Archive for the ‘Oakland rocks’ Category

The lavas of Easter Hill

10 December 2018

It all started in the Oakland History group, on Facebook, when someone posted an image from a glass-plate negative for sale on eBay: a road-building crew at work somewhere in the East Bay hills. Was it Oakland?

We quickly determined the view overlooked the area that would become Richmond, but what was that little round hill in the rear center? It was too large and rounded to be a shellmound. It must have been bedrock; however, modern maps show nothing like it. But Andrew Lawson’s geologic map of 1913 did — an outlier of Franciscan lava at a locality named Cerrito.

The 2000 geologic map shows it too. Incidentally, I love the old map because it shows that Potrero San Pablo, the rocky ridge on Richmond’s west side, was essentially an island a hundred years ago.

The handsome little hill of Cerrito was called Easter Hill, because it was popular for Easter sunrise services once upon a time. Photos in Calisphere’s Richmond Local History Photograph Collection show it in about 1910:

and in 1912, behind the Stauffer Chemical Company plant, which used to process sulfur-bearing ore from mines in the Oakland hills:

The hill was laid out with roads and called El Cerrito Terrace at the time, but apparently never got more than partially settled before the World War II years because the Kaiser industrial combine acquired it for a quarry, to help fill in the marsh and build the tremendous shipyards of Richmond.

And that was pretty much the end of Easter Hill the hill, but in the 1950s the site became a pathbreaking low-income housing development, Easter Hill Village. After a few decades the neighborhood had gone sour and the buildings had deteriorated, but in the early 2000s Richmond renovated part of it, added new small multifamily homes and renamed it Richmond Village.

I had to go see if the rocks were still there. They are! Take the 23rd Street exit from 580 west and go right on Cutting Boulevard for two blocks, then right on South 26th Street.

Remnants of the hill add topographic interest to the site, and large boulders from the old quarry are placed all around.

Those boulders display a variety of igneous textures and rock types that’s remarkable in an exposure so small. There’s fine-grained, vesiculated (bubbly) andesite.

There’s lava jammed with centimeter-sized feldspar crystals (phenocrysts).

There’s lava ground into fragments by movements of the hot lava around it (autobreccia) — actually two kinds of autobreccia, hot and cold.

I wasn’t sure that all of these came from the same body of rock until I saw them all in one place, packed cheek by jowl in the same outcrop.

But wait there’s more — a textbook-quality outcrop of pillow lava.

Close up, the pillows look almost as fresh as the day they squeezed their way red-hot onto the seafloor and froze in this distinctive form, the outcome of cold water playing whack-a-mole with rising lava.

If you make your way to the hilltop, the rock is kind of punky but the views are inspiring whether you’re looking west, southeast or southwest.

So Easter Hill is still an excellent place to geologize. The village seems like a good place to live, too.

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.

Tracing the old Thorn Road

6 August 2018

Hiram Thorn took it upon himself in 1853 to build a road over the Coast Range hills from today’s Montclair to his redwood mill, which was either at the present site of Canyon or farther downstream where the former town of Pinehurst once sat. Thorn’s Road was a toll road for a long time, connecting Oakland to the Moraga Valley agricultural hinterland and beyond. “This was the main road into Contra Costa county in the early days,” wrote the Tribune in 1923, “and a daily stage ran over it to Walnut Creek, Danville and the top of Mount Diablo.”

This piece of the 1897 USGS topographic map shows the Thorn Road running from the lower left to the lower right corner.

There are a few things to point out. Kohler Creek is called Temescal Creek today, but back then Temescal Creek went straight uphill from the Lake Temescal reservoir. That streambed was obliterated by the later construction of upper Broadway, Route 24 and the Caldecott Tunnel bores. The dashed line from top to bottom is the county boundary, and the thick dot-dot-dash line running up the canyon along with the road is the boundary between Vicente and Antonio Peralta’s shares of the San Antonio rancho, the immense royal land grant made to their father in 1820. The Thorn Road was also the official line between the Oakland and Brooklyn Townships of Alameda County.

This 1878 map made by Malcolm King shows the landmarks at the time, including the location of the toll gate about where the Thornhill Coffee House stands today.

In the 1880s it was already being referred to as “the old Thorn road.” In 1889 the Tribune reported on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting of 1 April: “The Committee of the Whole, to whom had been referred the petition asking for the placing in good repair of the Thorn road to Moraga valley presented a report saying, that upon examination of the ground, they were satisfied that it would be utterly impossible to ever make the same a good road on account of the steep grade.” They recommended surveying “a road to the summit over a new route and on an easy grade.” That new road was the Snake–Skyline–Pinehurst Road route. Between it, the existing Redwood Road, the Kennedy tunnel to the north and the Oakland Antioch & Eastern railway to the south, which went up Shepherd Canyon and cut through the hills to Eastport, the Thorn Road was no longer the best way over the hills.

Nevertheless, the 1936 street map showed Thorn Road still following its old route up to the Huckleberry saddle.

The 1947 topo map shows that the top segment of the Thorn Road, and all of it on the far side, had been abandoned. The newly named Thornhill Drive took a zigzag route incorporating what had been Idlewild Drive, and the part of the Thorn Road left behind was named Sobrante Road.

Here’s the modern Google map just to give an idea of the streets and terrain.

The Thorn Road took the gentlest way up Thornhill Canyon to the topographic saddle where the entrance to Huckleberry Preserve is today. It was still a very challenging grade near the top, about a 36% grade or 20 degrees, according to my phone compass. (This would rank among the steepest streets in notorious San Francisco.) It was even steeper on the Contra Costa County side.

For a while after the 1947 topo map was published, street maps connected Sobrante all the way to Skyline, but as of 1967 the upper end of Sobrante had been cut off. However, there’s still a right-of-way and a sewer line running down it.

That’s where I took a walk last week. This is looking back at the end of Sobrante and across Thornhill Canyon.

There are remnants of the old grade, but no path bigger than a game trail. I think a footpath should be built here, as an emergency route if nothing else.

Underfoot is Claremont chert, not a surprise because this is right next to, and a hundred feet downhill from, the endangered chert roadcuts of Elverton Drive.

The habitat has possibilities. The ground was wet during my visit, thanks to fog drip. But crews have dumped a bunch of eucalyptus slash, which not only obstructs passage but also presents a fire hazard.

Also prominent in the human litter is a bunch of slash consisting of For Sale signs. There are still lots available up here.

On the far side of the ridge, in Contra Costa County, a stub of the Thorn Road got the name Winding Way. It was known as a shortcut for motorcylists when CHP Captain George Kallemeyn, chasing a group of hotrodders down the road, went over the edge and died in July 1959. Winding Way was still shown as open as of 1967, though it went only a short distance down the canyon.

Some time after that a landslide took out the highest segment of the road, and today the Huckleberry Path edges around the scar. About a hundred yards down the trail, a bench marks the spot where the old roadbed, heavily eroded and overrun in roadcut rubble, picks up again. It’s passable on foot all the way down to the hairpin turn of Pinehurst Road.

I recommend visiting this end of the old road starting down at Pinehurst. You can park beside Pinehurst a little bit downhill from the hairpin, where the old rail tunnel came out. (The cut is still there, filled with rubble and leaking a steady stream of groundwater.) But just as convenient, and more tempting, is the new Wilcox Station staging area, an access point to Sibley Volcanic Preserve’s eastern annex where the Eastport station once stood.

The road starts out along San Leandro Creek, then soon starts to climb.

It’s a steady grade, but the road was never more than one lane wide. As you walk it, imagine the work it took to trailblaze by pickaxe and oxteam. Imagine driving the daily stage to Danville over it. Between raveling ground on the uphill side and landslides on the downhill side, this road, once a vital link in the commerce of the redwood era, is reduced to a precarious trail today.

At any time an earthquake or rainy winter could cut it off, either until repairs can be made or once and for all.

An Elverton update

23 July 2018

After a visit five years ago, I had high praise for Elverton Drive: “From end to end, it offers the best exposures anywhere of the Claremont chert.”

This stuff, as seen a few weeks ago during a return visit.

Those of you who’ve followed along know the amazing striped chert of the Claremont Shale, which crops out in a belt from Claremont Canyon along a couple miles of Skyline Ridge to Huckleberry Botanical Preserve and beyond in the hinterland. The fat pale stripes are layers of microcrystalline silica — chert — and the thin dark ones are layers of claystone — shale.

During this visit I walked from the south end of Elverton past the newest set of houses, near Huckleberry, and had a good stop in the old borrow pit. The wall has crumbled a bit since five years ago, opening this fine exposure.

I was hoping to find pieces of dolomite rock, which are present as an uncommon third ingredient, so I gave the rubble a good look. None of that there, but I was interested to see some extra-thick pieces of the chert and shale.

The chert, in fact, was very light. It was barely changed from its original state as diatom ooze on the seafloor, almost the balsa-wood lightness of the Pinole diatomite. I did not expect that.

At the other end of the pit is the same big-ol’ boulder that was lying there in 2013. This is not a decorative rock placed there to look good; no, it fell here from the beetling cliff above and stopped rolling just short of the roadway. I recalled writing in 2013, “if you feel an earthquake while you’re there, step the hell back.”

Every time I visit the high hills, the pleasure of geologizing gives way, sooner or later, to a sense of dread at the state of the roadcuts. The eucalyptus roots in this scene were exposed as the hillside crumbled away, and behind them is a concrete cast meant to slow down a landslide.

But thinking ahead I looked forward to admiring this again after five years away. Google Street View still shows it.

Instead, it’s being shored up and fitted with a shotcrete shroud.

And another splendid exposure farther along is being smothered too, with no finesse.

In fact, not long afterward I started to despair of Elverton Drive. Is this the point of occupying such a spectacular setting? To cover it with property? To look outward and not downward?

The Claremont chert isn’t as solid as it might seem. Given the tendency of these young rocks to crumble, there’s no guarantee a new house in the high hills will survive its first mortgage. Or that the road will last that long.

Look out. Don’t look down. Elverton Drive is falling apart while it’s still filling up.

I already miss the place.