Category Archives: Geology

Central Coast Weekend – Wet, Wild, and Windy – Part 1 – Saturday, December 18

My friend Jake and I left San Diego rather early, about 4:30 am. Our goal was to get up to the San Luis Obispo area as early as we could, so that we could take our time north of there to the Gilroy / Hollister area. It seemed to have worked. As we were making pretty good time, we decided to check out some old alignments of US 101 a bit earlier.  We followed some alignments near Gaviota and Buellton, both of which had good sections of old concrete. After that, we didn’t make any major stops until north of San Luis Obispo.

1930 Bradley Bridge.
1930 Bradley Bridge.
Piers for the original Bradley Bridge, just upriver.
Piers for the original Bradley Bridge, just upriver.
Pre-1939 alignment of US 101, with single-slab concrete and white striping.
Pre-1939 alignment of US 101, with single-slab concrete and white striping.

At Bradley, we stopped at the large bridge over the Salinas River at the north end of town. It was built in 1931, replacing a multiple through-truss span built in the 1910’s. Much to our surprise and enjoyment, we got a much needed break from the rain here. The break was just long enough to walk the span and take many photos. I hadn’t had the opportunity to really view the bridge, so this was quite welcome. Once we left the bridge, we took the old alignment of 101 south back to the freeway, taking a slight detour onto an even older alignment, bypassed in 1939. Most of it was still fairly well paved, complete with sections of double white striping. One spot, however, proved to be a bit trickier. Some years in the past, a small landslide took out a portion of the roadway. A short dirt bypass was made, which was rather muddy after all the rains. I got of the car to scout the roadway ahead, to see if it was passable. I decided it was, and the car was able to make it. It did slide a bit down the slope, but not to worry, it wasn’t a problem. By the time we got back to the main road, the tires had acquired a thick ring of mud, almost a new tire in itself. Hey, it’s a rental car right?

Original CSAA FAP sign from 1929. Note the diamond on top.
Original CSAA FAP sign from 1929. Note the diamond on top.
an Lucas Bridge - from 1915, at least the southern two spans anyway.
an Lucas Bridge – from 1915, at least the southern two spans anyway.

Getting back to current US 101, we continued north to San Ardo, where the old highway crossed the river again. The bridge here is very similar to the North Bradley Bridge, built in 1929, but without the old railing. In 2001, the span was seismically retrofitted and the old railing was removed. One thing that was not removed, and only discovered by us on this trip, was a 1929 FAP sign, complete with a CSAA yellow diamond. These are rare to find out in the field, so it was quite something to see. This section of the road, from San Ardo up to San Lucas, was the last section of two-lane highway on US 101 from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It was bypassed in 1971. It still makes a nice detour from the main highway, with little traffic to deal with. At the north end in San Lucas, there is another old bridge nearby, crossing the Salinas River on Lockwood-San Lucas Road. That bridge, from 1915, is a through-truss span. Some of the girders had Carnegie Steel stamped on them.

Still heading north, we arrived at Gonzales, where we diverged from US 101 to see another old bridge over the Salinas River. I first found this bridge in 2001 on my first bicycle tour. I wasn’t planning to take that route at the time, but had to make the detour as there was no other route available. The bridge, a 1930 through-girder span, reminded me of another bridge that was near where I used to live. Through-girder spans are rare, usually used by railroads not highways. Instead of returning to US 101, we decided to change course, and follow the River Road on the west side of the valley. I hadn’t been there before, and it took us north. So, why not take a different path?

We crossed back over the river near Chualar, and went back to US 101. We stayed on it until the south end of Salinas, where we exited onto Abbot St, the old alignment and business route. The southern end of Salinas had the distinction of still having old US highway shields in place until the early 2000’s. The signs are gone, but the porcelain business banners remain. We found two of them, one northbound and one southbound. Heading through Salinas started off alright, but as we got closer to the center of town, things went downhill – fast (or was it slow). Traffic increased, roads turned in confusing directions and we didn’t have a map. Still, we managed to get through town and onto the road we wanted – San Juan Grade.

Old sign with the straps still there for the old US shields in Salinas.
Old sign with the straps still there for the old US shields in Salinas.

San Juan Grade Road is the original alignment of US 101 from Salinas to San Juan Bautista. Having been bypassed in 1932, the roadway still retains most of its old feel. It wasn’t widened, and much of the original 15’ concrete is still visible. A few of the curves were straightened, but even that appears to have been done long ago. A lot of the old wooden guard railing is still in place, mostly on the north side of the summit. South of the summit, a few bridges with pipe railing are still intact. Rain and fog prevented a lot of good photos from being taken, but we still got a few. On the north side, in San Benito County, more of the old concrete was preserved. It was good to see such an old highway in as good a shape as this was. At the north end, where it met old SR-156, there was an old white directional sign from 1959 which was on our list of things to see. Having taken care of that, we headed east to Hollister. It was time for some geological tourism.

Old concrete and railing. A very nice mix.
Old concrete and railing. A very nice mix.
Sometimes, rocks will fall, this one was strangely stopped by the railing. Must not have been going fast.
Sometimes, rocks will fall, this one was strangely stopped by the railing. Must not have been going fast.
More old concrete on San Juan Grade.
More old concrete on San Juan Grade.
Nice old sign from 1959.
Nice old sign from 1959.

Hollister, not the town from which the clothing comes from, is a growing suburb in the southern Bay Area. It still has a lot of farms surrounding it, and still retains a lot of its old downtown. It also is well known to geologists. The Calaveras Fault, a branch of the San Andreas Fault, runs right through town. This particular segment of the fault creeps. Most fault move in large jolts, known as earthquakes. This moves along like a conveyor belt, but much slower. The results can still be quite dramatic. Along many streets in the northwestern end of Hollister, there are offset curbs and sidewalks. A portion of an old fault scarp is also visible, usually as an abrupt rise in the street. All the roadways crossing the fault have fractures, bumps, and lots of patching. The earth waits for no one, and is more than willing to show its power. Sometimes structures lie atop the fault, and they too have been made a bit askew. Some are just cracked, while others are twisted out of shape.  I noticed one such structure, on Suiter St, that was so badly cracked, I wondered how much longer it would stay up. It was certainly proof positive why the Alquist-Priolo Zoning Act was created.

Roadway cracking and bent curb on 7th Street next to Dunne Memorial Park.
Roadway cracking and bent curb on 7th Street next to Dunne Memorial Park.
Note the columns. House is a bit twisted from the fault creep, on 4th St.
Note the columns. House is a bit twisted from the fault creep, on 4th St.
More en echelon fractures on 5th St.
More en echelon fractures on 5th St.
4th St, notice the bend in the curb and cracked panels in the sidewalk.
4th St, notice the bend in the curb and cracked panels in the sidewalk.
Pavement has to be redone often here, it also sags a bit.
Pavement has to be redone often here, it also sags a bit.
Offset here is about a foot.
Offset here is about a foot.
Once straight, now bent.
Once straight, now bent.
Through Dunne Memorial Park, the low fault scarp becomes quite visible.
Through Dunne Memorial Park, the low fault scarp becomes quite visible.

After seeing all we could see of the Calaveras Fault, we headed out of town, first following the new alignment of Hwy 25. The new bypass runs to the east of town, connecting two places that 25 used to turn at. From there, it was on to Gilroy, where we stayed for the evening. Another adventure awaited us the next day – the Big Sur Coast!

Explorations

I like to explore. I always have. I started as a kid by hiking around the hills above my neighborhood. I believe it was doing that, and my curious nature, that got me interested in geology. Now, I say I’ve been interested in it since I was five. Five? Quite young you say? Yet, that far back, I would pick up a rock, and not just think “What a pretty rock!” I’d want to know more about it. How did it get there? why does it look the way it does? The earliest ones I remember were small pieces of rhyolite from the Mint Canyon Formation. They were mostly flow-banded, and sometimes had small quartz crystals within them. In setting out to find their source, I learned much about the local geology. I eventually learned of the Mint Canyon Formation’s age and how it was formed. As it turned out, I would never have found the source, at least locally. The San Andreas Fault had offset the source area for the rhyolite by about 120 miles or so. The rocks came from what are now the Chocolate Mountains east of Indio. So through all that, I got more interested in geology. I look around at rock formations all the time, study them. I go on annual trips to Death Valley just to learn more about geology. As such, it all adds to my want to explore. When I go on bike rides, I always look at the road cuts to see what sort of rock I’m riding through. I look at the overall terrain, and try to piece together how it was formed. The same applies when I go for a drive, go hiking, or even take the train.

There is a line in a song by America – Horse With No Name. I hear it, and am always reminded of Death Valley and the pluvial lakes/rivers that existed in the Basin and Range province. The line “After three days in the desert fun I was looking at a river bed, and the story it told of a river that flowed made me sad to think it was dead” really strikes true with me. I look at the Amargosa River Bed or even the Mojave River Bed, they do tell their stories of when they flowed, and I do think it is sad to see them dry as they are now. I would like to have seen the western US during the Pleistocene. Think of all the lakes, rivers, waterfalls, glaciers, and countless other features that existed then, that no longer do. Death Valley is one of those places, where Lake Manly once existed. With the exception of portage around waterfalls (Fossil Falls among others), a kayak trip from Mono Lake to Death Valley might have been possible. As you can see, my interest in geology goes deep.

So back to explorations, I used to have a mountain bike. I rode it everywhere. I even went on my first bike tour on it in 2001, knobby tires and all. It wasn’t until 2008 that I even got on a road bike, but wasn’t quite impressed. It was too bumpy a ride, too unnerving. It just didn’t sell me on getting one. I still felt I would find something though, as I wanted an easier ride for a bike tour I had planned for August of 2009. In October 2008, I went shopping. I ended up at the Performance Bike in Sorrento Valley. After looking at the bikes, and telling them what my plans were, they pointed me towards this road bike that had wider, somewhat knobby tires. I wasn’t quite sure about it. I wanted a road bike. I was led to believe this was a more robust road bike, capable of handling touring and anything else I might want to do. It certainly looked nice. It took some convincing to get me to buy it. They never told me what the bike was really capable of. I would find that out, in time.

That decision to buy that bicycle has changed my life in ways I didn’t expect. At first, I found I would go much faster than I used to. I seemed to zip around everywhere I went. I was putting the same energy into the bike as I was with the mountain bike, but getting much more out of it. I would go on longer rides, more road rides, than I had before. Eventually, I found I could take the bike off road. At first, dirt roads were all I took. Later, I would take singletrack trails, such as the upper portion of the Noble Canyon Trail or the Big Laguna Trail. With my abilities and confidence growing, I took my explorations to a whole new level. I would no longer look at road conditions or hills along the way. I would plan a route, and take it. If that meant riding a singletrack trail, then the shoulder of a freeway, so be it. I’ve found many non-standard routes for getting around as a result. It has really expanded my idea of freedom, in relation to travel. I feel like I have more freedom to travel as I can take just about any trail or roadway to get me somewhere. On the singletrack trails, I would get looks from the mountain bikers, wondering what I was doing there on a road bike. Nope, not a road bike, a cyclocross bike. The go anywhere bike. I’ve taken mine to Mammoth Mountain, had lots of fun there. The bike does have its limitations, but so do I. If I have to get off and walk it, no problem – even in cyclocross racing there are sections where you have to get off the bike.

My fitness level has greatly improved since I got the bike. I ride now more than I drive. In the past two years since purchasing the bike, I’ve ridden over 10,000 miles. I never figured that would happen. I’ve ridden to work for the past two and a half years. I’ve lost about 30 lbs, gained more muscle in my legs, and am in much better health. All these benefits because I like to go out and explore. The new bicycle has helped me in that quest. I’ve also set higher goals for myself. I plan to ride a double century in 2011. It won’t be an organized one, but one of my own planning. I’ve found the ride I plan myself to be much more fun. My routes aren’t the usual ones, I might even have some dirt trail to ride. Why ride 200 miles in a day? Is it the bragging rights? Is it to prove something? Nope. For me, it is only to expand my ability to go on the rides I like to. If I am able to ride 200 miles in a day, then I can ride any route that I set up for myself. It opens up possibilities for me that I wouldn’t have considered previously. Did I ever think I’d ride from San Luis Obispo to Ventura in a day? Or Monterey to San Simeon in a day? I didn’t think it was possible, until I went on a 151 mile ride from San Luis Obispo to Ventura in May 2010.

While I don’t suggest everyone go out and do what I’ve done, it is something that more are capable than they think. At one point, going around the block was a big deal, then across town, then across the county. Now, I’ve crossed counties and even a state. It just takes a vision and the ambition to go out there and do it. My ultimate goal is to see more out there exploring as I do, learning more about their local environment. So get out there – it is a big planet and has lots to see!

Death Valley 2010 – Titus Canyon Ride – November 26, 2010

Every trip to Death Valley has a big day. Each one is different, with a different focus. This time, it was bicycling Titus Canyon. I’ve heard about this place, seen the photos, and knew some of the geology. There were some logistical problems with seeing the canyon that I had to surmount. It is a one-way road and 28 miles long. I either had to find another person to shuttle me, or ride the whole thing myself. I chose to ride the whole thing. This was also the first time I had allotted a day just to bicycling in Death Valley.

Only 10 more miles of this!
Only 10 more miles of this!

I decided to start the ride about an hour earlier than I had planned to ensure I had enough time to complete the ride before dark. I parked the car near the junction of Scotty’s Castle Road and Mud Canyon Road, and changed into my cycling gear. As it was predicted to be cold, I chose to wear my bib shorts, bib tights, long sleeve jersey, balaclava, shoe covers, and my thickest gloves. I had my new three liter Camelbak pack with me, three bottles of Gatorade, a few Clif bars, and some cookies. I was ready for anything! Well, more or less.

I started the ride at about 8:30am. The ride started off with a climb, that didn’t relent for 13 miles with an average grade of about 6%. The first three miles were in a small canyon, Mud Canyon, which was nice. Having something nearby made it feel like it went faster. After that, and for the next five miles, I was riding up an alluvial fan. A steep one at that! Near the pullout for Death Valley Buttes, a couple had stopped to take photos of the area. Once they saw me, they took a couple photos of me climbing the grade, asked me how I was doing. I told them, I’d know in eight miles and kept on climbing. I stopped, briefly, at the junction with the Beatty Cutoff Road, my only real stop in about four miles. It didn’t last long, as I had more miles to go, more climbing to be done. Now back in a canyon, Boundary Canyon, the climbing got a slight steeper. The scenery was quite nice, the Grapevine Mountains to the north, Funeral Mountains to the south.

So far, things were going well, temperatures were decent, and I was feeling good. As the mile markers went by, I would count down to the top – mile 13, knowing I was getting closer all the time. There were a couple of times I had thought to pull over and rest, but decided to just keep on moving. I was so close to the top! Finally, I saw the summit of Daylight Pass, and pulled off. It was a good place to rest for a few minutes. The longest climb of the ride, 4100’ in 13 miles, was over. It took me about an hour and 45 minutes to climb, a bit faster than I had predicted. It was at this point I decided I would be able to make it through Titus Canyon with enough time.

Top of Daylight Pass
Top of Daylight Pass

I had been a bit warm climbing, that soon ended as I descended into Amargosa Valley and Nevada. It seemed like temperatures dropped twenty degrees, I was cold! It would be the running theme of the day, hot and cold. Crossing the valley seemed to take a long time. Distances in these valleys can be great, even though it looks close. As I neared the turnoff, I saw a vehicle had pulled over at the junction, and a bunch of bicycles were being unloaded. I assumed they were going to ride Titus Canyon, as they were riding mountain bikes. One of them was taking photos, and took some photos of me as I approached. I waved, and turned left onto Titus Canyon Road. This was the point that my cyclocross bike comes in handy.

I easily transitioned onto the dirt road, and kept on moving. It would be a long dirt road, with more than 3000’ of climbing ahead of me. Parts were rough, others were smooth, overall, having shocks would have been nice but weren’t necessary. Having been cold on the descent, I was again warm on the ascent. The first few miles were on the bajada, and were slow. Once I reached the canyon, things seemed to go quicker. The scenery just kept on getting better too. I stopped many times on this climb, mostly to let cars go by so I wouldn’t have to breathe in the dust kicked up by them. After about 10 miles, the climb got really steep. After, I reached a summit.

Finally! The climbing stopped, for a bit. I knew something wasn’t quite right though. I was at a summit, but not the summit. The photos and the maps showed a switchback and a climb through a red rock area. I hadn’t seen anything like that yet. It was time to get out the map. Yup, I had more to go, and a bit more climbing. The bulk of it was over, but I wasn’t quite sure how much more to go. While I was stopped, someone drove up in a truck. They had said they saw someone a few miles back on a road bike! Now, my bicycle looks like a road bike, but they had commented on how much wider my tires were, so maybe they did see one. Not sure why someone would take such a bike here, even my tires slipped in places. A road tire has no knobs for grip, so they may have had more walking than riding at times.

Heading up the dirt road.
Heading up the dirt road.
The first summit. Note the canyon in the background.
The first summit. Note the canyon in the background.
Looking towards Titanothere Canyon.
Looking towards Titanothere Canyon.
Looking back, after the switchbacks and the 800' drop and climb.
Looking back, after the switchbacks and the 800′ drop and climb.
Still heading up Red Pass, almost there.
Still heading up Red Pass, almost there.
From Red Pass, looking toward Leadfield.
From Red Pass, looking toward Leadfield.
Deeper into the canyon, just gets better.
Deeper into the canyon, just gets better.

So far, still feeling good, a little tired, but not bad. I headed on down the road, and down it went! After about a mile, it descended, steeply. I finally saw the switchbacks in the red rock area, now about 800’ higher than me. The last major climb would end up being the steepest. It went alright though. I stopped once to take some photos, and then went the rest of the way to the top. At long last, the top of Red Pass was at hand. From this point on, the ride was mostly downhill. The first couple of miles were very rocky and fairly steep. The views, however, made up for any of the trouble from the descent. The canyon just got better and better as I went along. Upon reaching the site of Leadfield, it was time for another photo stop.

There was a sign there, and a good landmark to get another bike photo. While I was doing that, a couple on a motorcycle pulled up. It was a dirt bike; I think it could be called a dual sport. They commented on my bicycle, asked how the riding was so far. I told them it was going ok, just a bit bumpy at times. They also seemed to need a better map, only using the standard park map which doesn’t show contours that well. After I took my photos, I continued my journey. The canyon changed directions after about another half mile or so, rather abruptly. It also got really cold, felt like the coldest yet on the ride.

At Leadfield, gotta get the bike in there.
At Leadfield, gotta get the bike in there.
Beautiful downtown Leadfield, or what is left.
Beautiful downtown Leadfield, or what is left.
Finally entering Titus Canyon.
Finally entering Titus Canyon.
After all that, now I'm really entering the canyon, here is the sign!
After all that, now I’m really entering the canyon, here is the sign!
Deeper and more spectacular.
Deeper and more spectacular.
Still descending, stopping to look back every once and a while
Still descending, stopping to look back every once and a while
Can't get enough of canyon shots!
Can’t get enough of canyon shots!
More great geology.
More great geology.
Large fold, one of many visible in this area.
Large fold, one of many visible in this area.

Now, after going over Red Pass, I thought I was in Titus Canyon. It was all downhill from there, it still was. As it turned out, the previous few miles were in another canyon, as I passed a sign stating “Entering Titus Canyon”.  It also seemed some brave soul drove a sedan this far, so I knew I should be able to make the rest without too much trouble. I was right. After having kept an average speed of no greater than 8 mph, I was easily riding at 15 to nearly 20 mph down this dirt road. I stopped many times down the canyon, to take photos and just enjoy the scenery. I never went so fast I couldn’t enjoy the view, I also didn’t want to lose control. This was definitely not the area to do so. A couple of miles down from the “entrance” to the canyon, I passed a couple of mountain bikers going uphill. They had climbed quite a bit to get to that spot, not sure how far they were going.  The canyon, so far, was wide and deep. I knew the end of the canyon was quite narrow, so it was going to be interesting to see the features created by the water that does flow down this canyon on occasion. The rock I was passing by was very beautiful. It was marine limestone, shale, and sandstone from the Cambrian. It was heavily faulted and folded, which showed in many places.

At the narrows, it gets cold in the shadows.
At the narrows, it gets cold in the shadows.
Megabreccia, Titus Canyon style.
Megabreccia, Titus Canyon style.
A look back, you'd never know such a large canyon exists beyond those cars!
A look back, you’d never know such a large canyon exists beyond those cars!

As I got closer to the bottom of the canyon, the sides got steeper and higher. I was getting to the narrow portion of the canyon. The first section consisted of some megabreccia, which almost looked like graffiti at first. It had been smoothed quite a bit, abraded from the large sediment-rich flows that come this way during a storm. I was glad to see nearly clear skies above, no threat of floods today. I was told the canyon was very narrow at the bottom, to the point that some cars would have trouble making it. While it didn’t quite get that bad, it was far narrower than the upper portions of the canyon would have you think. All that drainage, going to this 15 foot wide canyon. Don’t be here when it rains. Not only was the narrows a sign the canyon was ending, but the number of hikers was also a clue. The lower portion is quite popular to hike in, so it couldn’t be far now. Just another mile or so, the canyon ended. It opened into the northern portion of Death Valley, creating one large alluvial fan. Just around the next bend, I saw all the cars for the hikers. Quite a few, but not all went to Titus Canyon; some went to Falls Canyon, just to the north. From this point, to the paved road, was some of the worst dirt road I had traveled. This section was two-way, and was very much washboard. I had nearly three miles of this until reaching the paved road.

Looking south, down the valley towards Kit Fox Hills (at center).
Looking south, down the valley towards Kit Fox Hills (at center).
There it is, the worst section of dirt road the whole ride.
There it is, the worst section of dirt road the whole ride.

At long last! Pavement! This was the first pavement I had ridden that was nearly flat too. For that matter, some of the first flat riding on the whole trip. I still had another 15 miles to go, but it wouldn’t take long. I kept a rather brisk pace, around 18 to 20 mph most of the way. These miles were at first going by fast, but as I got closer to the end, my energy was fading. I needed to eat, but felt I was close enough to the end that stopping wasn’t going to help. I just slowed down and didn’t push it any more than necessary. There was a slight crossing headwind the whole way down the pavement, but it was never a problem. The last few miles were over rolling hills, never a climb over 50’. About five miles from the end, the couple on the motorcycle passed me one last time, waved. Even gave me a thumbs up! It was cool. After I passed the last mile marker, mile 1, I finally saw the car. My ride was at an end. What a journey! I made it back at about 3:15pm, with 60 miles of riding and 8400’ of climbing. I finished, not too tired, but was definitely done for the day. I ate the rest of my snacks, drank a bit more fluids, and was feeling much better. After about twenty minutes, I packed the bike into the car, and headed back to camp. Dinner would be coming soon, and I’d feast for sure. Another big ride accomplished, another big day in Death Valley.