Category Archives: geology

The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills-Part 1

Standard

Berkeley Hills (red box) – Part of the Pacific Coast Ranges

Having taken the pressure off myself to write a second “science” blog (one of my two other blogs is Goodheart’s Extreme Science) I hope to get out more regular posts about my beloved Berkeley Hills.

But first, a word about that term, “Berkeley Hills.” When I use that term, I mean the geological formation that is part of the Pacific Coast Ranges, not just the hills immediately above the City of Berkeley.

So, peace, dear friends in Oakland, and other beautiful cities abutting these lovely hills! I know how beautiful the hills are above you as well, because I often hike there:

Looking into Claremont Canyon

Here’s how Wikipedia explains it:

The Berkeley Hills are a range of the Pacific Coast Ranges that overlook the northeast side of the valley that surrounds San Francisco Bay. They were previously called the “Contra Costa Range/Hills”, but with the establishment of Berkeley and the University of California, the current usage was applied by geographers and gazetteers.

Tectonically, the Berkeley Hills are bounded by the major Hayward Fault along their western base, and the minor Wildcat Fault on their eastern side. The highest peaks are Vollmer Peak (elevation 1,905 feet/581m), Grizzly Peak (elevation 1,754 feet/535 m) and Round Top (elevation 1,761 feet/537m), an extinct volcano, and William Rust Summit 1,004 feet.

With that clarified, let’s take a look at some of my favorite recent images from the Berkeley Hills.  I hope they inspire you to discover the amazing beauty of the Hills for yourself.  In 15 or 20 minutes, up a trail, and you are in a place of great wonder and beauty, indeed, even a place of Faerie:

The Road Goes Ever On-Tolkien and the Berkeley Hill Trails

If you click on any of the images below, you can see a higher resoltuion 1600 x 1200 image.

Enjoy!

Although my wife and I have only been here a year and a half, I already look forward to seeing the Hills do their dramatic change from emeralds to golds and browns as the virtually rainless summer begins.  This year, because of the very heavy winter and late spring rains, the usual transition was much later than last year.

Summer Grasses and Eucalyptus in Claremont Canyon

This is the near the beginning of the fire trail that runs up the north side of Claremont Canyon.

Fire Trail above Claremont Canyon

Here is a view of the historic UC Berkeley Cyclotron from one of the fire trails in Strawberry Canyon.

Looking Across Strawberry Canyon at the Historic Cyclotron

If you hike late in the Hills, you are often treated to the most beautiful sunsets. Here, I was walking back down from Claremont Canyon toward the Campus.

Sunset over the Berkeley through Eucalyptus

Because of the very heavy winter and spring rains, the Hills were especially lush this year, with explosions of wild flowers everywhere.  This shot looks down into Claremont Canyon from Panoramic Way.

Spring Flowers and Grasses in Claremont Canyon

Many of the trees in lower parts of Strawberry Canyon are covered in beautiful lichen and moss.  I’m always amazed how many species there are and how richly varied the colors can be.

Lichen and Moss in Strawberry Canyon

When the California poppies start to pop up in the Claremont and Strawberry Canyons, and I know spring has really arrived.  I have a special place in my heart for the poppies, because they are part of my earliest childhood memories when my family still lived in California.

California Wild Poppies and Grasses in Claremont Canyon

I am a connoisseur of clouds, and I have to say that the Bay Area has some of the best cirrus clouds I’ve ever seen.  I wish this photo could show more of the incredible traceries and webbing that these particular cirrus had, but at least you can get a feel for it.  I am amazed at how many people don’t really seem to pay attention the sky or clouds.  Some days, the sky can take your breath away. Look up!

Beautiful Cirrus Clouds above Trees near the Life Sciences Building

There are some magnificent Sequoia trees about half-way up the Strawberry fire trail that starts on Centennial Drive.  These hundred-foot plus trees are in the Woodbridge Metcalf Grove, which was planted by University of California students in 1926.  (The little stone marker for this beautiful stand of trees actually reads “Woodbridge Metoale Grove”—not sure why.)

Towering Sequoia near the top of Strawberry Canyon

Spring in Claremont Canyon is just glorious, and the naturalist in me wants to get a good book on the local plants and start learning some names.  I would love any suggestions from readers on good books about the flora or fauna of the area!

Spring in Claremont Canyon

I was really struck by the color of these mushrooms growing on a log.  Again, I wish I could identify species, because I’ve seen so many varieties on my hikes.

Red Fungus after Late Spring Rain

I loved how the moss was growing into the cracks of this rock—one of the more beautiful forms of erosion.

Moss & Small Ferns

More poppies.  Again, when I come upon a clump of these lovely ladies (they always seem like dainty ladies to me), they just make me happy.  I like how the petals close up for the night, or when it’s too cold for them, or too cloudy.  This seems like perfect behavior for the state flower of sunny California.

California Poppies above Strawberry Canyon

One of the things I immediately fell in love with about the Bay Area is how many beautiful trails there are to hike, and how accessible they are.  A ten-minute hike out of Berkeley Campus or East Oakland and you can be in incredible beauty.

Trail Near the top of Panoramic Way

I love the winter storms we have here in the San Francisco Bay area.  The mighty storms from the Pacific are really impressive, though most of them can’t match the fury and grandeur of the Nor’easters I enjoyed (yes, enjoyed, as I confess, I’m a weather nut) when I lived in Boston.

Escape from New England-a weather nut’s confession

Winter Storm Clouds from Lawrence Hall of Science

One of the interesting geological features of this area, and of Southern California, are landslides.  Here’s a small one came across on Panoramic Way after a really heavy rain storm.  You can read more about it here:

Berkeley Hills Landslide

Landslide on Upper Panoramic Way, Berkeley

Here’s one of the beautiful little waterfalls in Strawberry Canyon.  I often stop here and just listen and watch.

Small Waterfall in Strawberry Canyon

This shot was taken coming home after a long hike in Claremont Canyon.  I was thoroughly wet and muddy and happy as a golden lab after a romp in the hills.  As I was coming down Panoramic Way, the storm lifted and I was able to see Oakland and the Bay Bridge, and the City, in the distance.  It was a magical moment.

Coming down Panoramic Way During Rainstorm – the Lights of Oakland in Distance

This was without a doubt one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some real beauts growing up in the Southwest desert and in New England.  (I’ll share more in a later post.)

Standing on the top of one of the taller hills above Strawberry Canyon, I couldn’t believe my great fortune to be there at that moment, looking at this beautiful Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and a sky on fire.  I hope you see such a sunset one day.  It is truly a great, great blessing to be alive on this beautiful planet and see its wonders.

Fiery November Sunset Over San Francisco Bay

May we meet as friends, some day, in the Hills of Great Beauty!

♥♥♥

Advertisements

Berkeley Hills Landslide 2010

Standard

Last week’s third and final storm was a doozy, setting all-time record low pressure in a number of cities. Here in the Bay Area we got 3 to 8 inches of rain, and wind gusts of over 80 mph.

Powerful Thunderstorms Drench Berkeley and North Bay

All along the coast, 20 foot waves pounded the shore:

Storm Surf – Jan 2010

causing significant beach erosion:

Beach erosion – Great Highway, San Francisco – Lea Suzuki – Chronicle

And as I mentioned in my last post on the storms, the first of the three storms even produced a tornado (and some waterspouts) in Southern California. (see Berkeley Hills-El Nino Storms Hit Hard)

And of course, snow in the Sierras was measured in feet—8 to 10 feet in some spots!

Sierra Summit Had 10 feet of Snow! – Ken Clark

After the mid-week second storm, I wanted to hike into the Berkeley Hills to see the effects of the storm on the canyons. But because it was so muddy, instead of taking a fire trail, I took one of my favorite paved roads up into the Hills, Panoramic Way:

I usually walk south on Piedmont, past the Memorial Stadium:

And then take a left up Bancroft, just past the International House:

When Bancroft dead-ends, I walk up the Bancroft Steps and then cross over to Panoramic Way, which winds up into the Hills:

Panoramic Way – Google Map View

As soon as I got up into the upper, less-developed parts of Panoramic Way, I saw lots of rocks on the road and erosion like this:

Typical Panoramic Way Storm Erosion

Typical Panoramic Way Storm Erosion – Closeup

But I was really shocked when I came around a bend of on the upper part of Panoramic Way and found this:

Panoramic Way Landslide

A landslide!  Not a huge one, but still, impressive to see first-hand. Over a hundred feet of the steep upper slope adjoining the road had given way:

Source Area – Where the Slope Gave Way

And flowed down Panoramic Way for quite a distance:

Depositional Area on Panoramic Way

I was struck by how intact the top layer was; the whole section had been slipped down the slope pretty much in one piece, carrying along most of the shrubs intact.  Although small in scale, this little landslide had all three of the basic  elements of any landslide:

Of course, this landslide on Panoramic Way in the Berkeley Hills was a small one compared to the huge landslides California is famous for.  In the hills and on the cliffs all along the California Coast, heavy rains and steep, unstable land create a deadly combination that leads to highly destructive and often lethal landslides and debris flows. One of the worst in recent memory was the La Conchita landslide in 2005, which killed 10 people.

2005 La Conchita Landslide – John Lehmkuhl

In Southern California, this vulnerability is only made worse after wild fires, fanned by the infamous Santa Ana winds, denude the hills of vegetation.   Without vegetation to slow it down and trap it,  water runs off too quickly, causing flash floods and debris flows filled with huge rocks and tons of sand and gravel. Sometimes truly enormous boulders are set loose:

300 Ton Topanga Canyon Boulder – 2005 Landslide – (AP Photo)

You don’t have to have barren hills to be at risk for a landslide. Doing research for this article, I came across this amazing image of a landslide in England.  Known as the Holbeck Landslide, it occurred south of Scarborough in North Yorkshire:

Holbeck Hall Landslide – England 1993 – British Geological Survey

Fortunately, this particular landslide didn’t happen in a moment.  It took place over a two-day period, so people were able to evacuate when the first signs of movement became evident.  The scale of the movement of land is hard to fathom, until you know that the the cliffs in the depositional area are over 180 feet high! Geologist estimate over a million tons of loose glacial till (sediment) flowed down to the sea shore.

Looking at the Holbeck Hall image, I have to admit that the little landslide on Panoramic Way seems pretty insignificant! (Although I wouldn’t have wanted to be in its way when it broke loose!) Still, the soil physics involved are very similar.  All you need for a landslide is instability—relatively loose soil and rock, a steep-enough slope, and some sort of triggering mechanism, such as too much rain, an earthquake, or erosion of the base of a slope of land.  As this USGS diagram shows, there are all kinds of landslides:

Kinds of Landslides – USGS

The bottom line is that at some point, the friction and cohesion that hold the soil on a slope are simply overcome by gravity, and the soil and rock take off down hill, acting more like a liquid than “solid” land. In California, the majority of landslides caused by rainstorms, though earthquakes and tremors are a not-too-distant second.

Because of the unique geology and weather of California, landslides and debris flows are always going to be a part of the California experience, just like earthquakes, wildfires, Santa Ana winds, and El Niño events.  Because Californian love their hills and the vistas they offer, hill dwellers are always going to be in harm’s way.

Claremont Canyon Hills – Beautiful Vistas and Risk

We can do what we can to be safe, but as nature writer John McPhee makes so clear in The Control of Nature, even our best efforts may be inadequate.   In the last section of his outstanding book, he shows how  residents of the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California have had little success in preventing debris flows from destroying their houses in spite of spending millions on creating man-made diversion pits and dams.

Landslide & Debris Flow Scars in the San Gabriel Mountains – USGS

From the standpoint of geology, landslides, mudslide, and debris flows are simply the more spectacular forms of the ceaseless erosion that shapes our beautiful planet, wearing down mountains and creating the sedimentary rock and soil so much of life depends upon.  Walking in the Berkeley Hills, you can see evidence of this  ceaseless erosion of wind and rain up-close and personal.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

National Geographic has a fantastic video on YouTube about landslides.  The opening scene of a landslide in Portland, Oregon is simply amazing.  Watch as a fellow in a truck outruns a landslide coming down the street, sweeping away cars and everything in its path!

National Geographic Landslide Video

In this next amazing video, caught on camera by a Japanese research team, you can watch a whole mountainside slide across a road with the forest riding along intact!  Amazing!

Heyelan Japan Landslide

Hello world! Welcome to The Nature of Berkeley

Standard

Hello!  The blog is a celebration of the natural beauty and wonders of the Berkeley Hills area.  I hope you enjoy your visit here!

Steve Goodheart
November 6, 2009