Archive for the ‘Sausal Creek watershed’ Category

Shepherd Canyon landslides

10 April 2017

Last week I went to visit a landslide that had been in the news. As it happened, I saw three.

Shepherd Canyon always gets a lot of landslides, like its neighboring canyons in the high hills. The main reason is that Shephard Creek has a lot of cutting power, thanks to its relatively large watershed and the low base level provided by Dimond Canyon. That creates steep slopes and V-shaped valley profiles. A secondary reason is the relatively soft mudstone underlying those slopes.

My destination was the landslide that came down on the south side of Banning Drive. But along the way my path was blocked by two more mass movements. They’re marked by white asterisks on the geologic map below.

The Montclair Railroad Trail, my usual route, offers walkers good access to the canyon. On the inner side of the sharp curve and cut leading into the canyon, this slope failure exposed the rears of two houses. I classify it as a debris fall.

The majority of the material is broken rock, hence the term debris, and it tumbled in a heap rather than traveling any distance, hence the term fall. Only a little mud was present.

The area is mapped as the Oakland Conglomerate (Ko), although the debris appeared to consist mostly of fine sandstone and a little shale, like this. The rainwashed stone is well displayed.

Picking my way past that was no problem. Farther up the trail, though, was a complete blockage.

Like the lower slope failure, this one involved debris, but unlike it the material slid, so I classify it as a debris slide. Several large trees that came down with the rock didn’t appear to be to blame. However, this time of year is the most dangerous for trees because the ground is sopping wet and the limbs are heavy with young leaves, making them prone to catch the wind. Maybe they triggered the slide. Maybe the other way around.

Fortunately no houses appeared to be threatened above the headscarp, but now the slope is highly vulnerable.

A sewer line runs beneath the trail, so the city may have to clear the slide once the ground is no longer saturated. Meanwhile this is too dangerous to approach. It could fall with no warning.

The debris is made of fine-grained sandstone of the Redwood Canyon Formation (Kr).

Finally I got up to Banning Drive. It’s situated in one of the major side valleys in Shepherd Canyon, and the walls are exceptionally steep.

I classify this slope failure as a debris flow, what the news media often calls a mudslide. It traveled downhill a good hundred meters in a thick semifluid mass. The mud content was greater than the other two slides, and muck spilled into and around several homes on Banning. There’s plenty of footage of the scene online, so I don’t need to show you that. It was hard to watch the residents clearing out their red-tagged homes while the news vans gathered round.

I didn’t need to be there once I’d seen it. Presently I went uphill to Aitken Drive, where the slide originated.

Note a couple of things. Right beyond the gap in the road, a telephone pole was snapped off and the wires were hanging low. (The power was off.) The extra load caused the pole at the left edge of the photo to lean inward. The scar in the road reveals a wall of sandbags (I assume they were filled with concrete) that must have been put there after a previous slide.

Landslides occur where previous slides did. And sure enough, looking uphill I could see the young scar of a small rockslide, nestled in turn within a concavity in the hillside that looked like the scar of a much older slide.

There is another street higher up, Chelton Drive, but no houses up there appeared to be endangered. Meanwhile East Bay MUD had the road blocked while they were making sure the water lines underneath wouldn’t break and make more trouble.

Who’s responsible? Perhaps no one. The problem is above my pay grade, as I’m not a licensed geologist. But I can see the signs and warnings of landslides, and so can you if you pay attention to the landscape. The U.S. Geological Survey has resources, and so does the California Geological Survey.

Oakland geology ramble 1, Leimert to Redwood

6 June 2016

For a while now I’ve been envisioning geological rambles around Oakland — walks (hikes, really) that aren’t loops, but traverses. They rely on public transit, because that’s mainly how I roll. You can walk them in either direction. My ultimate idea is to work out a network of rambles that will cover the whole town. You could combine them into epic outings. This is the first ramble. It’s a little more than 4 miles.

The west end of the route is on Park Boulevard at the Leimert Bridge. The 18 bus line will get you there from either the MacArthur or the downtown BART station. Starting elevation is ~375 feet. Here’s the street route (1000 pixels):

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And here’s the corresponding geologic map:

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Briefly, the route takes you past Franciscan sandstone of the Piedmont block (Kfn), then crosses the Hayward fault into much older mixed rocks of the Coast Range ophiolite (basalt (Jb), serpentinite (sp), Leona “rhyolite” volcaniclastics (Jsv)) and a bit of Late Jurassic mudstone of the Knoxville Formation (KJk). (Search this site for more about all those rocks.) Remember to leave the stone alone.

Oakmore Hill looks pretty intimidating as you cross the Leimert Bridge. Part of that is because of Dimond Canyon below. The bridge is about 125 feet above Sausal Creek.

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Buy your fuel and water in the charming little Oakmore commercial district. Then make your way to Braemar Street along the top of the hill. Take any route you like. The intersection of Arcadia and Melvin, directly above the E in “Oakmore,” is a good shady spot to regroup and refresh.

Along the way you’ll see exposures of the sandstone.

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Braemar Street is nice and level. Truck along right to the end and enter the footpath like you do it all the time. As you descend the steps, look across the fault-line valley to the bare slopes of Joaquin Miller Park. That’s where you’re headed.

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Closer to hand, you’ll see that the rock has changed. This appears to be the Jurassic basalt, unit Jb.

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On the way to the freeway overcrossing at Lincoln Avenue, look at the lay of the land.

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The active trace of the Hayward fault isn’t precisely mapped here, but it runs from about the lower middle edge on the left side to the horizon directly behind the large tree (note the LDS Temple spire on the right edge). The next time the ground breaks, you’ll see it very clearly here.

Cross the freeway and take Woodminster Lane to Woodside Glen Court, where the road ends at a backdoor entrance to Joaquin Miller Park at about 700 feet elevation. Things get pretty steep here, and they’ll stay steep.

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The exposure appears to be either Leona rhyolite or Franciscan sandstone; the important thing is that the bedrock changes abruptly as you enter the woods into the area mapped as serpentinite.

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Specifically, this is blueschist, the electrifying high-grade metamorphic rock that’s intimately mixed with greenish serpentine rock throughout this map unit. Enjoy the trail, which is the little-traveled west end of the Sinawik Trail, as you puff your way up to about 950 feet at Lookout Point. Stop a bit and check out the high-grade boulders there. (You’ll want to stop anyway.)

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This is where I show the route forking. It’s easier to go right, either on the trail or on Sanborn Road, going downhill to Joaquin Miller Road and across it to Butters Drive. I took the high route, up what I call Visionary Ridge, because I was returning two pieces of basalt to the locality where I got them. I thought better of that plan as I passed the park’s native plant nursery, where I added them to the little border at the bottom of this photo.

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The hillsides here are pure serpentinite and worth a close look. The high route continues along the ridge crest, around 1100 feet, to Joaquin Miller Road, where you cross and take Robinson Drive to where it meets Butters Drive at about 1025 feet. The high route will save you a loss and gain of 200 feet, but you’ll miss Butters Drive.

Butters Drive starts in some of Oakland’s most spectacular serpentine/blueschist ground, and it’s landscaped too. (See more photos from a 2015 visit here.)

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Continue past the hairpin turn into the headwaters of Peralta Creek in the Butters Canyon private preserve. Here the rock along the road is mapped as Leona rhyolite.

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The intriguing thing is that right across the creek the rock is Knoxville Formation, a unit that’s generally shale and hence easily eroded. I think this contact is exploited by the creek to dig the canyon so locally deep. You can get a good look at the Knoxville right above the intersection with Robinson Drive, where the high and low routes meet again.

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Now the route plunges about 300 feet down Crestmont Drive and through Oakland’s largest area of serpentinite. Take in the prodigious exposure at Crestmont and Kimberlin Heights drives.

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The west edge of the serpentinite zone is a thrust fault, which means the rock here is quite pulverized. This part of the hike has several interesting exposures that I’ll let you discover on your own. The very easternmost end of Crestmont Drive goes through Leona rhyolite, which you’ll see in boulders.

When you reach Redwood Road, truck on downhill to Campus Drive at about 650 feet elevation, where the 54 bus comes by regularly. It’ll take you to the Fruitvale BART station or connect you to major lines on MacArthur, Foothill or International boulevards.

Fallen trees

30 May 2016

Naturally, the people of a city named Oakland cherish their trees.

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But trees are living things, and every one must die at some point. After years of drought plus one wet winter, I’ve noticed a lot of downed trees. This one was in Leona Heights, an oak. When oaks topple, that’s the end of them.

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This one, a bay laurel, was in Joaquin Miller Park. Fallen bay trees commonly reroot, which is a handy thing in their preferred moist habitat.

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Fallen trees may interest field geologists because as their roots rip out, they expose the bedrock in areas with thick vegetation. Thus information from “tree throws” can help in mapping the rocks. For instance, I inspected the rocks uprooted by this tree . . .

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. . . and noted that they were typical mudstone of the Joaquin Miller Formation. The park is the formation’s type area, after all.

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Another treefall farther downstream exposed serpentinite. (The two very different rock types are separated by the Chabot fault.)

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Sometimes data points like these are the only way to get a handle on steep, vegetated terrain.

Research-type geologists consider “tree throw” a significant actor in the evolution of wooded landscapes (here’s a taste from a recent conference).

Down by the water, especially along the smaller creeks, fallen bay laurels often span the stream and root on both sides. Sometimes it’s charming, like here above Dunsmuir House, but it’s usually a hassle if you’re trying to walk along the streambed.

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To hydrologists — geologists who specialize in streams — fallen trees are a crucial part of stream systems. Natural streams always contain some amount of dead wood, because it lasts for years before it rots away or burns up.

Wood doesn’t act like sand and gravel. It doesn’t wash away easily, it sticks around and snags stuff. So making a realistic model of stream behavior requires a sophisticated understanding of how this “wood load” affects the water. Hydrology journals publish a steady trickle of papers on this topic.

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Most of us would rather that trees stayed standing and streambeds stayed clear. That only happens in landscaped parks. To know nature, you have to learn to appreciate snags.