We are usually in a hurry to get somewhere and that keeps us from taking the scenic byways that are truly remarkable.
The Carrizo Plain is a broad, flat plain between the Coastal Range and the San Joaquim Valley. It is famous for its evidence of the San Andreas Fault, which runs down its center.
The fault, responsible for most of the earthquakes that are so well known in California, is an 800-mile long crack in the Earth’s crust. The Carrizo Plain, with its slow erosion, shows the effects of the fault more than most places.
We were headed home from Palo Alto and decided to have an adventure on the way. We had talked about this geological wonderland a few times and finally decided to check it out for ourselves.
Arriving in the middle of nowhere
Most of California is broad agricultural valley or very hilly/mountainous. This is something different. It is high, cool and desolate. Sort of like the opposite of Death Valley.
The first stop was Wallace Creek, famous for its 130 m (426 ft) offset from the original path of the stream. The fault has slipped to the north on the western side while the eastern side stayed in place, creating very clear evidence of the massive power of plate tectonics. The earthquake in 1857 was the last to make a significant impact, leaving geologists to believe another is coming soon.
This valley is a quiet testament to the power of the San Andreas Fault. Driving its length includes at least 24 miles of unpaved, rocky road but a chance to go where few people bother to venture. We saw ghost-town-like farms, strange geologic formations and lots of gorgeous California countryside that we had never explored. We plan to return to camp and spend more time when we have the chance.