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Lessons From The Santa Monica Mountains
Posted by Joann Deutch on Mar 4, 2012 - 2:11:35 PM

LAUREL CANYONI have learned to use the antenna tower at the top of Briar Crest as my lighthouse.  Once I spot it, I know I’m almost home.  However, when I first moved from the east, people gave directions in compass points, “get off the freeway and go north”.  To calculate north I had to make a mental map of my third grade classroom, identify east/west and then deduce north and south.  Being ignorantly confident, I always put the ocean on my left, and knew I was facing south, or so I thought, until I moved to LA. My first adventure out of town had me pulling up to the Mexican border before I realized I was traveling south.

Tuttella Oceyana shell


I have since learned that the Santa Monica Mountains are the only transverse mountain range in North America.  I’m an associative visual learner, so this works just dandy for me.  Transverse - as in across the continent. I now plug this into my internal gyroscope which fires the synapse “aha ”“ east and west ”“ Got It !”


What brought this all back to me?  I was out hiking in the Santa Monicas enjoying a beautiful day in the dead of winter. The sun was setting in front of me, when I saw some mica, which looked like silver flecks. Wasn’t this supposed to be fools gold? How dumb could the 49ers be to mistake what I was looking at for gold? Had I mistaken mica for quartz?  I clearly had more to learn about the mountains.


Coincidently I stumbled across a 1931 Geology Thesis on the Santa Monica Mountains.  Always ready to slurp down historical information I was off on another adventure.  Might this document contain the answer to my confusion? One topic covered the “folding and faulting” of the Topanga and Modelo Tetiary formations.  Topanga and Modelo are areas in the western part of the Santa Monicas, and Tetiary refers to the geological time period when dinosaurs became extinct.  The paper describes the mountains as young, and not subject to much erosion, leaving the true characteristics of the rock formation still in tact.  The rocks are sandstone and fine gained conglomerates formed by quick cooling - you can make the associative leap from there yourself.  But what gets more interesting is that the Topanga rock formations, according to this study, as having a “near shore” history, while the lower bedrock bed suggests significant time spent underwater. I always wondered where the story about marine fossils in the local mountain tops came from.  The author concluded that the rock formations dated back to the Miocene period, 14 million years ago. He found the follow aquatic fossils, neverita reclusianus commonly known as a tall moonsnail and the turritella ocaya snail, which is still common on our local beaches and as far away as Singapore. 


I brought some samples of dirty rocks home.  I gave them a borax bath, a trick I had learned from the Park Rangers in Death Valley, who claim borax can clean anything.  Sure enough, the rocks were small grained conglomerates which sparkled with flecks of gold. While is mica is embedded in rocks in the area, it’s pyrite that pretends to be gold.  I’m either rich, or a fool.  Look for this fool shell collecting on the mountain tops.


Cliffside Malibu




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