Archive for the ‘Oakland geology views’ Category

The rocks of Mulholland Hill

3 September 2018

Over the last couple years, I’ve been more and more tempted by Mulholland Hill, the ridge shared by Moraga and Orinda that dominates its area and shelters the former village of Rheem. Tempted because I crave summits, but also tempted because its rocks, named the Mulholland Formation, are interpreted as the youngest in the region.

The Mulholland Formation is mapped in two shades of light tan on the geologic map, due east of Oakland. It extends from downtown Orinda past Moraga and into the watershed lands to the south; a finger of it (not shown) sticks beyond the rest across Cull Canyon and all the way to Crow Canyon.

Mulholland Hill sits in the northern part. Much of it is preserved as open space, and that’s where I went to see its rocks.

But first, what does it look like? This 2016 view east from the ridge above Wilder Valley shows Mulholland Hill’s level top just in front of Mount Diablo; the grassy ridge dominating the view is another hill that overlooks Lost Valley.

This February 2018 view north from Redwood Ridge shows Mulholland Hill against the horizon left of center, dotted with homes and trees.

And here are two closer views, the first looking southeast from 1204 Hill:

And the second looking northwest from Alta Mesa Drive in Moraga last week.

Here’s a closer look at the geologic map between downtown Orinda at top left and downtown Moraga at bottom right, showing the north half of the Mulholland Formation that underlies Mulholland Hill.

The formation is divided into upper and lower parts (Tmlu and Tmll respectively). Notice how the lower part flanks the upper part on both sides. That’s because the whole thing is folded like a taco, so the older rocks wrap around the younger rocks — a configuration called a syncline. The upper rocks have more sand and gravel in them and resist erosion better than the muddier lower rocks.

The paved trail is the middle part of Donald Road; you can get to the open space on Donald Road from north or south. I came up from the south and recommend that unless you’re in a hurry.

Along the way you may see cattle. Moraga originated as a cattle ranch in the 1840s, so these represent an old tradition. For all I know, Moragans still fill their household freezers with artisanal grass-fed Moraga beef.

Get off the pavement to see bedrock poking through the soil. It’s coarse sandstone with a fair share of pebbles.

Elsewhere it’s full-fledged conglomerate, mostly pebbles that represent a variety of different rock types.

These rocks are interpreted as freshwater deposits, laid down by a vigorous river draining hilly terrain. Nearby exposures of this unit contain horse bones and teeth and plant leaves that fix its age around early Pliocene time, some 5 million years ago.

These rocks are pretty tightly folded. This detail from the geologic map shows the direction and angle that the rock beds dip into the hill. You can see that over a short distance, their orientation changes by roughly 90 degrees. As surely as folding a taco, that would push the central belt of rocks upward. The red line with the arrows indicates the syncline’s axis and sense. (An opposite fold, with the arrows pointing away, would be an anticline.)

But by all means, look around from the top of Mulholland Hill. Depending on the weather and the direction, the vista can be stern, like this view of Round Top and the Oakland Hills,

or grand, like this view of Las Trampas and Rocky Ridges, with Bollinger Canyon between them,

or just splendid.

A fine place to visit. It’s also prime raptor habitat — but if you’re a birdwatcher you probably already know about it. I’m tempted to return.

Oakland geology ramble 6: Chabot to Leimert via the Oakland Conglomerate reference locality

11 June 2018

In 1914, UC Berkeley professor Andrew Lawson published the first decent geologic map of our area, the San Francisco Folio of the Geologic Atlas of the United States. That’s where the Oakland Conglomerate got its name. But while that fine rock unit lives on in name, the concept it represents has changed. Let’s look at a hundred years of progress in geologic mapping the area just west of Redwood Peak, the heart of the Oakland Conglomerate.

Here’s Lawson’s map from 1914. Orient yourself by finding Redwood Peak. The belt of rocks labeled “Ko” is the Oakland Conglomerate, the road winding along it is called Skyline Boulevard today, and the road heading leftward from it is today’s Castle Drive.

Lawson called Ko the “Oakland conglomerate member of the Chico formation,” a name and classification by which he meant that these rocks were notable but not important enough in the big scheme of things to single out. To be fair, he was dealing with a very large, detailed and cryptic field area at the time.

Fifty years later, along came James Case, who picked this area for his Ph.D. research at UC Berkeley. Lawson, who died in 1952, was no longer around to intimidate his graduate students, so Case was free to argue that Lawson had erred, having lumped too many different rocks in Ko. Some of them were really KJk, the Knoxville Formation, and others Case put in his brand-new Kjm, the Joaquin Miller Formation. (This is similar to what I was saying the other week about the Orinda Formation.) “It is therefore proposed,” he wrote, “that conglomeratic beds exposed along Skyline Boulevard west and northwest of Redwood Peak be considered the reference locality of the restricted Oakland Conglomerate.”

Case’s thesis was approved in 1963. His map, published a few years later in USGS Bulletin 1251-J, is so badly reproduced it’s embarrassing. Instead I’ll show Dorothy Radbruch-Hall’s elegant map of 1969, which incorporated Case’s work.

And for completeness’ sake here’s the current standard map, by Russ Graymer from 2000.

It’s a cool area. I recommend visiting it the way I did: take the 339 bus up to Chabot Observatory and hike down to Montclair or the Leimert Bridge to catch the 33 bus back downtown.

First, go behind the observatory buildings and find the fire road, which is part of the West Ridge Trail in Redwood Regional Park.

The trail exposes the conglomerate beautifully. The cobbles are exceptionally well rounded, a sign that they once tumbled a long way down a steep river into the sea.

You could meander your way to Moon Gate, on Skyline, where you’ll take the trail going left, or you could follow the steep and tempting path up to the water tank. From there the views look north past a wooded hill, with Round Top peeking up behind it, to the Briones Hills . . .

or northwest toward Grizzly and Vollmer Peaks.

A tiny trail on the other side will get you to some proper outcrops of massive sandstone, also part of the Oakland Conglomerate.

Either way, you’ll then be on the Scout Trail heading south, then angling east down to Skyline. Along the way you’ll pass a young and vigorous redwood stand, planted in 1978 thanks to good old Jerry Brown.

Cross Skyline and take the Castle Park Trail west. It’s a lot safer than walking on Skyline, and a nicer walk. When you hit Castle Drive, take the pavement down to the secret fire road called the West Trail.

This is the original century-old road shown on Lawson’s map. Go on, you’ll thank me later.

There’s a particular kind of peace to be found on abandoned roads.

Once the trail ends, back at Castle Drive, you can pick your own best way down, an exercise left to the reader. This was my way — 3.5 miles long, 1100 feet downhill. . .

through the redwoods and across Leimert Bridge.

Oakland geology ramble 5: Grass Valley

19 March 2018

Over the last few weeks I’ve been exploring the remote land just east of Skyline Boulevard, over the city line in Anthony Chabot Regional Park. Time to show you some of the charming features of Grass Valley, seen here from Redwood Ridge near the Parkridge land bridge.

In classic Geology Ramble style, this walk (a set of them actually) starts at one bus stop and ends at another. It starts at the top end of the 39 line and ends at the top of the 46L. The challenge is that you can only do this on weekdays because neither line runs on weekends; moreover both lines only run once an hour. Here are the two routes I’ve done so far, in the Google Maps terrain view just to give a feel for the territory (800 x 100 pixels). There are 12 photos in this post, locations given in a map at the end.

The route on the right runs down Redwood Ridge, and the first part is just like what I showed you last month only more so. Where it meets the other route, at the Bort Meadow staging area, you get this view of the valley floor. You can see it looks completely different in cloudy weather. Without the distant views across the Bay and south into the Diablo Range, it’s intimate and secluded. (The rest of my photos are from the western route.)

Amelia Sue Marshall, in her new book East Bay Hills, a Brief History, says that Grass Valley was never settled by whites or Ohlone because the stream was unreliable. Back in the day, redwood lumber was hauled through the valley to Castro Valley; only a few redwoods actually grew there. Later, cattle were driven through it between Oakland and Moraga. The Grass Valley Ranch raised cattle there for many years until the water companies moved in. The East Bay Water Company and the Contra Costa Water Company both planted huge eucalyptus forests there, and finally East Bay MUD took them all over. When they secured Sierra Nevada water, their East Bay land was transferred to the East Bay Regional Parks District, and that’s the story.

The ramble starts at Skyline High School. The scenic way is up the median path of Skyline Boulevard, charming in all seasons. It also exposes the Oakland Conglomerate, as I’ve posted previously.

The road up to the city stables is marked by a sign. Go past the gate and enter the Goldenrod Trail, an old dirt road popular with horse riders. It’s pretty, and you’ll see outcrops of Oakland Conglomerate along the way.

You knew I’d get to the rocks. The gross terrain is shaped by the rocks beneath it, but not much rock is actually exposed. These rocks began as sediment, and to sediment they quietly return, mostly covering themselves in a forested blanket of soil.

The important map units are Ko, Oakland Conglomerate; Ksc, Shephard Creek Formation (mostly shale); Kr, Redwood Canyon Formation (mostly sandstone). Grass Valley is strongly confined by the shale. The upper slope, though, is conglomerate. You can usually tell by the well-rounded stones embedded in it — samples of ancient mountain ranges. They get as big as this.

And there’s more than rocks to shake a camera at. For instance, banana slugs.

Take the Ranch Trail or the Buckeye Trail down into the valley. Near the bottom the woods open up nicely.

After a while you reach Bort Meadow. A hundred years ago the water company called it the Big Trees area, but the park took down most of the eucalyptus and it’s much better now.

The stream gradient is very gentle; this area looks like it could have been a lake at various times in the recent geologic past, especially if landslides dammed it.

Grass Valley is still a ranchy, horsy, countrified place. Though it’s gone from drivin’ dogies to walkin’ doggies.

The first time I came through the valley, unsure of my pace relative to the bus schedule, I was trotting. After that I knew I could amble instead. The whole hike is less than 6 miles, and the climbs aren’t that strenuous.

Farther down the woods rise up and close in, first oak and then eucalyptus.

By the time you reach the Stone Bridge the woods are thick. I haven’t yet gone farther toward Lake Chabot; the public transit logistics are pretty daunting. Take a minute to look at the streambed above the bridge; the Shephard Creek Formation is well exposed there, but look from afar because the creek bed is fenced off as sensitive habitat.

From the bridge turn up the Jackson Grade, where you’ll meet the bottom end of Skyline Boulevard. (There’s a water faucet at the top of the grade.) From there it’s a quick downhill into the Grass Valley neighborhood. The eucalyptus allee on Grass Valley Road is pretty to look at, harrowing to drive and inadvisable to walk.

Instead, cut over to Scotia and down Shetland and contemplate the classic postwar burbia around you as you head for the bus stop.

As promised, here’s the photo key.

You could take this route the other way, but it’s uphill, from about 500 to about 1100 feet.

Redwood Ridge and the Parkridge land bridge

19 February 2018

Redwood Ridge is a name I made up to keep things straight. Let’s start with the part of the USGS topo map showing the south end of Oakland’s redwood country. Redwood Ridge is just east of Skyline Ridge (another name I made up), which starts where Joaquin Miller Road meets Skyline and extends to Lake Chabot.

Oakland was a redwood lumbering town before it was anything else, and the great redwood groves gave their name to features all over the hills. Redwood Peak sits at the top of the map, and east of it is Redwood Creek running down a straight valley that leads to Upper San Leandro Reservoir. That valley has no formal name, so I dub it Redwood Valley, the valley of Redwood Creek.

A major tributary of Redwood Creek flows out of a steep-walled valley named Redwood Canyon, clearly marked on the topo map starting with the 1947 edition. So, Redwood Canyon cuts through Redwood Ridge and ends in Redwood Valley at the point where Redwood Road meets Redwood Creek. Got all that? Good, because I won’t repeat it.

From here on out I’ll show maps that have been tilted for easier viewing. Here’s Redwood Ridge in the handy terrain view of Google Maps.

This post is about the south part of Redwood Ridge. It’s a pretty cool piece of land, just to look at on the map.

The top side is bounded by Redwood Valley and the left side is defined by the lower part of Redwood Canyon, a classic water gap. Now look at the bottom side. On the right is Grass Valley, with Grass Valley Creek flowing through it down to Lake Chabot. On the left is a smaller valley that lines up with the upper part of Redwood Canyon. It has an unnamed stream in it. I’ll call it MacDonald Creek, because that’s the name of the trail there.

The last thing to notice is that little land bridge leading from the end of Parkridge Drive, right where the valleys of MacDonald and Grass Valley Creeks meet. The two creeks have been eroding their way toward each other. They seem to be evenly matched, but I think Grass Valley Creek may have a slight edge. The photo portion of this post starts there.

But first, the bedrock map. It shows that those two creeks have been exploiting the softer rock of the Shephard Creek Formation (Ksc), sandwiched between the Oakland Conglomerate (Ko) holding up Skyline Ridge and the Redwood Canyon Formation (Kr) holding up Redwood Ridge. Rare are the places where Oakland’s bedrock is expressed so clearly on the landscape.

And here’s the park map with the details on the trails.

As you descend Parkridge Drive to the trailhead, Redwood Ridge appears as an island of forest.

In my three visits here, dog walkers made up the great majority of people using the park. (Be sure you or your walker supports the park by carrying a permit and following the rules.)

Starting out across the bridge feels magical.

And at the right time of day as if by magic, the bedding planes of the Shephard Creek Formation appear out of nowhere. The geologic map indicates that these beds are overturned.

The view from the bridge extends to the right down Grass Valley toward distant Mission Peak overlooking Fremont.

And to the left, the view from front to back encompasses MacDonald Creek valley, Redwood Canyon, the massif of Redwood Peak and Round Top beyond with its bare southern shoulder. Redwood Canyon still grows a few redwoods, but in the mid-1800s they must have filled the canyon to the brim.

The MacDonald Trail is excellent for all users, including horses and (since 2016) bikes. The woods are enchanting in any weather, but they photograph best on shady days.

So does the bedrock in the road. The Redwood Canyon Formation is primarily fine- to medium-grained sandstone that shows the marks acquired over 80 million years of geologic history. It’s soft enough to be graded without blasting. The ridge stands as high as it does not because the rock is especially hard, but because it absorbs water so well, inhibiting the surface runoff that so effectively erodes the stream valleys all around it.

Off the road, the sandstone occasionally crops out in bulbous boulders. When Jim Case mapped these rocks for his PhD thesis in the early 1960s, he described these as “cannonball concretions,” but from my observations so far I think he was mistaken, and the description of this unit on the geologic map (circa 2000) does not mention them either. I think this is ordinary weathering like you see in arid and semiarid country all over the West.

The previous three photos are from the north side of the trail. The south side offers wider views of Grass Valley and beyond to Loma Prieta and the Sierra Azul west of San Jose at far right.

And you must not miss the stub of Brittleleaf Trail, which leads to a sandstone spur overlooking lower Redwood Valley. Surrounded by blooming manzanita at this time of year, the tranquil spot hums with bees and invites a long sit. Naturally I inspected the sandstone and determined to my satisfaction that its beds are overturned and dip steeply at 75 degrees. Notice that the fractures in the sandstone have no relationship to the original bedding.

The view south from here looks over the reservoir and watershed lands, the bare green ridge known as The Knife west of San Ramon, and the Diablo Range mountains south of Livermore against the horizon.

The view north, from far to near, includes the Briones Hills, tower-topped Mulholland Hill in Orinda and Moraga, the south end of grassy Gudde Ridge with its water gap where Canyon Road cuts through, a bit of wooded Canyon Ridge, and chaparral-covered Pinehurst Ridge, the type area of the Pinehurst Shale. All are worthy destinations of their own.

This is the best time of year to see these lands. Among other reasons, the poison oak has begun to sprout, making it easily visible, but not yet spread over the woods and side trails, keeping you out.