EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of an ongoing series of articles by UC Berkeley journalism students on the paths of Berkeley.
By CARRIE LOZANO
Special to the Planet
Indian Rock Park in North Berkeley was founded in 1917, but its history dates back 11 million years.
Geologists had long theorized that the boulders straddling Indian Rock Avenue in the Berkeley Hills originated from a volcano as long as 200 million years ago in what is now Robert Sibley Regional Preserve in Oakland. But recent findings about the rocks’ age call this theory into question.
Lin Murphy, 59, a retired lawyer with a master’s degree in geology, has been studying the rocks since the late 1990s. She was the first person to date them using a uranium-lead process at the U.S. Geological Survey.
Her research revealed that the rocks are much younger than previously thought. “It was a total rethinking of this rock,” says Murphy from her home in Boulder, Colo. “Everybody had lumped the [North Berkeley] rocks together, but my research indicated that [Indian Rock] was different.” She found that instead of coming from Sibley Preserve, the rocks had migrated along the Hayward Fault from an area north of Hollister, south of San Jose.
“I got into it because I’m a rock climber, and people in the area boulder at Indian Rock,” says Murphy.
Dan Zimmerlin, who runs a preparation program for public school teachers, has been climbing at Indian Rock since 1978. He is currently working on a video project to document a number of the park’s bouldering routes.
“Indian Rock ranks as one of the top bouldering spots,” says Zimmerlin.
“After climbing a section of rock using all the handholds and footholds available, you try to make it harder by choosing not to use certain holds.”
The park is also known for its views. Small steps have been carved into various sides of the massive Indian Rock to allow pedestrians easy access to its peak.
Weather permitting, the top of the rock provides clear views of downtown Oakland, San Francisco, the Bay and Golden Gate bridges, and Mount Tamalpais.
At sunset, the rocks can get crowded. Children and pets scurry around, while grownups sit or stand and take in the sights, sometimes with beer or wine in hand.
On the north end of the park, a pathway of ramps and steps cuts down the hill, bordering front porches and side yards. Ending at Solano Street, a busy shopping area, the path provides an alternative to the hills’ windy, often steep streets.
Graduate student and nearby resident Anne Geiger sometimes uses the path to get to Solano Street or to reach public transportation on Arlington Avenue. “The path is a little quiet. Mostly locals,” says Geiger. As for the park, “It’s community building,” she says.