|The view from Muir Beach Overlook, midway between San Francisco and Point Reyes National Seashore|
Point Reyes National Seashore: Is it land's end, or ocean's end? From a human point of view, it is the former. This is the far west of North America, and you can't go any farther without a boat or plane. But if we consider the oceanic crust that was being subducted beneath the continent here, it is the latter. It's where the ocean floor came to an end by being consumed and presumably melted within the Earth's mantle, the subcrustal layer that extends to the core some 1,800 miles down. In any case, it is the starting of our journey across the most dangerous plate boundary in the world. As I've pointed out before, it isn't presently the most dangerous boundary; it changed long ago, and the stripping effect of erosion has revealed the inner workings of the subduction zone that produced much of California's present-day landscape.
|Drake's Beach, with outcrops of Purisima Formation that reminded early sailors of Dover.|
But the rocks at Point Reyes are all wrong! As was mentioned in the first post of this series, an ocean-continent convergent boundary (a subduction zone) consists of three structural features: an accretionary wedge, a forearc basin, and a magmatic arc. The wedge deposits should be found nearest the coastline, and the granitic or volcanic rocks of the magmatic arc would be found far inland. As we look around at our journey's starting point at the lighthouse at Point Reyes, we find rocks related more to the magmatic arc. There are exposures on the Point Reyes peninsula of granitic rock, metamorphic rocks, and the silica rich sediments that have been eroded from them. Why are things out of order here?
Around 30 million years ago the rocks of Point Reyes were in Southern California. Around 29 million years ago a major restructuring of plate boundaries took place. Granites and metamorphic rocks related to the Sierra Nevada were sliced off and started their northward journey and we find them today underlying the lighthouse at Point Reyes. And that's where no start our journey across the most dangerous plate boundary.
|Source: USGS (http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2005/1127/)|
The climb, though, is worth the effort, because when we reach the top of the hill there is a marvelous view to the north towards one of the longest unbroken sandy beaches in central or northern California. One might think it would be a popular swimming beach, but the fierce winds, high and unpredictable waves, and cold water make for uncomfortable conditions.
From this lofty perch we can make out the mountainous terrain of Inverness Ridge, composed mostly of the granite and metamorphic rocks of the Salinian Block. The gentle westward slopes expose sedimentary rocks of Miocene and Pliocene age, deposited during the long journey northwest from Southern California when the rocky basement was submerged beneath the ocean waves. Active dune fields can be found along the extensive beaches of the peninsula.