Earthquakes give California a new desert tourist attraction
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.
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.