Archive for the ‘Oakland chert’ Category

Land and rocks of westernmost Piedmont

2 April 2018

The western end of Piedmont includes the headwaters of Pleasant Valley Creek, which is tucked under Grand Avenue. But the slopes and gullies of the valley can’t be hidden, and what may seem like a scramble of streets is a nice place to walk around. The topography I’m talking about is north of Oakland Avenue, between Grand and the former quarry of Dracena Park.

None of it’s bedrock; nothing wrong with that. It’s the uppermost part of lobe 3 of the Fan, that big arc of ancient alluvium hills across central Oakland. The bedrock part, farther uphill, is much steeper walking, and the rock (the blue field labeled “Kfn” on the geologic map) doesn’t show itself either.

I should make an exception to that statement — Dracena Park is a great place to see the bedrock. But for the purposes of this post it’s just a pretty place, either in the former main pit:

or in the valley on the north side, now full of redwoods.

This is the most dramatic bit of stream valley in the area. Elsewhere, it’s easy to trace the drainage lines; in fact during our recent batch of rain, you could see water coming out of the ground just like in the old days before people lived up here.

This slopy bit of suburbia is criss-crossed with hidden history. The Key System streetcars used to serve the neighborhood. Indeed, a railroad syndicate once planned a major route through here that was going to run through upper Fruitvale and on to San Jose. The right-of-way appears in this 1927 map (courtesy of the Oakland Library History Room), long after the plans were abandoned.

The part of it running as far as Oakland Avenue did end up with rails as part of the Key System’s C line. If you look closely at the area in Google Maps, the lot lines give the route away.

The transit routes, road and rail, took advantage of the saddle in the ridge of lobe 3, at this spot where Pleasant Valley Road eases over the hill and becomes Grand Avenue. The view is west across the saddle toward Rose Street.

OK, enough of that. There are indeed rocks in this neighborhood. See that clever stone wall in the foreground in the previous shot? Here’s a closeup.

Other rocks are more laid back, understated but cool.

Still others, the only word for them is homey.

They’re all mostly landscapers’ stone, purchased at a commercial yard. But here and there you’ll see genuine domestic Oakland rocks. This little wall is made of serpentine/blueschist from around here, probably the pit at Serpentine Prairie or nearby.

And the Franciscan red chert is very likely from Piedmont itself, which sits on a hill of melange, a marble-cake rock unit that mixes chert, basalt, sandstone and serpentine in a mudstone matrix.

Some of it can be downright psychedelic. Stuff like this was quarried in Piedmont before any buildings were here at all.

Even the sidewalks, the oldest ones anyway, incorporated aggregate from Piedmont’s original quarries.

The town has grown up since then. It puts on a good front — very nice homes, lovely grounds, a fine place for walking and taking in the views (especially when the leaves are down in winter). But it began as a rugged, dusty mining district with horses and dynamite.

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East Bay diatomite

3 April 2017

The geologic map I rely on for this blog — U.S. Geological Survey map MF-2342 — extends north to Pinole, where it shows this little pod of rocks labeled “Tsa” and “Tdi” between Pinole, El Sobrante and Richmond.

Both units are of early Miocene age: Tsa stands for sandstone and Tdi stands for diatomite. The T stands for Tertiary, the catch-all term for Cenozoic rocks older than Quaternary, which — OK, you don’t need the whole lecture just now. The point is, I had to go see this diatomite because I didn’t know it existed in the East Bay. I’ve seen it in the Central Valley, but never around here.

Going north on I-80 you take the Appian Way exit right and immediately turn left on Sarah Drive. Down at the bottom of a valley is Pinole’s little, undeveloped Sarah Drive Park.

On the way to the hilltop, you start seeing this odd rock in the road. Pick up a piece and you’ll find it’s very light. That’s the diatomite.

The trail becomes very steep, exposing the bedrock. The hilltop affords nice views. I was especially taken with the view north.

And the view east looks up Pinole Valley toward Mount Diablo on the horizon. If you’re riding toward Sacramento on the Capitol Corridor Amtrak train, there’s a moment just east of Point Pinole where you can catch this same view of the mountain.

And there were butterflies.

So that’s all great. But here’s what’s cool about the diatomite.

Diatomite is composed of diatoms, the microscopic algae that make shells of silica. As an industrial commodity it’s also called diatomaceous earth, or DE, or kieselguhr if you’re feeling smart. As the stabilizing agent for nitroglycerin in dynamite, it made Alfred Nobel’s fortune, and that’s why we have the Nobel Prize.

As its silica content slowly turns into the crystalline mineral quartz, diatomite becomes the rock called chert. As it happens, the Pinole diatomite is about the same age as the chert in Oakland’s Claremont Shale. By some tectonic accident, it avoided being converted, and you can enjoy its lightweight charm without a trip to Los Banos.

Museum-quality rocks from Oakland

30 January 2017

I keep saying that Oakland has geological features worthy of being put in textbooks. Today I’m here to show you that Oakland has rocks worthy of being in museums, and I’ve put them there.

In 2012, I was asked to put together a set of teaching rocks for the Chabot Space and Science Center. After all, other planets are made of rocks, right? It took some doing, but some of the rocks were easily available within Oakland’s borders in roadside exposures. The conglomerate of the Orinda Formation was one.

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The red chert from the Franciscan Complex was another.

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And of course there was our serpentinite.

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All told, I made five sets of 15 rock types for the kids.

The next year I got a request from Las Positas College, in Livermore, for a boulder of blueschist. Turns out this little college teaches geology, because every citizen will benefit from a course, and students can get a head start on a 4-year degree there. I struggled one out of this streambed, where it wouldn’t be missed.

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They installed it in their teaching garden as Rock J, on the left. It’s small compared to its mates, but that thing weighs a ton because high-grade blueschist is pretty dense.

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My reward included a visit backstage to see their cool collections.

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Then last year, I got a note out of the blue from the under-construction Maine Mineral and Gem Museum asking my help in building their collection. Maine is well known for its gemstone and mineral mines, but the state has no blueschist. I went to a quiet outcrop where it’s just lying around.

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Got two nice boulders and couldn’t choose between them, so I sent them both. They told me one will go on display and the other will go in their teaching collection.

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None of these are precious collectibles or gemstones. They’re just cool and educational.

I’ve pretty much stopped collecting rocks for myself because I’m not important enough. But museums are important enough.

Oakland geology ramble 2: Rockridge to Orinda

15 August 2016

The second geology ramble — my name for a long walk that starts in one place and ends in another — is a long and rugged one, just to show you I’m not kidding about these. From the Rockridge BART station to the Orinda BART station is a walk of more than 9 miles with a thousand-foot climb in the middle.

There are several ways to do this. This summer I’ve pioneered what I’ll call the middle route on two separate outings. Here they are, first on Google Maps and then on the geologic map (both images are 1000 pixels). The photos are a mixture from both traverses.

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From the Rockridge station, the route along the south side of Route 24 is more direct while the alternative, up Chabot Road to Roanoke Road to The Uplands to Tunnel Road (dashing across Tunnel to the uphill side), takes you through more shade and past more rocks, starting on Roanoke.

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The mixed lithologies of Franciscan melange (KJfm) give way to rugged outcrops of the Leona volcanics (pink color) as you cross Vicente Creek on Tunnel Road. Admire them at the century-old estate called The Rocks. Beyond the Fire Garden is a short stretch without sidewalks that passes a long, excellent exposure of Leona volcanics. This was quarried in the 1930s and again in the 1950s during construction of upper Broadway, the Caldecott Tunnel and Route 24.

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The rocks change to mudstone of the Great Valley Sequence (Ku), then the much younger Sobrante Formation (tan color), as you ascend Tunnel Road’s steady, gentle grade.

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The change to the Claremont chert is dramatic as you near the ridgetop and enter Sibley Preserve.

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Cross the park on the Round Top Loop trail, which goes through the coarse-grained sedimentary rocks of the Orinda Formation (Tor), although you won’t see much of them. Take the Volcanic Trail left, which leads into the structurally overlying basalt of the Moraga Formation (Tmb). The quarry that carved up these golden hilltops extracted that basalt. In 0.2 miles, at the right edge of this photo, is a road with a cattle gate that exits the park.

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The views change dramatically on the east side of the hills, whether you’re looking to the left up Siesta Valley . . .

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. . . or to the right toward Mount Diablo.

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Straight ahead lies the unbuilt Wilder Ranch subdivision of Orinda. The valley it sits in is the continuation of Siesta Valley, and it’s underlain by nonmarine sedimentary rocks of the Siesta Formation.

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Both valleys owe their shape to the large fold, or syncline (“sloping together”), in the Siesta Formation that’s noted on the geologic map. The Moraga Formation basalt is also downfolded by this syncline, and it crops out again in the hill with the quarry scar.

This subdivision looks bleak, but the developers are doing the job right. The lots are gray because they’re sealed with some tough, pliant substance that prevents all dust and weeds. And as you cross, the route takes the dirt road running from the intersection of Wilder and Bigleaf Roads to the big bend in Rabble Road. You’ll pass several vegetated catch basins designed to hold the extra runoff from the new properties.

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This is another example of the flood-control practices I mentioned last week.

The route goes from Rabble Road to Boeger Ranch Road, but take the straight spur between them and follow it to the end, where a footpath connects with the end of Oak Road. All of this area is mapped as mudstone of the Mulholland Formation, of which I know nothing beyond its (young) age, Miocene and Pliocene. From Oak, take Stein Way down to busy-busy Moraga Way and from there head to the BART station. Sidestep as much of Moraga Way as possible by taking Camino Encinas.

If time permits, stop for a beer at The Fourth Bore in Theatre Square. If you take this ramble the other way, stop for a beer at Ben & Nick’s. Either way, you’ve earned it.

The first time I made this trek, many years ago, I took the northern route: up Claremont Canyon, north on the Skyline Trail, then down through the Lomas Cantadas maze to Camino Pablo. That was work. I’ve hiked up the canyon on Claremont Avenue several times, but the traffic is nerve-racking. The alternatives, through the Hiller Highlands or Grandview neighborhoods, are steep, sunny trudges. On the Orinda side it would be more fun to descend through the East Bay MUD land from the Skyline Trail (for which you need a hiking permit). I plan to attempt the northern route again when the weather cools. I have a vague scheme for a southern route, too.

See ramble 1 here.