I’ve had the idea of starting a regular Sunday post simply showing off the character of a different sand each week. And, following on from my recent visit to the San Francisco Bay area, where better to start than on Marshall Beach, in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.
I took the bus (San Francisco’s public transport system is a delight, and the 511.org website a brilliantly designed guide to it) to the toll plaza parking at the south side of the bridge, and wended my way along well-signed trails, through the massive remains of the military installations; the Presidio had been a strategic military complex since the days of the Spanish and was handed over to the National Park Service in 1994 – they have done a typically great job of rehabilitation and making the place a pleasure to visit. Among the efforts of the Park Service has been the remarkable installation of stairways on many of the trails that lead down and through the landslipped bluffs to the shore:
(Since, for reasons that escape me, I neglected to take any photos en route, perhaps preoccupied with my cranky knees and the prospect of the return journey, these are by Ingrid Taylar from the “Batteries to Bluffs” guide at about.com:San Francisco).
The rocks along the trail are chaotic and rotten, disintegrating, crumbling, and sliding – and most of them are serpentinite, the much-vilified and possibly about-to-be-illegal State Rock of California; perhaps I should have worn breathing apparatus. Will the Park Service be required to remove the steps since they wind amongst what is portrayed as a public health hazard? Throwing caution to the winds, I stopped several times to admire the gloriously varied hues of these rocks – apple-green, blue-green…
At the foot of the crumbling and colourful bluffs is Marshall Beach.
Rocks along the shore tell the tortured story of California’s geological past: they are part of the Franciscan mélange. The word is French for a mixture, a term that bestows some class on what are, in fact, very messy rocks (the sort of thing that field geologists refer to as “fubrite,” the etymology of which I shall leave up to your imagination to deduce). The mélange is, indeed, a mixture, lumps of different rock types, large and small, embedded in a swirling, fractured, vein-shot matrix. This and the serpentinite, together with the other ingredients of the rocks in the, area tell the torrid story of the chaos of subduction 100 million years ago, oceanic crust and mantle, along with deep-sea sediments, bulldozed beneath, and scraped up on to, the edge of the old North American continent to form the tangled tectonic scrap heap that would be California.
The sand of Marshall Beach is, in itself, a microscopic museum of this geology, a kaleidoscope of colourful grains of different rocks and minerals, including the sparkling quartz grains that quite likely were born in the granites of the Sierras, weathered out and washed down into the sands and gravels that also contained gold, were flushed into the San Francisco Bay by the wholesale manmade erosion of the Gold Rush, and eventually swept out to the coast to end their journey in my ziploc bag.