Rocks with character

I turned in the final version of my book manuscript the other day, and it’s been nice not having it on my mind all the time. (Follow along with the publishing process on the book’s page here.) But I had occasion to visit Middle Harbor Park this weekend, and as I walked up to this spot it brought to mind a little exchange I had with my editor. This is the replica pier made of reclaimed stones from the 1880s-era training wall.

I was writing about the work of building Oakland’s harbor, which has gone on since the 1850s and continues today. I mentioned that while the original estuary was completely replaced with “made land” and its counterpart, made water, there were now rocks — riprap — where before there had been only mud and sand. I contrasted the old original riprap to what they use today, with this pier in mind, and said that while the new stuff may work better, it has “little character.”

My editor wondered if I could explain that a little more. I decided not to for two reasons: (1) that would be a digression from what was already an aside and (2) the book has lots of examples of rocks with character.

But I came home thinking I’d been a little unfair. For one thing, our new riprap isn’t so monotonous; it’s mostly gray lava, but many of the rocks have veins and texture. Quarries in the Coast Range dig rocks that have gone through a lot, compared to the granites of the Sierra and those truly monotonous limestones of the Midwest. And the other thing is that the replica wall was made of carefully selected stones. It’s a work of art, not a work of work.

Next time you’re down there, look up the pier, at the south end of the beach. Walk on it and feel how solid it is underfoot, a standout piece of stonemasonry. It’s a real Oakland character. But also, check out the other riprap some time.

Oakland is full of rocks with character, and naturally so is this blog. Here are a few choice posts with examples from all over town:

The high-grade wall of Broadway Terrace

The decorative blueschist of Fairmount Avenue

The mastodon rubbing rocks of Tilden Park

The Knoxville conglomerate in Arroyo Viejo

Residential walls of local stones

And of course Big Rock at Lake Temescal

In fact, Oakland by my estimate has more natural rock types than any other city in the United States, making it America’s capital of lithodiversity

3 Responses to “Rocks with character”

  1. Charlotte Steinzig Says:

    Such an interesting park. And I’ll never look at the rip rap in the same way. And congratulations on book! Can hardly wait.

  2. phyrman1 Says:

    Few people are aware enough of both the geologic history of the Bay Area and geology in general to believe that Oakland has a volcano, much less lava rocks abundantly used throughout the city. It’s a great way to win a bet! Thanks for the great posts – very informative and educational. And congrats on the book!

  3. Andrew Aldrich Says:

    You are what you rock. ;)

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