Knowland Park knockers I: High-grade chert

12 October 2015

As I review my discoveries at Knowland Park since that day in July when I first set foot there, it makes me want to linger over its rocks. The large exposure of the Franciscan Complex is probably the park’s most significant geologic feature.

Oakland has two exposures of Franciscan rocks. The big one underlies Piedmont and the adjoining neighborhoods of Oakland, which means it’s covered with houses, roads and landscaping. The small one underlies Knowland Park and the uplands of the Chabot Park and Chabot Park Highlands neighborhoods. The portion in Knowland Park is the largest open exposure of this rock unit in the city and perhaps the whole East Bay.

It’s Franciscan melange, but distinctly different from the Piedmont block. Melange is a mixture of rock types, largely mudstone of various types, with big chunks of harder stuff floating in it. In the landscape, the chunks emerge as the surroundings erode away, and generations of California geologists have called them knockers.

Knowland Park’s knockers include several different rock types, and the largest number of them are high-grade chert, or metachert. Unlike the red chert that’s typical of the Piedmont block (and San Francisco and the Marin Headlands’ great exposures), Knowland’s chert is green and hard and recrystallized. It has undergone deep burial, perhaps more than once, yet it appears to retain its original layering.

Here’s one of a number of very large boulders exposed down by Arroyo Viejo in the woods. (All images are large and should be clicked for the best detail.)


Most of the chert knockers aren’t this well organized. Here’s one that I showed to the group on the October 4 geology walk.


And here’s one I didn’t. The chert fabric is pretty much gone. Still other knockers are probably totaly chewed up, and without hammering them to get a fresh exposure, which is forbidden in the park (and against my practice anyway) it may be hard to identify.


This is the park’s most prominent chert knocker. Both the October 4 walkers and the September 20 mappers enjoyed the stone and the views.


Close up, the stone shows tantalizing details.


But elsewhere in the park I found this beautiful fragment that displays the clean color of the stone and the etched surface of its layers. I left it behind for you to find.


Perhaps some amateur with a hammer made this fragment. If people feel free to take pretty things away from the park, after a while there won’t be any more pretty things in it. On the other hand, maybe it was the graders who created this fragment as they maintained the roads in the park. Those are lucky breaks for the rest of us.

Watershed wilderness

5 October 2015

The lower end of Skyline Boulevard offers a tantalizing glimpse of the wilderness right next door. This post has large images, so I encourage you to click on them.

When you look east from most of Oakland’s highest hills, the center of attention is Mount Diablo. You can drive there and drive up and it’s a wonderful place. From the southernmost end of the hills, though, Diablo is hidden by Rocky Ridge.


Rocky Ridge reaches just over 2000 feet elevation and forms the west side of Bollinger Canyon, in Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. Between here, at the city stables just north of Keller Road, and Rocky Ridge lies Grass Valley, with its patches of grass and a power line running up it; then a darker, more distant ridge on the other side of Upper San Leandro Reservoir. From there to Rocky Ridge is an untrammeled area of mixed woods and fields and chapparal that’s East Bay MUD watershed land.

The ridge is about 5 miles away in a straight line but more like 8 miles on foot. With a permit, you can walk there but you can’t bike and you can’t camp. In a word, reaching that land from here is a pretty extreme challenge. You could reach it from the other side if you’re up for an 800-foot-plus climb out of Bollinger Canyon.

It’s so near, yet so remote.

Here’s the geology: fairly young sedimentary rocks, of late Miocene age (roughly 10 to 5 million years old), deeply folded to create dramatic exposures on Rocky Ridge’s flank. Don’t worry about all the symbols and labels, they’re significant only to a few specialists.


The photo is taken from the lower left corner where it says “Ko” (for the Oakland Conglomerate) and points toward the upper right corner. In the upper right quadrant, that set of stripes with the heavy line on its right edge represents the package of rocks making up the ridge, and the heavy line marks a thrust fault along which those rocks have been uplifted.

To help you visualize what the map is showing, the map includes a cross section of these rocks, drawn along that straight diagonal line near the top left. The point labeled B’ corresponds to the same point on the cross section, below.


Is your brain stretched to breaking yet? No? You may have the makings of a geologist.

For a much easier experience, hike in Grass Valley instead. That’s not watershed land, because it drains into Chabot Reservoir; instead it’s in the northern part of Anthony Chabot Regional Park, where only the locals go, and is as peaceful as can be. Some day I’ll post about it.

Deep time and Deep East

28 September 2015

The deepest part of Deep East Oakland, at the south end of the alphabet streets, is a neighborhood that shows its age. First laid out and developed almost a century ago, it was a desirable locale, with good transportation, fresh air, a warm climate and excellent soil, plus nice views of the hills.


The neighborhood retains modest homes from a wide range of 20th-century styles.


There are also front-yard fences everywhere, signs of a more recent stage of the local culture.


So why do I bring up deep time when I think about Deep East? “Deep time,” the wonderful term first used by John McPhee in Basin and Range, is geology’s great insight that Earth history is essentially infinite. Put another way, by paying careful attention to the geology of the present-day landscape, we can deduce many facts about the deep past. With that knowledge we can visualize ancient worlds with different landscapes, superimposed on our own. From those visions, informed by geologic fact, we can see light shed upon even earlier landscapes and worlds, and there seems to be no limit. This is similar to how astronomers know the universe — deep space — in ever-greater detail as our instruments improve.

We also learn that even while the landscape is far older than the human presence in it, some parts of it are old and some are quite young in geologic terms. The young features took their place by erasing something older. The ongoing processes of geology — uplift, erosion, consolidation, disintegration — lead to a pleasantly mixed landscape just as the ongoing processes of humanity — birth, death, migration, commerce — lead to neighborhoods like Deep East. Landscapes and neighborhoods both are always changing, and each day’s present is a snapshot never to be repeated.

The more I learn how much Oakland has changed and how many ways it can change, the more precious becomes the present. Some day, earthquake or rising sea level or century-long drought will wipe most of our present away. So as I walk around this town I always know that the panorama has a big label on it that reads “Before.”


What the “After” scene will look like is to be determined. We know that by personal initiative and supportive policies, historic properties can be safeguarded for the future, with the hope of maintaining and reviving what’s precious about a neighborhood.

The same is true for Oakland. The same is true for the Earth we live on. Spread the word and enjoy today.


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