A circumambulation of Shepherd Canyon

18 February 2019

I seem to give myself odd assignments. The latest one was to take a hike around the crest of Shephard Creek’s watershed, better known as Shepherd Canyon. Only during the final mile of that 6-mile walk did I realize what it meant: an outing exclusively on ridge roads.

I got the idea from my circumambulation of Claremont Canyon three years ago. That walk features a variety of rock types and a good set of views into Oakland’s best wineglass canyon — a stream valley with a wide upper watershed and a narrow outlet where it crosses an active fault. Most of Oakland’s major streams that cross the Hayward fault have wineglass valleys that are more or less well-formed (and faceted spurs between them), but you may have to scrutinize them pretty hard to see them, let alone walk their rims.

Shepherd Canyon is another of our wineglass canyons where the roads make this exercise feasible — and an exercise it is, with a thousand-foot elevation gain. The trouble is, you don’t get clear views into the canyon itself. Whereas Claremont Canyon is a viewshed as well as a watershed, Shepherd Canyon’s watershed has an inside-out viewshed. Thanks to our high parklands, this ridgetop walk affords good views around the canyon’s outer side.

Enough preamble — let’s amble. The route starts and ends in Montclair on the geologically friendly 33 bus line. Here’s the layout.

Those little red blips are mile markers. I took this counterclockwise because I prefer steep uphills to steep downhills, and the south end is steep. A bicyclist might prefer the other way, but parts of this route are footpaths.

You could start and end this walk at the end of the 33 line in front of the Safeway, but I started from the Snake Road stop and finished at the LaSalle Avenue stop. Most of the first mile is a bit of a chore along busy Mountain Boulevard, but these days the rain has made the creek noisy, and you’ll hear it down in the woods as you cross the lowest point near the Park Avenue junction.

Be sure and get off the road on this nice path.

It goes around the flattened hilltop housing the Joaquin Miller Elementary School and Montera Middle School.

There once was a rocky hill here, occupied by a Scout camp (which is how Scout Road got its name), but it was vacated and leveled as a handy source of stone and used (I believe) as fill for the Warren Freeway nearby. In any case, the path takes you to the foot of Shepherd Canyon’s perimeter ridge, where you’ll turn right up Mountaingate Way. This view past the foot of Mountaingate looks into the valley of Cobbledick Creek, a tributary of Shephard Creek that runs down along Scout Road. In the next mile you’ll climb 800 feet, pretty steadily.

Soon enough you join Castle Drive and start seeing rocks. Now it’s time for the bedrock map.

The ridge is made up of serpentine rock (sp on the map) plus its typical blocks of blueschist. One of the city’s best blueschist boulders sits where Castle Drive starts, and some of the homes along Castle use the blueschist in their landscaping.

The serpentinite is a sloppier, greener stone that you’ll see along the roadside. Let me warn you that hiking on Castle is a challenge — the road is narrow, there’s no sidewalk, and nobody expects pedestrians. Keep your ears open and step off the road as cars approach.

Where Castle starts to turn north, veer off the road and take the little-traveled West Trail, part of Joaquin Miller Park. You’ll thank me, as I said when I took you down it a few months ago. It’s here that your first views open up.

And the rocks change as you start on the trail. From here on out you’ll be mostly on sandstone. Just for the record, you’ll pass through the Joaquin Miller Formation (Kjm), Oakland Conglomerate (not labeled), Shephard Creek Formation (Ksc), Redwood Canyon Formation (Kr), unnamed Eocene mudstone (Tes), Sobrante Formation mudstone (Tsm) and just into the edge of the Claremont Shale before descending through the same units on the way down.

Castle Road ends at Skyline Boulevard. After a few steps on Skyline, duck into the woods and take the Scout Trail parallel to Skyline, where you’ll meet these guys at the top of the ridge — Oakland Conglomerate.

Where the trail ends at Moon Gate, take Skyline for a few hundred yards, passing the Waterloo Staging Area (unless you’re up for a stroll on the West Ridge Trail, which rejoins this route at Skyline Gate), and take Wilton Drive up onto the ridgetop. It skirts the edge of Redwood Regional Park and has one of Oakland’s best views.

Move on and take Burton Drive, then Shirley Drive. At the end of Shirley is an unmapped trail through Redwood Park that starts with this bench, nestled among boulders of Redwood Canyon Formation sandstone.

Not quite the halfway mark, but just the place to take a rest and a good look around.

The trail descends to the Skyline Gate Staging Area. From there, take Skyline to its confusing junction with Shepherd Canyon/Pinehurst Roads. Don’t take any of those roads — go up Manzanita Drive instead, along the ridgetop. Where the power line crosses the ridge is a fine exposure of the Sobrante Formation’s shale.

This is an unusually good exposure of the Sobrante, which is very sloppy stuff along Skyline, because up here it’s grading into the harder chert of the Claremont Shale.

The two units are stratigraphically continuous, with an arbitrary boundary between them. You’ll see a lot of this rock along the road as you make your way north, then down to the junction of Skyline and Snake Road.

At this spot you overlook Shepherd Canyon on the left, Thornhill Canyon on the right, and the mighty Bay in front as you start down. Do stop at the fire station here and top up your water supply.

The descent along the lip of Shepherd Canyon is straightforward: Take Colton Boulevard to Asilomar Drive to Drake Drive. Again, pedestrians are not expected, but the roads are generally wide enough to accommodate everyone without jostling or stir. Here and there you can see into the canyon. Watch its walls grow close as you come near the narrow part of the wineglass.

When Drake meets Magellan (I know, those two explorers never actually met), the ridge road is finished. It only remains to take the unobtrusive path leading through the trees from 2133 Magellan down to the Railroad Trail — when else will you ever have the chance? — and on into Montclair to catch the bus.

The nice thing about this time of year is that many of the trees are leafless, so you can see more of the surroundings.

That and the weather is cool. I always seem to assign myself weird walks in the high hills during summer, which can be brutal. Better to get out there now.

Oakland buildings clad in stones

4 February 2019

One of the cool things about Oakland is its huge variety of buildings, dating from midcentury — mid-19th century, that is — to brand-new. There’s a particular variety of midcentury-20th-century architecture that’s piqued my geological interest: boxy tilt-up structures that I think of as Old Period Safeway, with a cladding of natural rock. In 2017 I showed an example of the type clad in beautiful serpentinite, so I set out to find others around town.

The sharp-eyed folks in the Oakland History Facebook group pointed me to several candidates, and I took an afternoon to visit them and also cruise much of the main roads by Zipcar. Yesterday afternoon I took one more little outing to capture the distinctive building of KP Market on Telegraph Avenue, the best pan-Asian grocery around.

The stone cladding covers only part of the front, and besides it’s painted over. To see it pristine you have to go around the side and look along the base of the wall, where taggers never venture (and thus paintovers aren’t needed).

This is the same coarse-grained dolomite rock used on the iconic Kaiser Center building.

Now for some genuine Old Period Safeways, but first a lament for rocks that get painted over, which permanently spoils them. The former Safeway on San Pablo at 27th Street, for instance, has lost its original appearance beyond retrieval. Without the colors and lusters of natural rock, the walls are unappealing.

But the former Safeway on upper Golf Links Road, in the Grass Valley neighborhood, is unspoilt.

Close up, it resolves as a mixed metamorphic assemblage of river rock, perhaps from the northern Coast Range but the presence of granite amid the sandstone says Salinian instead; that is, from the Santa Lucia or Gabilan ranges around Salinas. I don’t know for sure, it’s just fun to guess.

Another former Safeway, on 14th Avenue at E. 17th Street, still has its stones out.

This wide-ranging river-rock assemblage is darker and more rounded, and granite is absent while lava is present. I peg it as coming from the Diablo Range, but I warn you I could be totally wrong.

There’s one more former Safeway, a dialysis center on Claremont at Clifton, whose cladding still looks good in Google Streetmap but I haven’t visited it yet. The rest of our old Safeways, and there were about 20 listed in the 1969 phone book, are either gone or have been renovated or didn’t use the rock cladding.

One more supermarket and I’ll move on: the Cardenas grocery on High Street.

The cladding on the front side is painted, but on the side you can see it’s an excellent quarry-crushed golden quartzite mixed with lava and what might be travertine or sinter. I’m thinking the northern Sierra here, but that’s a long way to ship crushed rock, even fancy stuff.

Couple more notable buildings, non-Safeways, to show you. Next to the Post Office building off Hegenberger is a low-slung office building, 8475 Pardee Drive.

It’s clad with a selection of river rock I don’t hesitate to call Franciscan sandstone, maybe from Sonoma County.

Finally there’s the Community School for Creative Education building, on International at 21st Avenue. Something about the whimsical accents and the warm, even-textured cladding makes just the right impression.

This stuff is straight crushed quartzite that’s gotta be from some special place in the Sierra foothills, if not farther afield.

Material of this quality can last for centuries, if well maintained.

One cladding type I didn’t seek out for this post is pretty common: big flat hunks of undressed sandstone — that is, flagstone. I have no idea where the stone might be quarried. Some well-known Oakland buildings use it:

But it can be overdone, bringing to mind another fashion, a late-century one: shag carpet.

My knowledge of architecture and the building trades is pretty scant, so if you know the correct terminology for these features, please add an informative comment.

On Pryal’s quarry

21 January 2019

As I find the time (or as the subject hijacks me, in this case), I sniff around for details of Oakland’s rock quarries. There are a good two dozen of them. One I’ve always been curious about first appears in 1868 in The Natural Wealth of California, by Titus Fey Cronise: “The quarry from which the stone used in erecting the Deaf and Dumb and Blind Asylum was obtained, is situated on Pryal’s ranch, about four miles from Oakland. The supply of this stone is exhaustless.”

First thing was to find Pryal’s ranch. Andrew Dewitt Pryal (1832–1907), universally known as “A. D.,” had a spread in Chabot Canyon, the valley of Temescal Creek below the Lake Temescal dam. It was a thriving nursery that Pryal had started back in 1853, on land just upstream from Vicente Peralta’s reserve. Here it is on the Henkenius map of 1888, which has the arc running across the middle representing four miles’ distance from City Hall. It also labels the streams; Harwood Creek is called Claremont Creek today.

That map isn’t lined up with true north, so let’s be more systematic. The next set of maps all cover the same area. Here it is on the Dingee map of 1884:

and in Google Maps today:

So the Pryal ranch was on First Street, now Chabot Road, in the bottomland now occupied by Clover Drive, Chabot Court, Patton Street and part of the Chabot Elementary School grounds. Can you see what caught my eye? It’s that excavation on the north side of Chabot Road east of the hill, or what looks like one. There are so many quarry pits around.

Here’s a photo of the old ranch from the 1897 book Athens of the Pacific:

and roughly the same shot today, from farther east and higher up at the end of Margarido Drive:

Pagoda Hill got its name from the eccentric mansion built on its crown by J. Ross Browne. The young eucalyptus grove was typical of the time; Californians had been planting various Australian species for many years. Later a subdivision of Browne’s land was named Eucalyptus Hill, and Eucalyptus Road runs through it. There even seem to be a few trees left from that grove.

Anyway, back to the quarry. The original Deaf Dumb and Blind academy was a gorgeous thing built of an excellent “blue granite” that unfortunately was all discarded after the school burned down in 1875 and was rebuilt with a different plan. All “blue granite” means in this context is a hard stone with visible grains and no lime. And now we can look at the geologic map of the Pagoda Hill area.

The hills are made of Franciscan melange, a body of mostly metamorphosed sandstone and shale (argillite) with various-sized lumps, or knockers, of things like basaltic lava (fg, for greenstone), chert (red blobs) and serpentine rock (blue).

Here’s what’s over there. At the top of Roslyn Court, right under the big “J”, is greenstone. It’s shot with calcite veins and would never be picked to build a structure.

On Roanoke Road, the street between the “m” and the red blob, there’s mostly hard sandstone of the type customarily called “blue rock” by local quarriers.

I concluded, from a close-up look at the contours of the land and the general lack of decent rock, that there was no quarry here. It would have been one of the largest quarries in the county, supporting decades of production, but there’s no record of such a thing. This was just your usual digging and grading for a housing development.

So where was Pryal’s quarry? On the south side of his property. I remembered a photo displayed during an Oakland Heritage Alliance walk in Chabot Canyon: a shot looking across the valley along the old train trestle, and on the bare hills opposite was the high, rugged face of the abandoned Berkeley Rock Company quarry. I did my best to reproduce that photo by standing on the old grade, next to the top of Reata Place, and looking southwest. The quarry scar, as I recall the old photo, was at upper center about where the heavy cable passes in front of a house and lamppost.

That’s the rock face on Broadway, between Brookside Avenue and the Margarido Stairs, where three new houses were inserted about 10 years ago.

California State Mining Bureau Bulletin 38, from 1906, says about Berkeley Rock’s operation: “The deposit is a much altered trap-rock, and is used for concrete, macadam, and gutter rock. The company produces about 250 yards a day.”

I conclude that Berkeley Rock was working a cut that Pryal had opened 30 years earlier. That Pryal’s quarry produced enough good rock for a large stone building was a lucky accident, because the melange zone is a plum-pudding of mixed rock types.

The Berkeley Rock quarry made news during its years of operation, which started in 1902. The quarry’s 10-acre site was in the way of the Broadway extension, and a lawsuit in 1905 established that the road would go through. On 18 July 1906, an unknown dastard booby-trapped the quarry’s main engine with a package of dynamite, gravely injuring Frederck Hoffman, the superintendent. They used to call such criminals dynamitards. Another dispute over the quality of the company’s stone led to gunfire later that year. The company continued in business, however, for a few more years until the Oakland and Antioch Railway established its right-of-way through the property in 1911 and the Broadway extension was finally pushed through in 1915.

The homes in the old quarry have some rocks lying around. More Franciscan “blue rock.”

This tale still leaves a mystery. Cronise’s book also contains this interesting passage: “In 1864, Mr. A. D. Pryal, owner of a large ranch about four miles east from Oakland, discovered a vein of auriferous quartz in the Contra Costa hills, which cross his lands. Some of the specimens from this vein were rich in free gold, and the mine opened under the name Temescal, paid well for a short time, but the dislocation of the strata, a little below the surface, rendered its further working unprofitable.”

Gold is otherwise absent in the East Bay, as far as I know.

Mountain View Cemetery’s big knocker: old and in the way

7 January 2019

Mountain View Cemetery is at work on its high ground, constructing space for another thousand or so graves. In the process they’ve destroyed a superb outcrop of Franciscan high-grade chert.

I started visiting this outcrop in 2007, when it was largely hidden behind a bunch of acacia trees, and featured it here in 2008. A few years later, as the cemetery was constructing its Golden Lotus Mountain section, they cleaned up the hillside which allowed me to get some nice sunset shots of the scene on 11 April 2011. Below are some more photos from that memorable day.

The outcrop was unkempt, I’ll grant you that. But it had funky charm, and it exposed both red and green chert together.

One day in 2016 I found it had been vandalized. Gentle readers, I spared you that. And in April 2017 the crime scene remained uncleansed.

Last October the big machines were hard at work above Golden Lotus Mountain. The outcrop was still there, naked at last.

I thought it would add interest as a backdrop. Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Mountain View Cemetery, would’ve had clear opinions on the matter, I thought, like his peers in the “rural” cemetery movement.

But so do the bookkeepers of large cemeteries, and as of last month they’d had their way: removal of underburden and emplacement of overburden, six feet deep, “to maximize the efficient use of acreage for the interment of human remains and related services.”

The landscape must be put to work, and no mercy for a bunch of rocks. The cemetery is still a fine place, the new section will be scenic, and wild lands around the periphery, complete with Franciscan outcrops, remain.