Archive for the ‘oakland rocks’ Category

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.

Lake Aliso

30 December 2014

Mills College occupies a geologically interesting part of town. It owes its stimulating geomorphology to the confluence of three streams under the influence of the Hayward fault. I plan to write several posts about it. Here’s the segment of the geologic map that includes the campus.

mills-college-geomap

The main strand of the fault runs just left of the “Jb” symbol. The narrow lobe of tan, symbolizing Pleistocene alluvium, is where Lion Creek turns from its southward course and cuts across a low ridge of Jurassic basalt (Jb) to cross the fault. I have to say that I haven’t yet found any basalt there, so treat the map with caution. After every large earthquake, whenever and wherever the ground is uplifted the creek, momentarily dammed, gathers its strength and cuts its way through to maintain its right of way. But a flat spot in the streamcourse persists above the fault trace, and there may be a tectonic element at play there too, downdropping the spot in a sag basin. In any case, that wet spot is where the college’s administrators erected a dam to create Lake Aliso, a picturesque basin that was also useful (1) as a water supply for landscaping purposes and (2) for regulating the creek in an attractive state of flow, neither flood nor trickle, as it traverses the campus.

Old photos show the lake as a fine place for boating and pageants, but sediment has inevitably filled it in. Today it’s trying to return to marsh, and from there it aims to retire as a nice meadow.

lake-aliso

But we made the lake, and we can maintain it with enough money and machinery. Here’s Lion Creek, such as it was, at the lake’s inlet, which must date from the building of freeways I-580 and Warren.

lake-aliso-inlet

My visit was a few weeks before the December rains but after November’s whistle-wetting, so the water was cloudy with fresh sediment and possibly some of that ugly runoff from the old sulfur mine. Right now Lion Creek should be closer to roaring.

The other end of the lake is an earthen dam, including this spillway.

lake-aliso-outlet

It demonstrates one of the basics of managing streams of any size: If you block a stream, it will silt up its bed on the high end and start eroding its bed on the low end. Another way to think of it is that when we mess with a stream, it usually backfires in the long run. The guidance of a licensed geologist with some expertise in hydrology can help forestall the inevitable.

There is some loose rock around, most of it looking like this.

lake-aliso-rock

Although they may just be landfill, I assign these stones to the “Jsv” unit—the metamorphosed volcanic rocks that make up the high hills.

Grizzly Peak

20 December 2014

Grizzly Peak is the highest point in Oakland, at 1754 feet elevation (sources differ). As you approach it on Grizzly Peak Boulevard, it seems to loom quite high.

grizpeak1

That’s an illusion caused by the eucalyptus forest. As you get closer, you start to see through the trees.

grizpeak2

And from the bay side, the peak has a mohawk look because the trees are stripped off its northern half.

There’s a vague trail up the south side. Even in its true contours, Grizzly Peak is a steep little climb, and the thick layer of leaves is slippery. I’d rather the eucalyptus trees weren’t here, but they do offer a lovely privacy.

grizpeak3

And underfoot are rocks! The peak is mapped as the Moraga Formation, a set of lava flows from 9 to 10 million years old. This is the stuff connected to the volcano at Round Top.

grizpeak4

The top of the peak has a broadcasting tower of some sort, with a fenced-in support building at its foot. There used to be a lookout tower here, and a benchmark nearby attested to its elevation. Mount Diablo is almost exactly due east—not that you can see it through the damn eucalyptus.

You could walk up the access road instead. Either way, you can’t get any closer to the peak per se than this.

grizpeak5

That route offers nice views, and it takes you past a lot of broken rock, if you have your heart set on a specimen.

grizpeak6

Most of the rock is like this—weathered and fractured. There’s no easy way to tell what causes the strong layering, as this rock has been tilted almost vertical and then eroded by the fog, rain and earthquakes of the Berkeley Hills.

grizpeak7

It’s hard to expose unaltered bits. What’s there is a medium-gray, featureless stone that geologists typically call andesite until they can study it in the lab.

Grizzly Peak is not a place to stay long, but it seems that there are those who love it.

grizpeak8

Another hematite boulder

29 November 2014

Some of Oakland’s busiest places are little visited and little noticed. This set of boulders sits at the intersection of MacArthur and Foothill Boulevards, up by the Eastmont Transit Center.

macarthur-foothill

The stuff of these boulders appears to be the hematite ore of upper Leona Creek. It almost looks like they would fit together in a larger rock.

Who knows how they got here. Somewhere in the city’s maintenance yards there must be a stockpile of Oakland boulders, kept handy for deployments like this where you want to keep cars off the dirt and on the road.

Claremont chert, and other Oakland rocks, in Sunol

16 November 2014

The other day I took a field trip to see the construction site of the new dam for the Calaveras Reservoir. (The old dam is being replaced because it’s not strong enough to endure a big earthquake on the Calaveras fault, which runs essentially right through it.) It was a cool time, with fossils and big construction vehicles and engineers and grout. As the dam people were orienting us that morning, they passed around specimens of the major rock types in the area, and here was a fine chunk of chert from the Claremont Formation.

Claremont-in-Sunol

The stuff in our Oakland hills is white, because its carbon content was been leached out. This deep specimen retains the organic remains of ancient plankton that make the Claremont, like its larger sibling the Monterey Formation, source rocks for petroleum. (I showed you an exposure of similar stuff down at Alum Rock Park a while back.)

What the heck, I’m not planning to publish these anywhere else: here’s a cobble from a conglomerate down there that’s been stretched and fractured by activity on the Calaveras fault. It was exactly like the examples in our own Oakland Conglomerate.

calaverascobble

I think this one was from the Berryessa Formation (which is also found up at Alum Rock). Considering the looseness of the definitions of these formations, I feel safe in correlating them, although Crittenden defined the Berryessa as lying above the Oakland. Anyway, the phenomenon is the same.

One major feature of the construction project is an enormous cut made into the hill on the west side of the dam site. Basically, they discovered an active landslide there and decided to excavate the whole damn thing. We got to wander out along this exposure and hunt for fossils in the Temblor Formation, or at least rocks mapped as the Temblor.

calaverascut

There were a fair number of big ol’ scallop shells to be found, usually in pieces. Also some coaly bits of fossil wood. This is a rare exposure of an actual bedding plane, as marked by a pavement of scallop shells in what looks like their growth position.

calaveraspectens

We also learned a lot about the recent project that rebuilt part of the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct that runs through here. Once the work was done, this tunnel-digging machine became surplus.

calaverasdigger

The guy asked us if we wanted to bid on it. I thought it had the makings of a good Burning Man stunt.

The Las Aromas serpentinite

26 September 2014

The southern edge of the Piedmont Pines neighborhood butts against Joaquin Miller Park, and there’s no reason to visit if you don’t happen to live there—except if you like serpentinite. The street named Las Aromas dips into the belt of serpentinite that extends up and over the ridge to Serpentine Prairie, and the rock type is well exposed. One resident has done a lot of landscaping in this inhospitable rock type.

lasaromas-serp1

The scaly structure is typical of serpentinite, and here it’s fairly close to the Hayward fault. Farther uphill is this exposure, where the grain of the rock is parallel to the street.

lasaromas-serp2

Its blue-green color is striking. And there are a few spots where friction in the recent geologic past has turned it glossy. The rocks aren’t as spectacular as Serpentine Prairie itself, but they’re still noteworthy.

lasaromas-serp3

I never tire of our state rock. Speaking of Serpentine Prairie, today on KQED Science there’s a story on the ongoing effort to propagate the rare Presidio Clarkia. (I photographed it a few years ago before they fenced off the area.)


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