Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Little Boxes on the Hillside, Little Boxes Made of Ticky-Tacky...The Mess at Mussel Rock and the San Andreas Fault

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same,
There's a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same...

Malvina Reynolds (1962)
Photo by Mrs. Geotripper

The next beach on our journey along the most beautiful coastline in the world may not actually be the prettiest beach ever, but there is a lot going on here. Mussel Rock lies along the coast between Pacifica and Daly City, and a high cliff of really unstable looking rock slopes precipitously towards the waves. Some of the terraces in the photo above are the remains of an old alignment of Highway 1, and an earlier railroad track. Of course no one would ever be so foolish as to build houses in such a place? Oh, wait...
Photo by Mrs. Geotripper
There are little box-like houses up there! And some of them aren't up there anymore. A number have tumbled down the cliff face over the years. There is also a garbage dump that was active from 1957-1978 and is now threatening to slide into the ocean. Wave action keeps undercutting the slopes below the dump (I don't call it a sanitary waste disposal facility, because it isn't sanitary; it isn't lined, so all manner of pollutants can leak out too). All in all, it is a pretty good example of how many ways we can abuse a coastline. And yet it still has a certain beauty.
Daly City has never really figured out how to deal with the mess at Mussel Rock. They've finally decided to call it a park, but it has never been developed other than to have a small parking lot. It's kind of a sad missed opportunity because Mussel Rock has another incredible distinction. The San Andreas fault passes along the base of the cliff and heads out to sea at this locality. The epicenter of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake was probably just offshore of the point. The actual Mussel Rock is composed of Franciscan Complex rocks, while the unstable cliffs are composed of the Merced Formation, a collection of sandstone and siltstone that was raised from the sea in geologically recent time. On the one hand, Daly City may not want the notoriety of being the origin of a quake that destroyed the City By the Bay, but it sure is a great opportunity to educate people about California's most prominent fault line. Shane Heiser has written an extensive history of the site that proposes developing the beach as an educational park and protected habitat for the rare San Francisco Garter Snake.

The actual fault trace is obscured by the landslides. In the picture at the top of the post, one can see the distant Point Reyes Peninsula on the horizon. The San Andreas comes on land again at the low pass on the left in the far distance.

The song "Little Boxes" was a folk anthem from the early 1960s written by Malvina Reynolds and also sung by Pete Seeger. It decried the rigid conformity of the day, and was inspired by the very homes you see on the cliffs above Mussel Rock. The houses do have a sort of cookie-cutter aspect.

1 comment:

Laurie Cannon said...

Golly! I live in SF, and the above is my back yard, so to speak. I recognize the Skyline Boulevard exit and overpass I regularly take from Highway 1 while returning from family visits in Santa Cruz. I also hang out at Ft. Funston and south Ocean Beaches.

The San Andreas location is an eye opener. Interesting material. Thank you.

L Cannon