1175 Hill (Sugarloaf Hill), an Oakland local hero

17 August 2015

When I was writing for About.com, I started a photo gallery of peaks. My philosophy was that there are lots of mountains besides the famous ones, like Mount Diablo, that are local heroes. Even a minor eminence can be the center of a neighborhood, and a hillock the heart of one kid’s fantasy world. I also entertained the idea that every hill and mountain is capable of being photographed in its heroic moment, so to speak — posed at a particular angle, in the right setting of weather and time of day.

Which brings me to 1175 Hill. You’ve surely seen it on the eastern skyline as you look past the Oakland LDS temple. I don’t know its local name, so I call it by its elevation, as shown on the local topo map. It’s part of our landscape.

Let’s circle around it, going clockwise. The photos were taken at various times during the last three years.

This view is from McKillop Drive across Sausal Creek. The palms are on Fruitvale at School Street.

hill1175a

Here it is in a view along Macarthur Boulevard in the Dimond district.

hill1175b

This view is from Skyline Boulevard at Serpentine Prairie.

hill1175c

This is from Bacon Road, looking across the big solar array in back of Merritt College.

hill1175d

Here it is from Skyline down around Lexford Place. We’ve gone halfway around the hill.

hill1175e

From the Artemisia Trail, down in Leona Canyon, the hill appears at its most imposing.

hill1175g

We can look straight up the hill’s axis from the top of Elysian Fields Drive.

hill1175f

From the west side of Leona Canyon, on the Pyrite Trail, is the last good glimpse of 1175 Hill. Houses along the ridgeline on Campus Drive get in the way, keeping the best views in their back yards.

hill1175h

And we close the circle at Merritt College. This is how the hill looks right next to the bus stop, a real ornament to the campus.

hill1175i

The hill has a city survey marker on its top, which is presumably where the elevation was measured. On topo maps before the 1959 version, its elevation is shown as 1168 feet, without a symbol. This signifies that its elevation was probably determined from stereo aerial photos. The 1897 and 1915 maps show it as no higher than 1120 feet. So I can say that as civilization approached and surrounded it, this hill has grown in our estimation. I hope with this post to further raise its esteem.

I’ll show you its geology and some views from its top next week. Until then, can anyone tell me if it has a local name? [Addendum: I now know that the Parks District knows it as Sugarloaf Hill, a common name across the whole country for steep, round-topped hills. See the comments]

Survivor trees

10 August 2015

I’ve been poking around Oakland’s edges lately. In southernmost East Oakland there’s not a lot of geologic history, but there are some big old trees, survivors of optimistic times, plus nice views of the hills and sky.

This is one of our largest and oldest jacarandas, on 92nd Avenue. (There’s a comparable one on Pippin Street.)

jacaranda

And here’s an even more exotic visitor, an Araucaria from the southern hemisphere (a monkey-puzzle tree, I think) in Sobrante Park.

monkeypuzzle

On 105th Avenue, next to what appear to have been Oakland’s last commercial greenhouses, we have a big old lot where there used to be something but now there’s just a large generic tree. What has it survived?

lone-tree-105th

The ground here is mapped as Bay mud, just past the seaward edge of the alluvial fan of San Leandro Creek. If the soil is still clean, it should be rich stuff.

Down at the end of 105th Avenue, hard by San Leandro Creek, is a cluster of venerable black walnuts.

blackwalnuts

Unlike the previous trees, these may well be natives. At least the species is right and the riparian (streamside) habitat is correct.

There are surely people in Oakland who remember the stories of these trees.

But I really wanted to talk about another old survivor tree, up in the hills on the south side of Horseshoe Canyon. In fact “Old Survivor” is its name. This last week I had the opportunity to visit it with a small group of people. It’s older than any human memory in these parts.

old-redwood-sign

The group tended to refer to the tree as “the Grandfather Tree.” I thought “Grandmother” was a name just as good. But the DAR, in chiseling “Old Survivor” on this monument by Campus Drive at Carl Munck Elementary School, established priority. The age is subject to revision, though. The 1981 monument put the tree’s age at 425 years, but there’s no birth certificate for this baby. The tree was cored in the late 1960s, and its age at that time was estimated as 415–420 years. Let’s make 1550 its germinal year. So today it would be 465 years old. Here it is.

old-redwood-up

The Old Survivor is about 100 feet tall and has presence, especially when you think of it as the last old-growth redwood left in its East Bay stronghold. However, the loggers let it be because it was, and is, a scraggly, marginal specimen. Part of its uphill side is bare, fire-scarred wood. It’s flanked by two nuisance trunks that were less than marketable size in the 1850s redwood rush. The slope it sits on is more of a cliff, and had it been toppled it would have shattered.

The Old Survivor is rooted on Leona “rhyolite” rather than the moist mudstone of the Redwood Formation or Oakland Conglomerate that redwood prefers. But it’s fitting that Oakland’s oldest tree grows from Oakland’s oldest rock.

old-redwood-base

While the tree consists of a triple trunk, the central trunk stands above its siblings pretty well, if I can judge from the photos on oaklandwiki. I took a photo of its crown from the west side.

old-redwood-top

Old Survivor isn’t pretty, and it’s very hard to visit, but it’s still precious: the last bit of our forest primeval.


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