Mountain View Cemetery: The Bay area’s best landscape

1 May 2017

Although I’m tempted just to let the photos in this post stand on their own, let me make a case that Mountain View Cemetery offers the best landscape in the Bay area.

First there’s the cemetery itself. The managers have been putting a lot of effort into improving the ground — see the excellent new stonework and gravel path in the first photo — and this winter’s abundant rainfall has abetted it by giving the hills a coat of green that ought to last longer than usual before turning gold, then brown.

Unlike your typical cemetery, Mountain View is very large and occupies the rolling terrain of the Piedmont block, consisting of Franciscan melange. In the photo below, all of the land in sight lies within the cemetery’s property.

Long ago the operators arranged for Cemetery Creek (headwaters of Glen Echo Creek) to fill three ponds, where the water can be parceled out over the dry season to help keep the turf lush. Right now they’re brim full and support a few waterfowl. The open hilltop on the left side will be turned into a new section of graves under a proposed plan.

The Franciscan outcrops or “knockers” in the cemetery’s hills echo the finished stone displayed so touchingly in the grave markers. Many historical Oaklanders famous and obscure rest here. A random walk in any direction will bring up names that ring a bell if you’ve spent significant time in the East Bay. Yes, that’s what cemeteries are for, but without the graves this territory would be just another busy park. The dead ensure that the living visitors stay on their best behavior.

And this is important — the delights of the cemetery don’t stop at its edge. The east side has had its huge hedge of overgrown eucalyptus removed, opening the crest of the high hills and the well-tended neighborhoods of Broadway Terrace to view.

A few eucalyptus trees remain on the hilltop hosting the cemetery’s high staging area. In manageable numbers, their trunks are attractive as they frame views of tempting places.

With the view east restored, there’s now a postcard vista in every direction you look. To the west you can see the Golden Gate, San Francisco, St. Mary’s Cemetery and Oakland’s outer harbor.

To the southwest is downtown Oakland and the ridges of the San Mateo Peninsula. These views, as well as those to the north and south, will always be unspoiled. From Mountain View, one can take in surroundings that encompass a large share of the greater Bay area from the midst of a setting that’s both attractive and historic.

So that’s my main case for this being the Bay area’s best landscape. But there’s more — there are rocks. I always make sure to visit this outcrop of red-brown radiolarian chert on the hillside behind the garden mausoleum, plot 3.

Other parts of the cemetery consist of shale, like this bit left behind from an excavation in plot 9.

The road up to the top of the cemetery exposes some of the well-bedded mudstone that underlies much of the grounds, but look in the gutter for the freshest exposure.

And once up there, make your way bayward from the northern tip of plot 77 to this outcrop of green and red chert.

I’m glad to entertain arguments that one place or another might be superior to our cemetery. For sheer viewshed, Mount Diablo is a candidate, as is Tamalpais. Twin Peaks in San Francisco gives excellent views of Oakland. Mount Livermore, on Angel Island, is worth a special mention. The South Bay and North Bay have many more picturesque places, not to mention the Peninsula. Lots of these spots survey a more spacious territory, but Mountain View surveys the most gracious territory, a viewshed of singular integrity that extends from infinity to your feet. In a region full of landscapes, this one offers as much elegance as it does grandeur.

What I marched for

24 April 2017

Saturday was Earth Day, an occasion that usually leaves me lukewarm at best. But this year it was also the day of the worldwide March for Science. A few news stories have quoted environmentalists who resented that the march happened on “their” day. But from my viewpoint, that’s the best day of the year for a science march. The Earth Day community needs the help, and the organizers are upping their game.

We should have a science march, or at least a rally, every year. This year’s inaugural march had a militant edge. So did the original Earth Day. And for centuries before that, scientific advances have shaken up establishments of all kinds. This sign, quoting Galileo’s legendary comment after the Church forced him to renounce his discoveries, was a shout-out to that long history.

The authorities can threaten people for their beliefs, but they can’t force facts to be untrue. And when Galileo muttered “Nevertheless it moves,” he was talking about the Earth.

Other signs were more contemporary, more pointed . . .

. . . and funnier.

One of my favorite geeky jokes was on Twitter: “The numbers for the Science March seem high but we won’t know until we compare it to the numbers at the placebo march that’s also happening.”

I could have marched with the group from the American Geophysical Union, which endorsed the event. I’ve been an AGU member and rabid fan since the mid-1980s. But I chose to walk with the Northern California Science Writers Association, because they represent my practice. Our little group took a side route to the march along Drumm Street, and when we got there Market Street was packed.

It took us an hour to stroll to the Civic Center. People lined the route, holding their signs and admiring ours. There was a learning fair at the other end, what we used to call a teach-in.

As I prepared to return to Oakland, incoming marchers still filled Market Street to the limits of my sight. This was not a small occasion.

There were thousands of signs. This one reminded me of an important truth.

It means that the scientific method is simply a more rigorous version of something we all do. When we face a question of any size, whether it’s choosing fruit at the market or investing our life’s savings, we make our best estimate of what to do, check the results against our expectation, and then make adjustments in how to proceed. Science is common sense weaponized, and the better we are at common sense the more we are like scientists.

One thing that stood out to me at the San Francisco March for Science was that science has more than practitioners — it has fans. When the speakers at the rally made shout-outs to NASA, they drew widespread cheers. The same for stem-cell researchers at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine or NIH — cheers. These things deserve their applause, and I cheered them as a fan.

Although there were geologists and geology fans in the crowd, we didn’t get a chance to make or hear a cheer of our own on Earth Day. I know, we’re grownups and don’t need the adulation, but what about the kids who are into minerals and fossils? Do they sense there’s a pivotal role for them in extrasolar planetology? In evolution studies? In global sustainability, in climate studies, in remediation of polluted places, in ecology? Are geology’s strengths in earthquakes, volcanoes, floods and landslides unworthy of comment in a march for science? Does plate tectonics, with its elegance and grandeur and promise, have no fans among the rally planners?

Geologists do tend to keep their heads down. Because Earth science is too wonderful to neglect, I plan to push ahead. You are fans, and I have hundreds more stories for you.

The Hayward fault at Warm Springs

17 April 2017

Every extension of BART opens up a new region accessible to geologizers using public transit. So the other week I paid a visit to the far end of the Hayward fault, less than a mile from the new Warm Springs station in south Fremont. The station has nice views of the San Mateo Peninsula mountains to the west and Mission Peak to the east.

It appears, too, that the Irvington Gravels site to the north is accessible for determined walkers who bring provisions — that is, hikers.

To get to the fault just walk east on South Grimmer Boulevard toward the place marked “Weibel” on Google Maps.

Here’s the same area in Jim Lienkaemper’s detailed 1992 map of the fault. The map has a key to all the annotations. Note that both images are tilted to make the fault vertical; north is at about 1:30.

The fault runs through the “D” in “Blvd.”

Look back at the Google Maps image. See the line of green along the fault trace? That’s because of the 1972 Alquist-Priolo Act, which forbids new construction within 50 feet of an active fault. The area in the middle must have been built up before the act took effect. That’s where I went.

South Grimmer reveals the offset from fault creep well. This view is looking east toward Mission Peak. On the fault map, the locality (just below the horizontal dashed line) is circled and labeled “C1,rc,rf” signifying “strongly pronounced” evidence of creep in the form of right-offset curbs and a right-offset fence line.

And this is the other side of the road, looking west. Notice that the sidewalk is offset as well as the curb.

There’s another, much smaller offset higher up the slope that I didn’t get a good picture of. Repeated measurements show that together these offsets add up to about 6 millimeters per year. The slope itself is a sign of the fault, too.

To the north across little Arroyo Agua Caliente Park on Gardenia Way, this nice set of echelon cracks marks the fault trace. That’s what the “ec” in the circle labeled “C1,ec,rc,cc” stands for.

The fault nips the corner of Gardenia and Ivy Way, bending this curb (the “rc” in the label).

The city or the homeowner copes with the sidewalk by patching it as needed. You’ll see stuff like this everywhere on the Hayward fault.

Walking north through the park to Parkmeadow Drive on its north edge, you can look west down the street and see both an offset curb and the change in slope that marks the fault.

You can do this yourself all along the fault. The map has all the evidence (and the USGS has an updated version as of 2008).

A week later I hosted two French journalists — a writer and a photographer — for an afternoon, showing them fault offset features like these up in Hayward and Oakland. The writer went and spoke to a resident whose home was on the fault, and his fatalistic response took her aback a bit. She said “we don’t have attitudes like this in France.” I told her we Californians have been this way since the Gold Rush.