Encounter with Sugarloaf Hill

24 August 2015

As promised, here’s a look at Sugarloaf (a/k/a 1175) Hill. But first two announcements:

  1. The 46L bus line goes from the Coliseum BART station past the zoo to Oakland’s remote Grass Valley neighborhood. It’s the only public transit providing access to the area that includes all of Knowland Park. AC Transit funded a year-long trial of this route to restore service that was cut in 2010, when a transbay line served the area. It’s still a bit of a trek to reach the park, but for carless people it’s essentially impossible without the 46L. (Yes, the bus has a bike rack.) There will be a hearing on September 2 at an awkward time, 5 pm, to consider keeping the 46L going. That’s what staff recommends, but I will lobby the board to continue service because it’s up to them, not the staff. I hope you’ll speak up too. [Update: The AC Transit Board voted to make the route permanent.]
  2. Speaking of Knowland Park, I’m discussing the possibility of leading some geology walks up there next month, for Wild Oakland. Updates here and there.

Thank you.


Sugarloaf Hill is on the rear side of the Merritt College campus and is in the Leona Canyon Preserve. The East Bay Regional Parks District has plans to enable access to Leona Canyon when the college is closed, though it seems like a low priority for them.

The trail up the hill is not marked or mapped, but it’s not hard to find. As you go up through the woods, you’ll pass exposures of the Leona “rhyolite” that underlies this whole area.


Once above the trees, the campus unfolds below you. This shot also shows the range of habitats on the hill. (It’s a 1000-pixel shot; there are three more later in this post.)


The upper part of the hill is largely grassland with ferns and some bedrock. The soil is very thin. This land used to be grazed. The grassland, says the EBPRD, is dominantly non-native species. It doesn’t mention the ferns, considering them part of the forest biome.


Besides grassland, the hill comprises shrubland and oak/bay woodland. Some parts are pleasingly mixed.


The view west over Leona Canyon juxtaposes grassland and forest. The forest is typical coast live oak and bay laurel, along with buckeye and hazelnut and a whole bunch of different native shrubs. The houses are on Campus Drive.


And this view south over Leona Canyon shows the shrubland, consisting of coyote brush, sagebrush and poison oak. It’s quite overgrown. Absent grazing or fires, this tends to turn into oak/bay forest.


The rocks don’t form many outcrops, per se. There are abundant boulders like this one. They’re naturally covered with lichens, so you have to search to see any details of this metamorphosed volcanic sandstone. Please don’t take a hammer to this stone—besides being protected by EBRPD rules, it deserves to look the way it wants. (1000px)


The point of a hill, so to speak, is its top and the views it makes available. When I climbed Sugarloaf Hill it was a cool and hazy day, so the next two photos are just versions of what you might see from there. Here’s looking north toward the ridge of Redwood Peak, over the ballfields and solar array of Merritt College. (1000px)


And here’s looking south over Leona Canyon from the summit. The rectangle of boulders is I think the work of idlers rather than the remnants of an old foundation. On the horizon, from left to right, are the dimly seen Knife, the dark wooded ridge behind Lake Chabot, and tree-topped Fairmont Ridge behind the hills of Knowland Park. (1000px)


Your viewing may vary.

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.


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


This view is from Skyline Boulevard at Serpentine Prairie.


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


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


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


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


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.


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.


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]


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