Archive for the ‘Oakland rocks’ Category

A circumambulation of Claremont Canyon

25 April 2016

A few weeks ago I took a strenuous ramble to accomplish a small thing — returning a stone to its home. The journey took me through some beautiful and interesting country, and the whole thing was the point.

The blue line of my route started from its farthest western point, where the 49 bus dropped me off by the Claremont Resort. From there I went up the ridge forming the northern side of Claremont Canyon, across the canyon’s upper reach to save time, and down the ridge on the southern side. The elevation change was more than 1000 feet, so this was not an idle stroll.


The canyon is one of our finest examples of a wineglass canyon, a landform typical of major faults, in this case the Hayward fault. In case a photo image says more to you than a topo map, here’s a grab from Google Maps showing the canyon.


Now look at it in relation to the Hayward fault, which runs straight across the bottom of this image through Cal Stadium and right behind the Claremont Resort.


Movement on the fault has lifted the eastern (hills) side relative to the western (bay) side, which keeps Claremont Creek cutting down hard where it meets the fault. The result is that the mouth of the canyon is restricted to a narrow, steep-walled breach while the upper part of the canyon is free to spread out sideways as it erodes. This shape resembles the narrow stem and wide bowl of a wineglass, hence the name.

OK, what about the rocks? Here’s the geologic map with the photo localities shown. You see the Hayward fault cutting the lower left corner.


We start out (1) through an unexpected little exposure of the Leona rhyolite (Jsv), with the Chabot fault defining its eastern edge. Here’s the stone with its typical rusty tint . . .


. . . and here’s the view north of the dramatic contact between the Leona and, on the right, mudstones of the Great Valley Sequence (Ku, for undivided Cretaceous rocks).


Higher up (2), the sandstone and related rocks of the Great Valley Sequence appear in abundance. In Shephard Canyon and farther south, these rocks are subdivided into several formations.


The bedrock seems to support chapparal rather than forest, although maybe that’s only a function of the recent history of fire here.


On the horizon, left to right, we see bare 1684 Hill, Radio Tower Hill and the adjacent knob across Grizzly Peak Boulevard, and dark Round Top just peeking over the ridgeline.

Still higher (3) we can spot a fresh landslide running from a Grandview home down onto its neighbors.


Up around 1300 feet (4) is this exposure of a fault that has pinched across these strongly bedded rocks. By now we’ve crossed a contact into much younger strata.


And right around the corner appears the Claremont Chert in all its typical glory. This is directly above the formation’s type section along Claremont Boulevard.


Achieving the top of the canyon (5) gets you the reward of one of Oakland’s finest views.


Finally I got to my destination (6), the exposure of Claremont Chert at Radio Tower Hill. That’s where I put back the specimen I collected there some 10 years ago.

If you manage to find it, you can be its next temporary owner.

The trudge back down will work your quads pretty hard, but you get nice views of where you’ve been (7).


I hope it gets easier with repetition, because I want to come back.

Vollmer Peak and the Bald Peak Basalt

11 April 2016

At 1905 feet above sea level, Vollmer Peak is the highest point on San Pablo Ridge and in the Berkeley/Oakland Hills. It doesn’t stand out from below — you know it by the two widely separated towers on it, to the right of Grizzly Peak — but it sure stands out when you’re on it. Here’s a view of Grizzly Peak from its upper flank.


Vollmer Peak used to be known as Bald Peak, which accounts for the name of the rock unit that holds it up. The Bald Peak Basalt is the youngest volcanic rock in the Oakland area, the well-defined reddish blob in the geologic map labeled Tbp (for Tertiary Bald Peak).


I haven’t seen a lot of this rock, but it’s described as “massive basalt flows.” Here’s an example from nearby Chaparral Peak. Notice the dark color and the light-brown weathering rind, both of which are typical.


Its age, about 8.4 million years, is distinctly younger than the lava flows you’ll see at Sibley Volcanic Reserve, which are part of the Moraga Formation (Tmb) and date from 9 to 10 million years ago. The two volcanic units are separated by sedimentary rocks of the Siesta Formation, and apparently the Bald Peak and Siesta interfinger with each other in outcrops in the upper part of the Siesta Valley.

It’s nice and quiet up there, and the wildflowers are in progress. The peak used to be unforested, like all the high hills, and it has remnant populations of many different meadow plants.

Here’s a shot overlooking Briones Reservoir on a moist day. In clear weather the Sierra Nevada takes precedence.


And here’s the view southeast. There’s a lot to point out in it.


Left to right on the horizon, we see the flank of Mount Diablo, the twin humps of Las Trampas Ridge and Rocky Ridge with Bollinger Canyon between them, the Diablo Range hills beyond the Livermore Valley, and Round Top on Gudde Ridge. The green valley in the middle is Wilder Valley (or Gateway Valley) in Orinda, now being developed. It’s the counterpart of Siesta Valley on the north side of route 24, which we can’t see because we aren’t high enough. The tree-studded hilltop in the middle is Eureka Peak.

The sulfur problem of the Leona rhyolite

4 April 2016

The Leona “rhyolite” is one of Oakland’s most intriguing rock formations. We have other volcanic rocks here — the true lava flows at the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve — but the Leona is ten times older and has a very different story.


I put the word rhyolite in quotes because the rock isn’t technically rhyolite, although geologists used to think it was. Rhyolite is a type of lava, generally light-colored and very viscous, the kind of stuff you see in the Inyo Domes south of Mono Lake, or at Lassen Peak.

Instead, the Leona was originally a thick pile of mostly volcanic ash, part of a chain of volcanoes out in the deep Pacific Ocean. Volcanic ash is a glassy material. Later it was invaded by actual lava flows and hydrothermal features like the “black smokers” of the deep sea floor. These things cooked the ash beds into hard rocks as the glassy ash broke down (devitrified). The result looks somewhat like rhyolite, but it’s formally called quartz keratophyre on the geologic map. Cliff Hopson, a leading expert in this part of California geology, described it in 2008 (GSA Special Paper 438) as the top part of the Coast Range ophiolite, “mostly altered, devitrified volcaniclastic sedimentary rocks” of the “volcanopelagic remnant,” a mixture of ash and deep-sea ooze.

The hydrothermal activity, in particular, added sulfur into the mix in the form of the mineral pyrite. The mineral oxidizes upon exposure to air and rainwater, yielding sulfuric acid and iron oxides.

Over the years on this blog, I’ve documented acidic waters draining the Leona “rhyolite” almost everywhere it’s exposed. The most notorious place is the former sulfur mine at the top of McDonell Avenue, where “yellowboy” oxides stain the streambed below.


Would-be pyrite miners have poked their picks into the Leona all over the place. I recently located a long-abandoned adit — a horizontal tunnel — left behind by one of those guys.


You don’t want to go here. The adit is about 10 meters long, smells funny and is lined with a powdery deposit signifying a steady decay. The city ought to seal it, but it’s difficult to find and is well enough left alone, so far.

Nearby are numerous pits with the telltale red-brown linings that develop in the Leona after a few decades of exposure.


Bits of rock below the adit, with the pyrite leached out of them, are very lightweight. Elsewhere I’ve seen this stuff turn to pure clay.


Experience has shown me that the Leona seems to release acid drainage wherever an incision is made in it. Had I read the literature first, I’d’ve known this long ago. In a 1969 report for the U.S. Geological Survey (Map GQ-769), Dorothy Radbruch noted, “Fresh rock contains abundant pyrite in many places. . . . runoff from rhyolite hills [is] very acid and corrodes concrete sewer pipe.