Reichert’s pit, the Fruit Vale White Cement Gravel Quarry

13 September 2021

Starting on 8 June 1871, an ad in the Oakland Daily Transcript touted “White Quartz Gravel / for Sidewalks, Garden Walks, and Carriage Drives, It Makes A Beautiful And Solid Walk!” and offered this recommendation:

Mayor N. W. Spaulding, in his recent message to the City Council, said: ‘The only macadam walks which have so far proved successful have been made from [the Fowler quarry or] the white cement gravel found in the vicinity of Fruit Vale. The latter appears to be preferable because it becomes more solidified than any other material heretofore used, being less affected by the agencies of the weather. It has been used in some localities in this city for the last eighteen months. The peculiarities which recommend this cement gravel are: that when it is exposed to the elements it becomes adhesive and firm, is comparatively free from mud in Winter and dust in Summer. This makes it a complete and permanent improvement. Sidewalks made from this material are estimated to cost about 35 cents per lineal foot for walks eighteen feet wide.’ The subscriber has now got his road through to the White Cement Gravel Quarry, and will furnish at short notice any amount of Gravel for the above purposes, by leaving orders at Gardiner & Hunt’s office, Broadway, between Eighth and Ninth Sts., Oakland, and at the Brooklyn Postoffice.”

It was signed “L. Reichert, Fruit Vale.”

This material seems quite out of place for Oakland, and its properties appear unlikely too. But I’ve tracked it to land that Reichert owned above the Dimond district, at the end of today’s Maple Avenue, where a “gravel bank” is noted on the 1878 Thompson & West map.

And we’ve been here! It’s in the land south of the LDS Temple that was ruined by the London Road landslide in 1970. And that explains the peculiarities of the material. It was fault gouge: bedrock crunched into powder by the Hayward fault.

I believe its self-cementing character comes from a significant content of calcium carbonate, which is present both in the Franciscan melange on the downhill side and in the serpentinite a little ways uphill.

Despite the mayor’s endorsement, business for the Fruit Vale Quartz Company seemed to be spotty. Business broker Andrew Baird, of San Francisco, took over for a short time in 1873 under his own name; then Reichert sold the “inexhaustible” gravel pit, and the 25-acre parcel it sat on, in July 1873 to Elias L. Beard, a prominent wheeler-dealer based in Mission San Jose. Beard is shown as the owner in later maps (misspelled Baird, probably because the adjoining parcel was owned by Julia C. Baird). The 1874 city directory lists L. Reichert Jr. as a teamster with the Fruit Vale Quartz Company — perhaps the founder’s son.

Baird tried again to sell the parcel in 1875, 1876 and 1878, the year that Beard went bankrupt and lost almost everything.

I have little idea what happened after that, except that the State Bureau of Mines annual report 38, published in 1906, recorded this as the “Packard Quarry,” of which the newspapers make no mention. And as of 1912, the land was in the hands of the Realty Syndicate, part of its enormous hillside empire. A decade later the land began to undergo the process of residential subdivision that endures to this day.

Upper Castle Canyon

30 August 2021

Sausal Creek is formed by the junction of three streams, two of which are well known: Shephard Creek, which drains Shepherd Canyon, and Palo Seco Creek, which drains the bulk of Joaquin Miller Park. In between them is Cobbledick Creek and its steep-walled watershed, hidden green heart of the Piedmont Pines neighborhood.


Source: Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District

The creek has two branches: the northern one, which I’ll call Beaconsfield Creek after Beaconsfield Canyon at its head, and the eastern one, Castle Creek, which drains Castle Canyon. The easternmost portion of Castle Canyon, a gorge running from the hairpin turn on Mastlands Road, is an 8-acre preserve that’s formally part of Joaquin Miller Park. Over the weekend, that parcel was renamed Dick Spees Canyon, with a bench and plaque, to honor the longtime politician and activist who helped keep the land undeveloped.

The interesting thing about Dick Spees Canyon, and the valley of Cobbledick Creek below it, is that it coincides with the inactive Chabot fault, a deep feature of the East Bay that runs roughly parallel to the Hayward fault. It runs diagonally across this digital elevation model of the area; Dick Spees Canyon is right in the center.


From nationalmap.gov

And the bedrock map of the same area is here. The Chabot fault is the dashed line with the pairs of tick marks on the right-hand (downthrown) side.

The Chabot fault juxtaposes two very different rock units directly across the canyon from each other — the serpentine rock of the Coast Range ophiolite (sp) on the west and the Joaquin Miller Formation (Kjm) of the Great Valley Sequence on the east. Dick Spees Canyon aligns very nicely with the upper part of Palo Seco Creek, forming an unusually good topographic expression of this obscure fault. Leona Canyon is another place it stands out; also in upper Knowland Park. The fault has been traced past Hayward. While it appears to have a long history, it’s very much inactive.

The fault is why I made a point of visiting here in 2019 and returned last Thursday. The parcel is almost completely undeveloped; only a rough footpath runs up the narrow valley floor from a short formerly graded stretch, then zigs up to Castle Drive. (I must advise all visitors not to try walking it downhill until the rainy season firms up the soil there.) The following photos are from both visits.

Here’s the lower end of the property. It’s a steady climb.

Soon the rocks make themselves evident, serpentinite on the right . . .

. . . and mudstone on the left.

Whoever built this fire ring used stones from both sides of the fault.

The valley floor is littered with dead cedar and eucalyptus trunks that need clearing out. And all sides of the canyon are very steep. I don’t expect anyone to cut any trails up them for a long time.

But if they do, visitors might glimpse the views enjoyed by the ridgetop residents who surround this neglected gulch with its interesting geology.

Mountains and other awesome things

16 August 2021

As you may know, there is no spot in California that’s out of sight of mountains. I took a long train trip over the weekend, when I wrote this post. Passed mountains the whole way until Nebraska. Now Nebraska is full of geological interest, but it is . . . subdued. It may be the largest state without mountains — no, Kansas is a little larger.

In the interest of taking a break and to practice working in a new image-editing application (Photoshop Elements, now that Paint Shop Pro 9 no longer works with Windows), I’m going to wander off the range and feature some mountains and other awesome features, starting in California — actually, starting with two of the photos I keep on my phone. I don’t believe I’ve shown them on this blog before.

Here’s Gudde Ridge and Round Top, just over the hills from Oakland. They’re honorary mountains, using 600 meters/2000 feet as the cutoff.

And here’s Las Trampas Ridge on the left and Rocky Ridge on the right, west of Danville/San Ramon. Rocky Ridge is just over 2000 feet.

And now let’s go for awesome.

I’ve tried several times over the years to capture this sight on camera: the Kern River canyon exiting the Sierra Nevada east of Bakersfield. In my opinion it’s California’s most dramatic water gap, made as a strong mountain river cut through a rising range. The Golden Gate might outdo it in geographic importance, but that’s a drowned water gap at the moment, with its lower hundred meters covered by the sea.

And here’s another awesome thing: the White Mountains, as seen in the bristlecone pine preserve.

The White Mountains are white in this area because they consist of dolomite marble. How that happens is still imperfectly understood. But what matters here is that dolomite, which resists rainwater much more than its more common cousin calcite, creates a very stable setting for the extremely old bristlecone pines, some of which are approaching five thousand years of age. It’s remarkable stuff to pick up and stare at, just as much as the trees.

And finally here are two photos from Colorado, which I rode through on Saturday. First is an image from five years ago in the mountains north of Red Rocks, showing the classic sandstone of the Fountain Formation that gives the area its name.

And here’s an image from Saturday, taken from the California Zephyr as it approached upper Rube Canyon.

What an audacious feat it was to push a railroad through here, and what an experience it was to ride through it.

Book In Progress

2 August 2021

I’m going to take a break and tell you about the book, one I’ve been hinting at off and on for a few years now.

Its working title is “Deep Oakland” and it’s about this city, the ground that birthed and nurtured it, and the ways Oakland’s geology — and any city’s — matters to its people. It’s part Earth science, part history and part arm-waving talk by the side of a roadcut. Someone could write such a book about any city, but Oakland is an unusually good subject, with eleven chapters worth of examples.

“Deep Oakland” got its start a long time ago: in fact, one reason I started this blog, in 2007, was a naive idea that once I had enough posts I could just paste them together and have a good start on a book. No, doesn’t work that way. The first draft was finished four years ago, and draft six, the final draft, will be finished four months from now. How do I know that? The contract I’m about to sign says so. As I learned long ago writing geology-related piecework for the site now known as ThoughtCo, a manuscript is never done, just due.

The book will be published by a highly respected local press. Under its final title, whatever that is (presumably they’ll append a long subtitle), it will come out as a proper hardback in the spring of 2023. Be assured I will keep y’all fully informed as things progress.

There are some neat things about this project:

  • The first four drafts are completely different from the last two. My first efforts ended up being a geologizing manual for Oaklanders. Nevertheless the publisher liked what they saw and suggested that I submit something different. I looked at all the bits I had that weren’t fitting into that manuscript and accepted their challenge. The writing experience has been great. But the manual is still worth publishing, and it’s completely independent of the new “Deep Oakland.”
  • As many nonprofit publishers are doing, this publication will involve some fundraising on my part. And I’m up for that. I won’t start a formal campaign, with premiums and so on, until next year — there’s enough on my plate this year. But from now until then, any contributions that come in through the PayPal link will be dedicated to that purpose.
  • This blog is completely independent of the book; there’s been no cutting and pasting. Long-time readers will recognize the places I visit and some of the ideas I’ve espoused here, but the whole thing will be fresh, coherent and integrated. The publisher will bring in an expert illustrator, so there will be none of my phone-cam photos or bloggy graphics in it.

I’m excited. Stay tuned.