Satan Made the Franciscan Complex

Have you ever heard “…and then Satan said, “Let’s put the alphabet in math and call it algebra!” “? Well there’s a geological formation that Satan decided would be just as funny to make…

Growing up in Northern California, I wasn’t landlocked in the strictest sense. Over the span of about 5 4th-of-July’s, I got to drive over to the coast with my family and go camping. I’ve been positively obsessed with the area ever since. I was intrigued by giant redwoods, the greenness of it all, the AMAZING coast line with it’s jagged and torn edges with strips of golden sand that eastern-coast people would never call a beach. I never stopped thinking about it. I knew I needed to live here at some point in life. 

Thankfully, I found a university in the area that has a great geology program – one of the few that focuses more on field work than information from textbooks. So our field trips were always involved with beaches and rock cliffs, and caves you can only get to when the tide is out, and hiking through the redwood forest to get where you need to go.

…Where your pictures always turn out scenic and beautiful. Because that’s all it is, here.1612142_10202260231020716_2054087993_o


There is one not-so-tiny geological formation that I’ve come to hate. I think it’s more of a dissociation, because of what this thing does to you as a student. It tears you down. Destroys your confidence. It makes you second guess everything you’ve ever learned about geology. A liberal arts degree starts sounding really nice. It makes you want to retake Geology 101 because for some reason, you’re not 100% sure what a metamorphic rock is supposed to look like anymore. Why is this shale so slatey? And why is this slate so shaley? Are those joints or faults? Are those cleavage planes or joints? WHY DOESN’T THE T.A. KNOW EITHER?! What do you mean I should know how to map this?

Welcome to the Franciscan Complex! Where one outcrop shows nearly every stage of the rock cycle, and makes your brain feel just as faulted and folded as what you see. Boudinages, colorful melanges, sea caves formed by faults. If you just stop and look at it, it’s one of the most beautiful rock formations there is. You just have to get up close to really take it in the beauty of it. But that wonderment and beauty is replaced with anger and frustration once you start trying to figure it out. 

In laymen’s terms, the Franciscan Complex is this, well..complicated…mix of sedimentary, metamorphic, and volcanic rocks that managed to get really, REALLY chewed up by being stuck between the oceanic Farallon Plate and the North American Plate, but didn’t quite get all the way metamorphosed or all the way chewed up into little grains. It’s looks like a toddler munched on some brown playdough, ate some rather large pieces of green playdough, threw it all up, and then started to play with it.

And that toddler was Satan.



3 thoughts on “Satan Made the Franciscan Complex

  1. If you like the Franciscan (which, I was told long ago, was studied by Andrew Lawson–who named it–because, in coming to Berkeley, he asked ‘what are those hills made of?’ and was told they didn’t know, to which Lawson supposedly responded that, then, ‘tomorrow we shall go and map it!’), you would love the Kaweah melange. No sea fog or windswept cliffs, instead totally chewed up Paleozoic ocean floor covered with grasses and oaks and rattlesnakes (lots of rattlesnakes) that was intruded by the Mesozoic batholith and then cut up by some Jurassic faulting and then suffered some more intrusions. It is daunting to go back and look at Jason Saleeby’s mapping of that mess–making sense of that makes the Franciscan, with some large chunks of coherent stratigraphy, almost child’s play.


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