Archive for the ‘Oakland geology walks’ Category

Oakland’s wild rail path

5 August 2019

The seasons are changing now, if you follow the pagan calendar. This weekend marks the turning point between astronomical pagan summer (6 May to 6 August) and pagan autumn (6 August to 6 November), or as I think of them, High Season and Waning. They are offset exactly half a season from the conventional astronomical seasons. High Season consists of long days, and Waning consists of shortening days. (Likewise, Low Season consists of short days, and Quickening consists of lengthening days.)

Nature is acutely aware of these seasons. The belladonna lily (Amaryllis belladonna) sends up its naked-lady flowers at this time. The strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) ripens its rich little fruits (I can understand why Pliny the Elder named them “eat-only-one” because they’re so satisfying).

And of course the blackberries are in full swing.

I returned last week after eight years to the “secret street” at the south end of Florence Avenue, where it meets the old railbed of the Sacramento Northern Railway (also known as the Oakland, Antioch, and Eastern Railway). Unlike that first visit, when I was busy and could only gaze up the path, this time I had the leisure to walk its whole length, up to Broadway Terrace where it’s fenced off.

The path has geology up at its north end, but it’s worthy just as woods. Even right next to the Warren Freeway, it’s as secluded as any place in Oakland.

It’s shown as the dashed route on this map. You can see that Florence Avenue, heading over a saddle in the ridge above Piedmont, used to connect with Florence Terrace once upon a time. That’s the Lake Temescal park at the top.

There are lots of blackberries growing here, so don’t wait. The first ones are the best. Near the north end is a landslide scar that was repaired with much labor to protect some homes on Sheridan Road. The work was finished with dark shotcrete, but it doesn’t really blend in.

If you look close you’ll see little splotches of white. Those mark cracks where lime-bearing groundwater has seeped through and deposited calcite as it evaporates.

I can foresee these growing into falls of travertine in a few years. Beyond the landslide is a high cut into the hillside, made decades ago when the rail line was first pushed through. And the bedrock here is mapped as classic Franciscan melange, the big blue field on the geologic map — the edge of which happens to correspond to the Hayward fault.

I half expected the rock exposed here to be fault gouge, the fine-ground, mealy stuff that fills many of California’s active faults (for instance at the London Road slide). It’s real close to it: highly weathered mudstone that’s likely to come down hard in our next big quake. Whether the railbed will be cleared again afterward can only be conjectured. I’ll look at this cut again more thoroughly next time I’m here, whenever that might be.

On your way back, look again for blackberries. I know I didn’t get them all.

Oakland geology ramble 7: South Orinda to Montclair

22 July 2019

It’s been a while since I brought you a geology ramble — a no-car-needed hike that starts and ends at different places with public transit. Ramble number 7 connects Montclair and Orinda over the spine of the Oakland Hills. Three years ago, when I presented ramble #2 from Rockridge to Orinda, I said “I have a vague scheme for a southern route,” and this is that scheme fleshed out and walked both ways.

Here’s the 6.4-mile route superimposed on Google Maps. It climbs from about 600 feet elevation at either end to 1600 feet, in Sibley Regional Volcanic Preserve.

The route starts in Orinda, for reasons I’ll get to later. From the Orinda BART station, take the County Connection number 6 bus and get off at Woodland Road, across from St. John Orthodox Church. The first mile is a gentle downhill into the valley of Moraga Creek, on Woodland and then Valley View Drive. You’ll pass this hillside, which exposes lava of the Moraga Formation.

If you have the time and energy, this is an interesting exposure, but there’s a long walk ahead.

The road turns into Lost Valley Road as it turns right. Follow it to Edgewood Road. At the end of Edgewood is this gate leading to the open space of the Orinda Wilder development.

Go on in. The road straight ahead leads to the new homes of Orinda Wilder, but you’ll turn left, up the hill.

Two miles farther and 800 vertical feet up, there’s another gate at the boundary of Sibley. On the far side of the gate is a sign saying “private property.” That’s the sum total of the access restrictions along this ramble.

The full route takes you through 12 different geological map units, by my count.

They are the Mulholland Formation, Moraga Formation basalt (Tmb) and interbedded sedimentary rocks (Tms), the Siesta Formation (Tst), Orinda Formation (Tor), Claremont Shale (the golden stripe from corner to corner), Sobrante Formation (Tsm), the unnamed Eocene mudstone (Tes), the teeny, cryptic Paleocene sandstone (Ta), Redwood Canyon Formation (Kr), Shephard Creek Formation (Ksc), and the Oakland Conglomerate (green).

What particularly interested me about this hike was the stretch through the Siesta Formation and the Moraga Formation sediments, which aren’t exposed in Oakland proper.

The Siesta consists of fine-grained stuff: sand, silt, clay and some limestone. The limestone is what stands out, because it’s white.

Outcrops of the limestone aren’t obvious, but my little acid bottle always reveals it by the telltale fizz.

This large limestone boulder reveals a lot of broken-up structure, including some shale chunks mixed in. Landslides will do this to unlithified sediments — and around here, even 9-10 million years ago, that means earthquakes.

The Siesta also includes a little conglomerate, as seen in this roadside exposure, but in general the rock isn’t highly visible. It likes to turn back into dirt.

Farther up the road, the Moraga sediments show themselves as coarse sandstone, rough stuff that gathered around whenever the lavas weren’t erupting.

That little magenta bit brings me to the other scenery: it’s always more than rocks that brings me to these heights. In early summer it’s wildflowers.

And views.

And views of rocks.

By the time you’re on the ridgetop, you’re well into the volcanic rocks that Sibley is famous for. Look carefully and you may spot the mineral-filled lava bubbles called amygdules. (I left this one for you to find.)

The high point in Sibley is the midpoint of this ramble. It’s all downhill from here to Montclair (where you catch the “geologist’s express” 33 bus), heading south on Skyline and then following the route of my Shepherd Canyon circumambulation. Be sure to look back at that lovely ridge as you start down Skyline.

I’ll end this post with a big fat map showing the topographic contours, more road details, and mile markers.

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.

The Dunsmuir-Chabot trail

1 October 2018

The most remote part of Oakland will be opened to public access fairly soon, when the East Bay Regional Parks District finally gets around to constructing a trail between Dunsmuir Ridge and Lake Chabot. I made my way into part of the route a few weeks back. It’s interesting and inviting territory, set above an untouched oak-filled stream valley with Fairmont Ridge beyond.

The land has divided ownership, with parcels belonging to the city, EBMUD and the East Bay Regional Parks District. They’re all public agencies, so the bureaucracy must have been difficult. Here’s the setting, as laid out in a 2009 EBRPD map.

The solid blue line is a trail in Anthony Chabot Regional Park that’s been closed for years. The dashed blue line is the proposed Dunsmuir Heights to Chabot Regional Trail.

This summer the EBRPD board was shown this map of the approximate route. Again, the solid line is an existing (deteriorated) roadway and the dashed part will be built from scratch. The photo at the top of this post is the view from the EBMUD water tank at top center. The part I’ll be showing is between there and the “P” mark at the city golf course.

A couple more maps to help you see what’s here. First is the bare land as shown in Google Maps terrain view.

The centerpiece of the trail’s route is the valley in the lower right quadrant. Note its depth and steepness. The permanent stream in that valley has no formal name, so I will hereby dub it Chabot Creek. And finally here’s the same area in the 1947 topographic map, which shows the old roads that will become the trail.

If you look at the upper part of Chabot Creek valley, you’ll see it turns sharply from southeast to southwest as you go downhill. On the Google map, though, the streamcourse is interrupted by a flat area. That’s landfill made of waste from the Cypress Viaduct, which collapsed in the 1989 earthquake. It’s sterile and weedy, but the view is nice.

At its edge is a curious structure, visible in Google Earth, that turns out to be a spillway, made for the event of a large rainstorm during a very wet winter. Presumably the landfill was capped with a layer of clay to stop any contaminants from leaching into Chabot Creek, and thus the site would fill with rainwater quickly and have a risk of spillover.

If you looked closely at the second map, you saw the intriguing pointers to an “old foundation” and a “1936 WPA rock chimney.” The chimney is a massive stone fireplace, suitable for a hunting lodge. But the building it once occupied is gone. Foundations around it show that it was a group facility of some kind. I’m hoping that local historians can say more about it in the comments.

A stone in the entryway is carved with the date 1935, so the map is slightly in error.

In any case, the stonework is indeed classic WPA masonry, of the same vintage, material and durability as the Woodminster Cascades in Joaquin Miller Park.

And speaking of stone, what are the rocks like around here, you ask. Here’s what’s mapped in the area.

“Jsv” is the Leona volcanics, “KJk” is the sedimentary Knoxville Formation, and the blue field is Franciscan melange, the same body of rock underlying Knowland Park. When I visited, I checked out a roadcut right where the Franciscan and Knoxville meet and found an assortment of rocks.

All of these are appropriate for the Franciscan, but the brown sandstone could just as easily be from the Knoxville. A return visit is in order during the upcoming wet season, when the ground is firmer. I hope to see more signs of the Franciscan “knockers” so well exposed in Knowland Park — and on the golf course, like this blueschist knocker cropping out in the rough.

The plans for the Dunsmuir Heights to Chabot Trail are supposed to come up for public comment this fall, with the work to be completed by 2021.