Archive for December, 2011

The Pill Hill/Fairmount ridge walk (#20)

29 December 2011

This hills-and-paths walk is number 20, “Broadway and Oak Glen Park,” in Charles Fleming’s Secret Stairs East Bay. This is not a bedrock walk, like the previous ones I’ve featured, but a landform walk. Let’s start this time with the topography.

walk 20 topo

This walk starts in the bayside flats, crosses two hills and two streams, and returns from the side of a third hill. The first hill is Pill Hill, and the second (Fairmount ridge is my name for it) and third are lobes of the Adams Point upland. These are parts of a larger structure that is central to Oakland’s character, an ancient Pleistocene alluvial fan. Here it is, marked “Qpaf” on the geologic map.

walk 20 geologic map

This walk takes in the leftmost edge of the fan, crossing two valleys of the Glen Echo Creek system which dissect the fan. The creek feeds the narrow west arm of Lake Merritt.

All right, here’s the route with the locations of the following photos.

walk 20 route

Here’s the view up Hawthorne Avenue to the edge of Pill Hill. The land west of the fan is a modern alluvial flat with almost no topography to it beyond subtle levees along the modern Temescal Creek and the notorious filled-in marsh that once underlay the ill-fated Cypress Structure in West Oakland. The Pleistocene fan has fairly abrupt edges like this all around it.

pill hill

As you go over Pill Hill and Summit Road on its spine, take a close look at the topography ahead of you. The near ridge is Fairmount ridge, made of Pleistocene alluvium, and the distant hills are Cretaceous and Tertiary sedimentary rocks. The eminence at the foot of the high hills is the older Franciscan block that underlies Piedmont and upper Rockridge.

pill hill view

The walk goes down into the valley of Glen Echo Creek. Brook Street is named for the Broadway branch of the creek, which is culverted under Mosswood Park and runs open to the sky in the backyards here. This shot is at the foot of 30th Street.

glen echo creek

If you go upstream a little ways you can spot the culvert where the two branches join.

glen echo creek

Next we climb the other side of the valley up a long flight of stairs, then turn right and follow the ridge top, along Fairmount Avenue, for a ways. A detour of stairways leads to Hamilton Place, at the toe of the ridge (the new Whole Foods place cut into that toe; unfortunately I never got a good look at the cut). From here we look across the next valley, which I might as well call Harrison valley.

harrison valley view

This valley has a well-developed profile, but apparently it never had a permanent creek. The Oakland watershed map shows only a culvert here. Anyway, we walk up the far side of this valley and return west on classic Perkins Way, where we can look back at the other two ridges.

perkins way

Back up on Fairmount ridge, we stroll up quiet Kempton Avenue, where this nice driveway wall of California mariposite lives.


Soon enough we find ourselves again at the steep edge of Glen Echo Creek valley. If you limit yourself to walking, Oakland is really quite a rugged place.

kempton avenue stairs

At the bottom is a precious remnant of early Oakland’s streambeds, Glen Oak Park. An old concrete bridge crosses the stream, and if you have time to stroll up and downstream there are some fine buildings here too.

glen echo creek

I would be remiss not to mention that a little farther, at the foot of Piedmont Avenue, is a good sushi place, Drunken Fish.

Oakland Memorial Park (earthquake park)

23 December 2011

In the Cypress district of West Oakland is a memorial park about the 1989 earthquake, which did the majority of its killing here. The sculpture at the corner of 14th Street and Mandela Parkway represents the ladders that local residents quickly raised against the wreckage of the collapsed freeway that once ran through here.

earthquake park oakland

Looking at the sculpture toward the hills, you also notice ring-shaped berms invoking the seismic waves that rippled north through the site from the epicenter in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

earthquake park oakland

Here’s a view from the sidewalk looking the other way. The park takes up an L-shaped portion of the block, the rest of which is occupied by a fire station.

earthquake park oakland

The floor of the sculpture pad briefly describes the scene here on 17 October 1989. The edge of the park is a wall with “15 seconds” in big steel letters on it. To the right is an interpretive sign.

earthquake park oakland

This is a remarkable place that I had no inkling was here until I took a walk on Mandela Parkway yesterday. It occurs to me that there must be other memorials to the 1989 quake around the bay.

The view from Panoramic ridge

14 December 2011

I’ve posted three other shots from the walk I took in late May to the ridge at the top of Oakland’s own Panoramic Way, overlooking Claremont Canyon. This is the view south over the rest of Oakland; click it for the 1000-pixel version.

Claremont ridge view

The homes in front are in the Grandview neighborhood, and behind them are the tight ranks of Hiller Highlands. The dark notch beyond is where the Hayward fault runs. On the right side we have Broadway Terrace, the blond summer sward above the top of Mountain View Cemetery, and beyond them San Leandro Bay and the airport on the peninsula known as Bay Farm Island.

Every year this hill repeats this season. I must return here, too.