the hill there’s the stubs of a former water tower, and a stone spiral with a little cairn at the center, the kind that locals make. And outcrops.

The last thing to mention is the quarry scar. It displays the structure of the Moraga Formation nicely.

But the exposures are unapproachable and dangerous.

I’m not sure what the developers plan to do with this hill. Probably nothing except watch it closely. The closest street to the quarry scar has home sites only on the far side of the road, and there’s a wide ditch between the road and the quarry that will catch falling rocks.

I’m gonna keep my eye on this interesting spot.

The highest point in Oakland

25 September 2017

I have believed — and what’s worse, repeated — that Oakland’s highest point is Grizzly Peak. In fact, the highest point within the city limits is Chaparral Peak, an eminence so subtle you can barely tell it’s there.

Let’s look at the 1959 topo map of the high Berkeley Hills. Everything south of the county line is in Oakland.

Grizzly Peak stands out, at approximately 1745 feet. Figures differ, so don’t quote me on that. But Chaparral Peak definitely rises above the 1760 foot contour, making it a hair over one-third of a mile above the Bay. Here’s the mountaintop, such as it is.

It’s Oakland’s largest exposure of the Bald Peak Basalt, which extends from here beyond Vollmer Peak.

Chaparral Peak is the heart of Frowning Ridge, a name we don’t use much (and I’m not sure we ever did). Frowning Ridge is an ill-defined set of peaks and eminences running from Grizzly Peak to Chaparral Peak and then down Siesta Valley where it’s cut off by a fault. This is the view upridge to Grizzly Peak. Mount Tam is in back, on the left.

And this is the view southeast to the Oakland Hills.

Round Top is in the center, against the sky, and exactly in front of it is 1684 Hill. On the right rises a nameless hill, topped by a large installation, where the county line goes. I think of these as affiliated with Gudde Ridge, on the south side of Route 24, because they line up with it.

Both ridges reflect the presence of volcanic rock units. Frowning Ridge is held up by the Bald Peak Basalt and Gudde Ridge (and its northern affiliates) by the Moraga Formation.

Here’s one more view, this time due east across the far flank of Siesta Valley to Mount Diablo.

The Mount Diablo Base Line, the master line for land surveys in most of northern California and all of Nevada, runs right between Chapparal and Grizzly Peaks. That’s the red line on the map, with Township 1 North and 1 South on either side of it.

An early look at the Fan

4 September 2017

Lots of people love old photographs of familiar places, or old landmarks when they were new. I love old photos of Oakland because they show the land before it was paved over and/or forested.

The early California photographer Carleton Watkins was instrumental in saving Yosemite as a public park, simply because his large-scale images let people see its beauty and grandeur for themselves. But he also practiced his trade up and down the Pacific coast, including Oakland.

Here’s a stereograph he made here in 1876, looking east from the roof of the Grand Central Hotel at 12th and Webster. Click it to see its full 1000-pixel size.

Stereographs were made to be viewed through a simple apparatus that allows you to see a 3D image. You can do it without a viewer if you cross your eyes carefully. (Don’t worry if you can’t; you’re like most people.) To simplify things, I’ve turned one of the images into black and white and zoomed in a bit (800 px).

This is a pretty good image of Oakland’s high hills, the highest of which is Redwood Peak at the left edge. Lake Merritt sits between downtown and the hills of old Brooklyn. That hook in the shoreline is the cove where Wesley Avenue splits from Lakeshore Avenue today, heading left up a little valley. The right edge of the photo is where East 18th Street meets Lakeshore.

Between Redwood Peak and the shore of Lake Merritt, the top one-third is the high hills and the bottom third is the low hills. The middle third, hard to see, is the rocky hills above Piedmont and their eastern continuation in Oakmore and Redwood Heights.

Note that almost all of this is treeless. That was the state of the whole East Bay when the Spanish and the Americans came here. The exception was the redwood groves, which occupied the highest part of the ridgeline until they were logged out before 1860, and the coastal oak groves nearer the bay.

Anyway, what caught my eye in this photo was its view of the undeveloped lower hills that are almost totally hidden by houses today. Those hills were overridden first by wealthy estates, then by homes and apartments whose selling point was their views. To me, the real view was what those structures wiped out. Today only three bits of that terrain are left: San Antonio Park, Home of Peace Cemetery and Evergreen Cemetery.

Here’s how the Fan fits into that view. We’re looking east across lobe 4, the central segment of this ancient alluvial fan that dominates central Oakland.

Today, you can walk all over those hills and picture how they would have looked before development, but it’s a struggle. The old photographs are indispensible, and precious.