Rocks in My Head

Calling attention to something overlooked. Magnifying a small detail and presenting its importance. Finding the universal in the specific. These are some concerns I bring with me when I write and make things. I'm in the dirt examining the bugs, picking petals to study one at a time to paint, drawing lichen really large. So it was a surprise to me to find I was interested in the large rocks in my neighborhood.

And yet, I had not really been paying attention. I looked back and found some important family photos from different times that were taken…on a local rock. It seems we are drawn to the rocks, after all.

We recently mined the book Berkeley Rocks: Building with Nature from the quarry that is the Albany Library, and I was surprised how fascinated I was in the rocks within. The large-format book with numerous color photos points out the rocks that happen to be along my daily walk up into the Berkeley hills. It goes into detail about the history, both geological and anthropological, and includes mini interviews with homeowners who have a rock in their front and/or back yard. There is a park up the hill that we named "The Rock Park" long before it had any signage. It has always had a real name, though: "Great Stoneface Park."

The book contains a map of the named rocks (page 50), and we went out—with intention this time—to find them. We've been living here twenty-eight years. Did we know them all? Had we seen them all? The answers were no and no. Many are hidden, overgrown with trees and gardens.  

The book was published in 2007. Here are my photos from 2015-2016.
Indian Rock is the most obvious, the most famous, the one we've known the longest.

 Spectacular view of San Francisco Bay from the top.

Generally, I photograph close and look at the tiny. Here is moss on the rocks at 10x zoom.

A bus stop is built around this rock. I pass it every day, often multiple times.

The retaining wall often gets a graffiti stencil on it. The current one, I believe, is David Bowie as the image on his album Aladdin Sane in a heart. 

Monument rock was the northern edge of Rancho San Antonio, property of the Peralta family in the 1800s. It is four stories high, but you have to look through a fence to glimpse a tiny portion of it. (Much better picture in the book on page 85.) Before the area was developed, apparently you could see it miles away, and it really was a monument.

Some beautiful rocks with homes around them. This  one on Colusa Ave.


On Menlo Place, another of my familiar friends. And it is mentioned in the book (61) because of the oak tree growing out of it. It wasn't until the book talked about little acorns falling into the cracks that I really thought about how this was possible. So obvious, but overlooked!


There are paths and walks all over the hills, apparently to make it easier or quicker to get down to the street cars (long gone). Visalia path has some great rocks on it with moss and magnolias.

Great Stoneface Park. And an urn in the lower right.

Indian Trail is another path, thought to have been used by the Ohlone Indians who lived here. It connects Great Stoneface Park with The Alameda, below it. On the left, you can see one of the original urns, used by developers as a motif throughout the area. A few years ago, a group of residents got together and planted some new urns that looked just like the old ones (one in Great Stoneface Park, above photo).

The Alameda features a lovely house that has "Guardian Rocks" on its property.

The sidewalk was built around this rock on The Alameda. Also in the book (4).

Closer to Solano Ave, home of shops and restaurants, is Contra Costa Rock Park.

Once we started heading higher up into the hills, the walk turned into a hike. Roundtrip was 4.5 miles and equalled 39 flights of stairs. (There's a Hitchcock joke in there, somewhere.)

Like art materials, the rocks have stories behind them. Some, like those at Mortar Rock park, have grinding rocks where the Ohlone Indians ground acorns from the plentiful oak trees. I imagine a monument plaque: former home of CafĂ© Ohlone. 

Going back even further in time, these rocks were pushed up out of the earth. They were liquid that came up and formed layers, cooled, then traveled along the Hayward fault as the earth moved. Some have fossilized remains in them. Imagine the whole area as a volcanic field. 

Indian Rock, then Mortar Rock Park, then Grotto Rock are quite close together. The west side of Grotto Rock is the sunny side. It is actually on Santa Barbara Road, not on San Luis as the map in the book lists it.

The east side has moss. 
In earlier times, a stream used to trickle through the rock. 

From Grotto Rock we headed up Regal Road to Cragmont Rock Park.
The main rock is actually under the structure, on the side of the hill
but there are little rocks all over. 

View of the Golden Gate Bridge, although hazy this day.


 An idyllic meadow down a path in the park.

From Cragmont Rock Park you can see UC Berkeley, particularly the landmark Campanile.  
At the base of the park is a building built with local rock.
We determined that it was formerly a restroom.

 We hiked onward and upward to Remillard Park, home of Pinnacle Rock. It, too, used to be seen from miles away at twenty-five feet high. (36)

  My photos don't capture the grandeur of these rocks, but the book's photos do. 
Berkeley Rocks: Building with Nature
(My only disappointment: the book has no index!)

It took a book to make me see the local landscape with different eyes. An amazing resource, it not only documents a place, but it encourages the reader to look longer and deeper. I thought I knew my neighborhood, but clearly, there is always more to see. 

This may be pushing the concept, but I could take it one more step: each of the rocks is like a book itself, filled with history, information, illustrations, memories, and emotion.