Adeline rise

5 June 2017

Down at the foot of Adeline Street, past Green Valley Food, past J. K’s Brickhouse, past Magnolia Oakland at 3rd Street, the road ends at the old shoreline. Where the Amtraks roll by was once coastal marsh.

The geologic map uses an old pre-earthquake topographic base, so ignore the freeway and find Adeline, running through the “m” in Qms. The Qms refers to the Merritt Sand, the field of ancient sand dunes, once covered with oak forest, where the city of Oakland first took root.

If you stand at 3rd Street and look north past the 5th Street Lofts, the BART tracks and the 880 freeway, you’ll see the land lift as the road leads into West Oakland.

A benchmark on this spot has an elevation of 9 feet above sea level. Between here and 5th Street was once a small arm of the Bay, long since filled in. Another benchmark on 7th Street is at 16 feet, and just north the ground goes above 20 feet.

The Merritt Sand dunefield is very level. Its highest point is roughly under City Hall, at an elevation a little over 40 feet.

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South Dunsmuir Ridge

29 May 2017

I finally got to a sweet corner of town last week, the sunny side of Dunsmuir Ridge, this lovely hill in the Google Maps 3D view.

The view is to the north-northwest, such that the Hayward fault runs straight up about a thumb’s width from the left edge. The maps below start with the 1915 topo map, in which the ridge’s top is the lobed outline of the 625-foot contour.

That straight creek valley along the hill’s south side — the gorge in the foreground of the top image — keeps catching my eye, but it seems to be inaccessible, which might make it Oakland’s wildest piece of land. The watershed map below may help in visualizing the hill and its surroundings. The two black dots are where the fire trail I took starts and ends.

Dunsmuir Ridge is city land, rescued from development after several aborted attempts to put high-end estates on this broad hilltop overlooking (in both senses) the deadly Hayward fault. The fire trail starts at the end of Cranford Way and winds up the ridge to join the fire road from the other side, which I’ve featured here before.

The walk is very scenic. To the north, downtown rises against Mount Tam.

Or if you prefer, there’s the new profile of San Francisco.

Higher up, the view opens out. Here San Leandro Creek is made visible as a line of trees coming out of the canyon toward its mouth near the airport.

But the main attraction is to the south. This is the best place to take portraits of Fairmont Ridge and its quarry scar. Unlike most places, this trail sets off the hill with a foreground of wild, forested land.

The prominent cleared space midway up the trail — a staging pad for firefighters — has regular visitors who find the spot special.

Interestingly, this spot is mapped as a patch of the peculiar Irvington-aged gravel that first brought me to Dunsmuir Ridge in 2009. However, I didn’t notice much of it, if any. See it on the geologic map — the white dots mark the ends of the fire trail.

There are rocks to be seen too. The soil is thin in most places. This little cut displays a profile of the soil and the decaying bedrock — saprolite — just beneath it.

The bedrock varies, and it doesn’t match the geologic map very closely. I would say nearly all of the lower part is not Leona volcanics (Jsv) but San Leandro Gabbro (gb). It has the gabbro’s pepper-and-salt appearance but is stained orange instead of the pristine rock’s bluish gray (as I saw earlier that day in San Leandro). You’ll see it well exposed in the trail itself, where this winter’s heavy rains carved fresh runnels.

If the city fills them before you get there (which it should before they become gullies), there are still roadside exposures that display the rock well, and it’s unmistakably gabbro where the map says volcanics. The top of the hill, though, is unquestionably Leona volcanics.

My long-term plan is to revisit every bit of bedrock in Oakland and log it. Besides sheer nerdery and the chance to improve the map, my motive is to come back to views like this one over and over again.

The old quarry is still for sale. Developers have tried to put houses there, but they keep getting shot down. Better, I say, for the Regional Parks District to acquire the land and develop it for quiet recreation.

Geology of the Biff’s site

22 May 2017

Because I walk through the area regularly, I’ve kept an envious eye on the excavation at the southeast corner of 27th Street and Broadway. Since the building slated for the site doesn’t have a name yet, I’ll call it the Biff’s site after the much-loved but long-departed Biff’s Coffee Shop that once sat there. It’s at the center of the maps below — first the Google terrain map.

Then the historic map. This is from an 1888 map compiled by state surveyor Julius Henkenius, served up by the David Rumsey Map Collection. What I like about it is that it shows the creeks. The main stream is Glen Echo Creek, with the Broadway Branch joining it near the top of the map.

The 27th and Broadway site appears to include the southern half of the Cogswell tract, presumably the remarkable Henry Cogswell whose great monument is a highlight of Mountain View Cemetery.

Anyway, what’s under the ground here? For that, we want the geologic map. This site is at an interesting intersection.

The site is flanked by two lobes of the ancient alluvial fan (Qpaf) that covers central Oakland. The one on the left is Pill Hill — which was known as Academy Hill in the 1880s and the site of Anthony Chabot’s first municipal reservoir — and the lobe on the right is Adams Point Hill. To the south, the ground is mapped as Pleistocene marine terrace deposits (Qmt), and the site itself is mapped as ordinary alluvial sediment.

Knowing all that, it would have been fun to poke around as the excavation proceeded from 24 March . . .

. . . to 1 April . . .

. . . to 19 April . . .

. . . to 7 May, when the digging was complete and the foundation prep was under way.

The chances were that no mammoth skulls or other cool megafossils were present, but you never know. It all looked like well-sorted fine sand from my distant viewpoint, what you’d expect. If this had been a Caltrans project, they might have retained a paleo firm to watch the digging and grab any fossils the dozers turned up. But as of last week the exposure is all over.

Most of the time, science is just an indulgence. But as Oakland enters a downtown building boom, it would be nice if the experts got a chance to document and sample some of these big holes.

The Dimond Canyon water gap

15 May 2017

In a city full of geologic features, Dimond Canyon stands out as a classic example of a water gap. But it can be hard to see, even from the prime viewpoint of Leimert Bridge.

Let’s abstract ourselves by studying the overhead views shown in maps. Google Maps, with the terrain view turned on, is where I like to start.

Compare Dimond Canyon, cutting straight through the bedrock ridge of the Piedmont block, with Indian Gulch (Trestle Glen) on the left, a conventional stream-cut valley that fans out against the ridge.

For a starker view of the topography, I like to consult old USGS maps like the 1897 Concord quadrangle, made before most of the area was built up and dug into.

Here we can see that the ridge reaches the same elevation on either side of the canyon — without the canyon cutting through it, this would be a continuous crestline.

There is no sign, either, that Dimond (“Diamond”) Creek cut its way through by headward erosion. That would have left tributaries fingering off on either side, like those visible in the contours above Indian Gulch. Indeed, the single little tributary in the canyon is actually a hanging valley that has to descend steeply as it meets Dimond Creek — not as spectacular as those in Yosemite Valley, but with the same basic configuration.

Finally, we can look at the bedrock evidence in the geologic map.

The whole area around the canyon is mapped as Franciscan sandstone (Kfn), with no hint of faulting or other structure that might have favored the formation of a canyon here. Consider the well-developed valleys above the canyon, guided into existence by the rock-crushing Hayward fault, or the more subtle topographic features where the southern edge of the Franciscan bedrock meets old alluvium.

What we have here, then, is a genuine water gap — a deep pass in a mountain ridge with a stream flowing through it. Geology textbooks will tell you there are two ways to make one. One is for a river to uncover an ancient ridge as it strips the countryside of its sediment cover. The classic case is the Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania. The other is for a river to sit there, doing its thing, as the land rises up around it. The Central Valley has good examples at the foot of Del Puerto Canyon . . .

. . . and the Berryessa water gap west of Winters.

What’s odd about the Dimond Canyon water gap is that it’s being carried along the Hayward fault. Every few hundred thousand years, then, it gets itself a new headwater catchment. Today its catchment is Shephard and Palo Seco Creeks. Once upon a time, though, it must have carried the waters of San Leandro Creek. Coming up: Temescal Creek.