Tuesday, October 17, 2017

An Introduction to the San Andreas Fault

The San Andreas Fault is under the road in this area.
   There are things in life that a person knows but chooses to ignore. We tend to like to focus on the positive things rather than the negative. This may be shying away from the news to avoid the stories of assaults, robberies and accidents. It may even be as simple as going out for pizza after brushing off your latest kitchen mishap resulting in burnt chicken. But what I've found while living here in Southern California for the last year is that people tend to not think about earthquakes as much as I thought they would. Even writing this article I'm still not sure how I found myself on the subject but somehow I got the crazy idea that I needed to research the San Andreas fault. After ten minutes or so I decided that doing research wasn't going to satisfy me. I had become mildly obsessed with this near 800 mile long crack in the ground. The fault represents where two tectonic plates, the Pacific and the  North American, meet. These plates are moving in opposite directions which is what causes our earthquakes. This is fascinating stuff. No, reading about it wasn't going to be enough. I had to see this thing for myself. So how was I to go about doing it?
Elizabeth Lake's dry boat ramp.
 Like many faults, the San Andreas isn't exactly the easiest thing to see. It's not like there is really an obvious giant crack running across the face of the Earth, right? Well, sort of. I used Google Earth for an incredible view of the fault from above and actually from that vantage point you can actually see an obvious line dividing California. But I knew that I would need a little more information to actually get up close and personal to this thing. Well I happened upon a book called the Field Guide to the San Andreas Fault by David K. Lynch.
 The book breaks down the fault into twelve sections and turns them into a mile by mile geology tour of California. Now that may not sound romantic but before you roll your eyes at the prospect ask yourself this: what is it about the outdoors that you find so appealing? I bet one of the first things you think about is the scenery. Do you like to stare down at the Colorado River in the bottom of the Grand Canyon? How much do you enjoy the views of El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite? Did you visit Arches National Park and fill your memory card with photos of the amazing sandstone formations? Yes you did. Congratulations, you just learned that you're a geology fan.
View of Quail Lake.
 The fault starts near the Salton Sea to the south of me and stretches up past San Francisco in the north. I looked through the book and found the sections that allowed the best views of the fault. From there I found the sections closest to my house and from there planned a Sunday afternoon drive through Palmdale and up to Frazier Park. This introduction to the San Andreas let me explore over 50 miles of the fault and opened my eyes to not only how close it is to where I live but also how it likes to hide in plane sight. There were sections of the fault that travel directly under the road we were driving on. In fact, if you start to pay attention you can see how the asphalt is separating and cracking from the stress.
The desert ends and the mountains begin. 
  Along this part of the drive you are treated to views of the quieter parts of California where the houses come with a little breathing room in between and no traffic. We came across small ponds, dry lake beds and some interesting geological features that one would ordinarily ignore if they didn't have a handy dandy guide book to tell them what they were looking at. Thanks to the book we got to pull over at a view point that over looked a valley where the Mohave Desert ended and the Sierra Nevada mountains begin. I never would have imagined that here in the dry desert is where I would see the Sierra Nevada's. I'm pretty sure it was more exciting for me than my companions but hey, I enjoyed it. 
The fault snakes across a meadow.
 Of course we did get plenty of opportunities to see the fault first hand and while it may not seem like much more than a small ditch in some places we did get to see some impressive evidence of the fault in other places where scarps identify the San Andreas' path.
This is just the first of many trips that we are planning to visit along the San Andreas fault over the next couple of months. I would love to just start at one end and cruise toward the other but that just isn't feasible for me right now so we'll just hit it one section at a time. My next plan is to head north to the Carrizo Plain, east of San Luis Obispo, where some of the most impressive evidence of the shifting plates are waiting. Here we'll get to get a little dirt on the tires and we will actually get to climb inside the fault itself for a unique experience. It's a trip I'm really getting exiting for. I hope this inspires you to take do something a little different for your upcoming adventures. Remember, a little learning with your leisure time is not necessarily a bad thing.    

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