Earth­quakes give Cal­i­for­nia a new desert tourist at­trac­tion

Lodi News-Sentinel - - PAGE TWO - By Gi­u­lia McDon­nell Ni­eto Del Rio

RIDGECREST — Chris­tian Flores had trav­eled more than 200 miles, from San Diego to the Mo­jave Desert, to visit the lat­est Southern Cal­i­for­nia tourist at­trac­tion.

There it was, on the hot as­phalt of High­way 178 be­tween Ridgecrest and Trona: a gnarly, sur­pris­ingly wide scar, cour­tesy of one very large earth­quake. And just a few miles down the road lay an­other one — caused by a se­cond, even larger and more ter­ri­fy­ing quake.

Flores couldn’t wait to up­load what he saw on his YouTube chan­nel.

Since the Fourth of July, tourists, ge­ol­o­gists and stu­dents have con­verged on the once-des­o­late spot from far and wide, to see the rup­tures on High­way 178 caused by last week’s mag­ni­tude 6.4 and 7.1 earth­quakes. The Grand Canyon this is not — but the cracks were siz­able enough to make vis­i­tors gape.

Trucks, mini­vans and sedans slowed down to park on the gravel lin­ing the side of the high­way. Fam­i­lies with young chil­dren hopped out. Re­searchers with GPS de­vices set up their ma­chin­ery. Oth­ers ven­tured into the brown shrub­bery as they fol­lowed the sur­face rup­tures into hilly ter­rain.

They held cam­eras and shot self­ies in the mid­dle of the road.

“I thought it would fare well on­line,” Flores, 27, said of the cracks as the early evening sun de­scended over the moun­tains. “I mean, how of­ten do you get an earth­quake of this size?”

Flores picked up rocks he had found on the sur­face rup­ture as sou­venirs and placed them gen­tly in the back of his car trunk.

As a dust devil whirled, Michelle Bin­ion, 56, mar­veled at the rup­ture caused by the first quake. She had driven with her hus­band to the area from Ran­cho Cu­ca­monga, de­ter­mined to see the ev­i­dence of na­ture’s power.

“This is ab­so­lutely worth the drive,” she said with a smile. “I think as hu­man be­ings we like to live on the edge. This fault re­ally shows you just how vul­ner­a­ble we are.”

Some of the cracks trav­eled across the high­way and into the desert land­scape on ei­ther side.

It has been about 20 years since sci­en­tists have seen a quake of this mag­ni­tude in Cal­i­for­nia, said Cynthia Prid­more of the Cal­i­for­nia Earth­quake Clear­ing­house — a web­site where ex­perts and quake novices can share their ob­ser­va­tions.

The clear­ing­house has heard from re­searchers who be­lieve that the most no­table sur­face rup­ture dis­cov­ered so far — caused by the 7.1 quake that hit Friday — could mea­sure about 28 miles in length.

But that won’t be known un­til U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey and Cal­i­for­nia Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey sci­en­tists who have ac­cess to the Naval Air Weapons Sta­tion at China Lake re­port back.

IRFAN KHAN/LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

Michelle Bin­ion, 56, left, and Gary Bin­ion, 58, came from Ran­cho Cu­ca­monga to pho­to­graph and to see how earth­quakes have rup­tured roads and earth in the area on Saturday in Sear­les Val­ley.

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